If you were hoping for a breath of fresh air (literally) from the Utah Legislature this year, it is not going to happen.
On Monday, the House Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment slapped down a modest proposal to acknowledge that climate change exists. Members of the committee voted 11 to 4 to quash House Bill 77, a measure that would have allowed the state's Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands to factor climate-change data into its long-range fire suppression plans.
But, even though the bulk of the bill addressed specific efforts to stem the current increase in wildland fires, the term "climate change" along with the bill's suggestion that observations of a "rise in average annual temperature" might be "attributed directly or indirectly to human activity" were too much for 11 of the 12 Republicans on the 15-member committee.
Their refusal to even move the bill along to the House floor flies in the face of reality. Last summer local residents lived in fear of wildfires. In July, local merchants pulled all fireworks off their shelves because of the high fire danger; in August, Deer Valley residents watched in horror as a fire along the shore of the Jordanelle Reservoir threatened to jump over US 40; and throughout the summer, ash from nearby fires rained down on picnics throughout Summit County, keeping residents and firefighters in a constant state of high alert.
To his credit, the bill's sponsor, Representative Kraig Powell, (R-Heber City), who represents Park City at the Legislature, says he hasn't given up entirely. But, he admits, the bill's prospects don't look good.
The committee's latest climate-change denial comes on the heels of Gov. Gary Herbert's State of the State address, delivered in the midst of a dank inversion. The speech painted a rosy picture of Utah's economic climate but carefully avoided any mention of the environmental climate or the fact that, for several days last month, the Environmental Protection Agency listed Logan and Provo as having the worst air quality in the nation.
Make no mistake about it Utah is feeling the effects of climate change and it is largely human caused. Even though a majority of members of the state Legislature are still in denial, bona fide scientists from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration now have the data to prove that climate change is not a hoax but a very real threat.
Utah's legislators need only take a walk around the block to see that issues related to the climate, like air and water quality, should be at the top of their agenda.
In his speech, the governor touted energy development and bragged about the state's aversion to federal regulations. But that attitude may backfire in a cloud of dangerous pollutants. Unless lawmakers are willing to take strong measures to control climate change and improve air quality, northern Utah might find itself being referred to as the Beijing of the U.S.