CASA GRANDE — With the global commodity markets for recyclables all but disappearing, cities and towns across the country are struggling to figure out what to do with their recycling programs.
Last month Sierra Vista became the first city in Arizona to get rid of its recycling program and beginning July 1, Casa Grande could become the second, if others are not announced first.
The topic was discussed at Monday’s City Council study session where Terrence McKeon, deputy public works director, gave a presentation with a recommendation to suspend the program until a sustainable recycling program can be developed at a reasonable cost.
“The markets are expected to evolve,” McKeon told council members. “We are hoping the market is not dead and it will recover.”
McKeon said the issue is a global problem and not just local as the markets have gone away and the commingled material has a negative price, meaning a company has to be paid to take it. The biggest impact on the market, according to a memorandum from Public Works Director Kevin Louis to City Manager Larry Rains, came when China it decided to stop buying a majority of the U.S.’s recyclable products.
The result has been a snowball effect that is expected to affect large cities and smaller communities, which will be facing similar situations once their vendor contracts expire.
The city has been without a contract for a recycling vendor since the end of September. Since then, the city has collected recyclables — only to bale them with the hope that another vendor could be found to take the bales away from the landfill.
However, the city hasn’t had any such luck.
According to the memorandum, the city began requesting quotes in July from vendors, with the lowest coming from United Fibers, which would charge the city $67 per ton plus transportation, and another $50 per ton for any load that was considered contaminated from materials in containers.
According to the memorandum, in order to cover the costs, the city would need to increase fees by $2 or $3 a month.
Yet in the meantime while this played out, the city has kept collecting recyclables that are not getting recycled.
“If you pick them up now, they are going to the dump instead of being recycled?” Councilman Dick Powell asked McKeon. “The community needs to be made aware of that.”
Mayor Craig McFarland commented to McKeon about a lack of guarantees of the recyclables actually being recycled if the city were to accept a bid from a vendor.
“If we do this and pay those increased rates, there’s no guarantee that we pay these people to take our recyclables, that they are not going to put it in someone else’s dump,” McFarland said.
According to the memorandum, the city reached out to vendors in the Valley to see if they would take the current bales sitting in the landfill, and all said no. The city did find one vendor in Logan, Utah, that would take the bales but it would cost the city $135 per ton, with $60 assessed on the material, $75 for transportation and $50 per ton for contaminated material.
The other option for the city is simply to dispose of the material in the landfill at a cost of $38 per ton.
“Public Works has done everything they could,” Powell said.
According to the city, 1,412.35 tons of material were recycled in 2017-18, which was down from 1,421.20 tons in 2016-17.
“This has been a difficult topic,” Rains told council members. “Obviously we have been studying it for about a year and a half now, and we all share a common vision that we want to be as environmentally friendly as we possibly can.”
The council did not take any action on Monday but is likely to give approval later this month through the budget process.
In the meantime the city will continue to look at all options for sustainable recycling programs. It’s a process that McKeon told the council could take two years to fully develop.
“This will not be a cure,” he said of suspending the program.
CASA GRANDE — The last time retired U.S. Air Force Col. Charlie Luse, 85, donned his dress uniform, it was to attend a military appreciation day about 30 years ago.
His youngest son, Arturo Luse, is now 19 years old and joining the Navy. He reports for swearing-in in a few months and the elder Luse has been granted permission to conduct his son’s swearing-in oath. However, his dress uniform no longer fits and he needs to wear the official attire to conduct the ceremony.
“The last time I wore the uniform, a button popped off,” said the elder Luse, who served in the Air Force from 1956 to 1982. During part of that time, he was a base commander in Crete, Greece.
“I’ve done many swearing-ins throughout my career,” he said. “But this one is special. I’m so very proud of Arturo and I know it will be emotional.”
He hopes someone has a modern Air Force officer’s Class A dress uniform in his size — pant waist 42 and jacket 44 or 46 — that he can buy or borrow.
“It has to be an officer’s uniform, and I’d like it to be a modern one made after 2000,” he said. “I’m a short guy so the length of the pants aren’t important — I can have those altered.”
As well as wearing the uniform to conduct Arturo’s swearing-in oath at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Phoenix in November, Charlie also plans to wear the uniform to his son’s boot camp graduation eight weeks later.
Arturo, who is busy preparing for boot camp by eating healthy and working out, said he’s excited to have his dad conduct his swearing-in.
“I’m really happy about it,” he said. “And I’m excited about going into the Navy.”
Arturo graduated from Mission Heights Preparatory High School in 2018. He is currently in his first year at Central Arizona College, studying computer science.
Because he earned a high score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, which he took in his senior year in high school, Navy recruiters stopped by his house a few months ago to tell him about the military’s nuclear program.
“I was really surprised they came to the house,” he said.
