How much power should Arizona electric companies generate from renewable sources?
The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) thinks it has the answer: 15 percent.
The ACC has proposed requiring utilities to produce at least 15 percent of their power from solar, wind, and on-site consumer sources. But there's nothing magic about 15 percent. In fact, the number is arbitrary and expected to impose heavy surcharges on consumers to the tune of $50 million per year.
Arizonans are naturally concerned about resource sustainability. But regulation has been a poor approach to sustainability, and this latest renewable energy mandate is no exception.
As Arizona Republic columnist Robert Robb puts it, "To be blunt, the politicians and staff at the commission have no particular insight about what will be the optimal energy mix for the production of electricity 20 years from now. Nor should it be their job to make such decisions."
Nobel laureate economist and Goldwater Institute senior fellow Vernon Smith has conducted path-breaking research on how a deregulated marketplace can increase efficiency and sustainability. He has shown how a regulated market can transition to a freer market without the undue interruptions experienced in places like California. Experiments in other states have saved consumers as much as 15 percent on their utility bills while reducing electricity consumption.
The ACC might revisit Dr. Smith's research, some of which the commission funded back in 1984. Doing so would help them avoid this latest misstep, and instead take a step in the right direction.
-Robert Robb: "Betting on renewable energy, with your $50 mil"
- Economist: "Economic man, cleaner planet"
-Goldwater Institute study: Hotwiring Deregulation
-Cato Institute study: The Deregulation of the Electricity Industry
Arizona judges are about to face increased voter scrutiny.
The Arizona Supreme Court has changed disclosure rules to give voters access to all complaints filed against Arizona judges, not just those that lead to formal sanctions. Formerly private reprimands for judicial indiscretions such as tardy rulings, DUI arrests, and accessing pornography on court computers will now be a matter of public record.
The rule is an important step toward giving voters meaningful information to take to the polls in judicial retention elections. As a recent Goldwater Institute report shows, no judge has lost a retention election in 26 years, likely due to the incomplete and subjective information voters have had to rely on.
The current primary source of information on judges, the Judicial Performance Review (JPR) voter guide, is a compilation of the subjective opinions of lawyers, litigants, and commission members. The new disclosure rule lets voters examine actual cases of judicial misbehavior and decide for themselves which judges meet ethical and legal standards.
The Supreme Court could take another positive step by requiring the JPR Commission to include judicial reprimand information in its voter guide. Voters' easy access to this information will help make judicial retention elections a more meaningful check on the judiciary.
When Susette Kelo bought her dream home in New London, Connecticut, she didn't expect a private development corporation to show up under city auspices and demand that she turn her property over for redevelopment.
But that's exactly what happened, forcing Kelo and several neighbors to sue for relief in a case that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court's ruling, expected this month, could have important ramifications for property owners in Arizona.
At issue is municipal abuse of eminent domain, a constitutional power that lets government take property for "public uses" such as roads. Over the last twenty years, courts have made a mockery of "public use," extending the definition to almost anything that ostensibly has a public benefit, including economic development projects. The Institute for Justice counts 10,282 instances between 1998 and 2002 in which cities have given private property to developers who promise economic benefits (read, greater tax receipts).
In a highly publicized Arizona case, Mesa attempted to confiscate Randy Bailey's brake shop and sell the property for an Ace Hardware store. Wisely, in ruling against Mesa Judge John Gemmill wrote that the Arizona Constitution requires cities to meet a narrow definition of "public use" when invoking eminent domain: "The constitutional requirement of 'public use' is only satisfied when the public benefits and characteristics of the intended use substantially predominate over the private nature of that use."
In deciding Kelo this month, the U.S. Supreme Court should do the same.
What happens when state law conflicts with federal law? The U.S. Supreme Court considered that issue this week in a case involving a California law that permits the use of medicinal marijuana; a federal law bans the practice.
Fundamentally, the case is not about medicinal marijuana. At stake is the critical principle of federalism, enshrined in the Constitution as a check on the power of the federal government. In this case, however, the court ruled that the Commerce Clause gives the federal government power to encroach on what Justice Thomas calls "states' traditional police powers to define the criminal law and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens."
Justice Thomas explains in his dissent, "If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers."
That should be of concern to Arizona voters, who have twice approved laws similar to California's. Arizona's own Justice O'Connor writes, "If I were a California citizen, I would not have voted for the medical marijuana ballot initiative But whatever the wisdom of California's experiment the federalism principles that have driven our Commerce Clause cases require that room for experiment be protected in this case."
Perhaps Sen. Barry Goldwater put it best when he said, "Neither of our two parties maintains a meaningful commitment to the principles of states' rights. Thus, the cornerstone of the republic, our chief bulwark against the encroachment of individual freedom by big government, is fast disappearing Nothing could so far advance the cause of freedom as for the federal government to withdraw promptly and totally from every jurisdiction which the Constitution reserved to the states."
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