A bill that would have required the state, cities and counties to do more to curb light pollution failed to pass out of the House Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Wednesday. The Nighttime Environment Protection Act was sponsored by Rep. Stephen Meeks (R-Greenbrier) who says the policy would save taxpayers' money as governments transition to more efficient lighting.
Representatives from the Arkansas Municipal League, the State Highway Department and the City of Little Rock spoke against the bill. They challenged Meeks' claim that passing the bill would result in savings.
Meeks made the analogy that electric lights are often comparable to sprinkler systems which water lawns, while having the unintended effect of watering sidewalks and streets also, because of their poor design.
Speaking against the bill, Ronnie Lowe, Assistant Public Works Director for the City of Little Rock disagreed, saying it would cost extra and raise public safety issues.
“So if this goes forward and it is an unfunded mandate and you put cities in the position of having to decide whether to decide to put up more lights or not put up more lights or take lights down in order to keep funding at the same level you're going backwards from what the constituents are actually wanting to be done,” he said.
Representatives from the Arkansas Municipal League and the State Highway Department also spoke against the bill. They all challenged Meeks' claim that passing the bill would result in savings.
Director of Audubon Arkansas, Dr. Dan Scheiman, spoke for the bill, telling the committee that the bill would also protect birds.
“It's been estimated that between 365 and 988 million birds are killed by building collisions in the U.S. after being attracted to the bright lights like moths to a flame,” he said.
The bill's provisions would only apply to government entities and not to privately owned structures.
Meeks said that according to the International Astronomical Union, no geographical area of Arkansas is free of light pollution and gets naturally dark at nightfall. Meeks, an amateur astronomer, said while presenting the bill that he has worked on a version of the bill since 2011, having shown it to a dozen agencies. He told lawmakers in committee that it was “probably one of the most well-vetted bills you will look at this session.”
The bill failed on a voice vote.