Legislators put climate bill on ice
Despite the defeat of a bill addressing climate change, supporters are optimistic that it’s only a matter of time before lawmakers accept climate change as an issue that needs to be addressed.
"We never thought it would be a slam dunk, but rather an opening to something that is so visually apparent. They closed the door, but it doesn’t mean we’re not going to knock on it again and again," said Susan Soleil, a Midway resident who spoke in favor of the bill to the House Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment on Monday, Feb. 4.
H.B. 77, sponsored by Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, received only 4 votes of support: one Republican and all three committee Democrats, with 11 voting against the bill, all Republicans.
"The point of the bill was to allow the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands the authority to consider the effects of human-caused climate change in their long-range planning for fire suppression and fire fighting. It did not mandate they do anything," Powell said.
Committee members who opposed the bill argued that global warming is not happening because Utah just had the coldest month on record in Utah, or that if it is happening, it isn’t bad, or that nothing can be done about it, Powell said.
Despite the bill being voted down by the committee, Powell hasn’t given up.
"For now the bill is stalled," he said. "Everyone said it was killed, and technically I guess it was, because it was a resounding defeat. But a bill is never dead on Utah’s Capitol Hill until the last discussion."
Powell intends to make adjustments to the bill’s language to make it more palatable for committee Republicans before bringing it back before the committee.
"Any time I can persuade the chairman that I have changed it and it needs another attempt then I can get it back on the agenda," Powell said.
However, the sole Republican bill supporter on the committee, Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, attempted to amend the bill with the removal of "human-caused" from the language, but the bill was still defeated.
"To be honest, the chances of me making an amendment and persuading anyone in this legislative session are low, but I’m going to continue to try," he said.
Powell said he tried to make it clear during the committee meeting that climate change is not solely a Democrat issue.
"It’s a Republican issue as well, and I think Republicans need to acknowledge it, take ownership of it and decide what the approach and solutions are," he said. "We might not all agree on the approach and solutions, but we should at least recognize the scientific evidence."
If Powell is unable to persuade the committee this year, he plans to try again in a future legislative session.
"I think we’re going to continue to see progress as more and more citizens, Republicans and Democrats, express concern to the Legislature," he said. "So I will continue to push the idea that the Utah State Legislature needs to recognize climate change as an actual phenomenon."
Soleil agreed that the issue isn’t going away.
"It’s something the committee Republicans are going to hear more and more about. And I think this meeting put them on warning, that this is something that is so critical to our time. They will not be able to sweep this under the rug."
A town hall meeting to discuss legislative issues with Powell will be held Wed., Feb. 6 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Roger Harlan Conference Room at the Park City Library, located at 1255 Park Ave.
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