After talking to the recruiters and his family, he decided to join the Navy. He is joining as an enlisted member and is on course to enter the branch’s nuclear engineering program, which includes a year and a half of specialty training following boot camp.
“My hope is that after completing the training, he applies for officer training,” Charlie said. “The U.S. military is the best fraternal organization in the world and he’s going into their elite force. We couldn’t be prouder.”
Arturo recently completed his military pre-entrance physical and was given a ship-out date of Nov. 20 or sooner.
He said he’s looking forward to the future and is ready to serve.
Having his father conduct his swearing-in ceremony will be the perfect send-off, he said.
“I’m excited,” he said.
As well as his father, his mother, Leticia, and sister also plan to attend the swearing-in ceremony.
Those who have a uniform to sell or lend to Luse may contact him through email at email@example.com.
PHOENIX — The biggest victims of President Donald Trump’s tariffs won’t necessarily be Mexicans or Chinese or young urbanites who will have to pay more for avocado toast.
The people likely to pay the steepest price for Trump’s attempts to bend Mexico and China to his will are poor Americans, who already live close to the financial edge and could have to pay more for everyday purchases.
For many low-income households, tariffs “are a tax on their consumption, and by raising the cost of their consumption, they will likely have to cut back,” said Jay Shambaugh, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
The president last week announced plans to impose a 5 percent tax on Mexican imports unless that country halts all unauthorized border crossings into the United States. The tariffs would rachet up to 25 percent in the coming months if Mexico fails to stop the flow of immigrants and asylum-seekers.
The threat of higher tariffs follows a decision in May to hike tariffs to 25 percent from 10 percent on Chinese imports, a move designed to increase pressure on China to agree to more favorable trading terms with the United States.
But rather than force concessions from China and Mexico, the tariffs could boomerang on U.S. consumers and companies. The taxes could raise the price of fruits and vegetables and disrupt the supply chain for auto parts in ways that could hurt vehicle sales.
That would be hard on people like Walter Rogers, a 65-year-old retiree living in Phoenix on a Social Security check he says is about $700 a month.
“We just got a cost-of-living raise. Now they’re going to raise prices?” Rogers said as he walked to Walmart. “Hardly anybody can afford this.”
Executives at Walmart and dollar-store chains, which import much of their merchandise and serve many low-income customers, have warned that tariffs could lead to higher prices.
A 2017 research paper co-authored by Shambaugh found that tariffs would eat up a greater proportion of the incomes of the bottom 10 percent of households. The burden would be much lighter for those higher up on the financial ladder.
The findings — which are backed by most economists — stand in sharp contrast to Trump’s misleading claim that foreign countries are paying the tariffs. In reality, the taxes are passed along to consumers and companies in the form of higher prices and reduced economic activity that can stifle overall growth.
There are two major reasons why the poor face an outsized burden, Shambaugh said.
First, poorer Americans tend to spend all of their income, while wealthier Americans have enough income left over to save and invest. That leaves the poor more exposed to higher prices from import taxes.
Second, the wealthy are more likely to splurge on services such as farm-to-table restaurant meals or gym memberships that are not subject to tariffs at all. But poorer Americans spend a higher percentage of their income on basics such as clothing and groceries that are more likely to be imported and subject to tariffs.
Marlene Grimes has noticed higher prices for dairy goods and vitamins at the drugstore near her Phoenix apartment. If prices go even higher, she said, she would have to visit the local food pantry more often.
“I’m on a fixed income,” said Grimes, a 74-year-old retiree. “If it goes up on what you buy, you just don’t buy it.”
During a period of widening income inequality, Trump’s plan to levy tariffs will complicate the legacy of this 2017 income tax overhaul, his signature policy achievement.
Administration officials repeatedly pledged that the middle class and poor would benefit from lower tax rates, but the chief beneficiaries of the overhaul so far have been the wealthy and corporations. Any tax savings realized by the poor could be eaten up by higher prices from tariffs, according to an analysis being released this week by the Tax Foundation, a right-of-center think tank in Washington.
Assuming a 25 percent tax on both Chinese and Mexican imports, the bottom fifth of households would probably be worse off under Trump than they were during Barack Obama’s presidency, said Kyle Pomerleau, chief economist at the Tax Foundation. Wealthier households would likely be insulated from the tariffs and could keep most of their savings from lower income taxes.
“You’re looking at an administration that may have raised taxes on the bottom 20 percent and cut taxes for the top 1 percent,” Pomerleau said.
Tariffs on Mexico would be especially tough on Arizona, which imported $9 billion worth of goods from its southern neighbor last year, nearly three times as much as from its next closest trading partner, China. The historically Republican state voted narrowly for Trump in 2016, but in last year’s midterm elections Democrats picked up offices they had not won in decades. Arizona is expected to be a battleground in the 2020 presidential election and will have a crucial Senate contest.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey generally opposes tariffs but has avoided criticizing Trump’s threat, saying national security is more important than commerce.
“Our economy is doing terrific. Our economy is going to continue to do terrific,” Ducey told reporters Monday.
PHOENIX — The U.S. Drought Monitor recently reported that, for the first time in its nearly 20-year history, none of the contiguous states was showing symptoms of severe or exceptional drought. That report includes Arizona, as this year’s abnormally wet May helped push the state out of a 10-year drought period.
According to the monitor’s weekly report for late last week, only 20.5 percent of Arizona was showing moderate drought or “abnormally dry” symptoms. Data for the same week in 2018 found 100 percent of the state in moderate drought or abnormally dry, with a majority of the state experiencing severe (97 percent) or extreme drought (73.2 percent).
Richard Heim, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information, said the change was tied to this year’s wet spring.
“Rain and snow have been falling in the areas that needed it, so the drought’s contracted a lot,” he said.
Arizona is no stranger to downpours in the monsoon season, which runs June 15 to Sept. 30, according the National Weather Service, but heavy rain and snowfall in spring isn’t typical for the Southwest.
State climatologist Nancy Selover said the increased rain and snow came from winter storms over the Southwest that lingered longer and provided more moisture than in the past.
“Typically, that pattern stops in April, if we even get it,” Selover said. “Last year it was so dry, we never even got that pattern. … So it was really warmer than normal, really drier than normal. This year, we had what I would consider a more normal pattern.”
Heim said this kind of shift in drought status is normal for the desert. Although the U.S. Drought Monitor has been collecting data on drought since 2000, he said, such records as the Palmer Drought Index, with recorded data from as far back as the early 1900s, indicate that drought in Arizona ebbs and flows regularly.
Selover noted that the Drought Monitor’s map only reflects short-term drought, not long-term.
“In the western U.S., water resources is a long-term issue,” she said. “Reservoirs don’t fill in a year and aquifers don’t drain in a year or fill in a year. It takes multiple years that are dry or that are wet in order to change that.”
In late May, representatives from each of the Colorado River Basin states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – signed the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan after almost six years of work to develop state plans to address the severe drought on the region.
Nearly 20 years of drought in the basin have caused the water levels of the Colorado River to drop, putting the reservoirs at Lake Powell and Lake Mead at risk of not having enough water to meet demand.
It can be difficult to precisely define a drought in a state known for being hot and dry. Marvin Percha, a meteorologist with the Phoenix branch of the National Weather Service, said drought is a “certain departure from what’s considered normal rain, precip(itation) or melted snow fall.”
So, Arizona and the Southwest’s standards for drought are far different from standards in other parts of the country that may be wetter or have the capacity to store large volumes of groundwater.
Selover said it can be hard to explain drought to residents of Phoenix, where water is accessed at the turn of a tap. Outside metro Phoenix, she said, Arizonans relying on groundwater more readily understand what’s at stake.
However, Percha said, wet spells like the recent one pose their own set of potential problems. Although ample rains have helped high-desert cities and forests reduce the threat of wildfire, the summer heat could spell trouble for the lower desert.
“Because of all the rain we’ve had in the winter, there have been a lot of grasses and what we call fine fuels that have grown, and now with the drier weather, they’re drying out,” Percha said. “That’s increased the fire hazard down in the lower deserts.”
He also said flooding could be a problem if wet springs become a long-term standard in Arizona, as reservoirs could overflow.
Selover said it’s more likely that years of drought and groundwater draws would collapse the soil, meaning aquifers won’t be able to store as much water as before. However, it could take about 10 more years of drought to reach that point, she said.
For Selover, the concern is flash flooding caused by the sudden heavy rain, similar to what Arizonans experience during monsoon season.
Mike Crimmins, an associate professor and climate science extension specialist for the University of Arizona, noted that seasonal allergies may stick around longer, with harsher symptoms, as a result of increased plant growth.
Crimmins said wet seasons are the optimal time to think about water conservation because drought is largely unpredictable.
“We can have this conversation, and then two months from now we’re in one of the worst monsoon droughts that we’ve seen or something like that,” he said. “That’s always a possibility. But I’m trying to be kind of optimistic here. … It really builds us some time to get the water situation under control in Arizona.”
Crimmins also said Arizonans should remember that one great wet season doesn’t mean climate change has been reversed or even slowed.
“This is a very local phenomenon for the Southwest and it’s been positive and beneficial, but we still need to be vigilant with water and keeping an eye on the temp(erature) trend in the long term as well,” he said.
Heim cautioned that Arizonans shouldn’t get too comfortable with the idea of a lush, wet climate in the future.
“I can guarantee you, because climate is cyclical, drought will return,” he said. “It’s like the James Bond movies: ‘James Bond will return’ at the end of the movie. Drought will return.”