Editorial: Legislature admits climate change is real — now we must demand action

Last week, Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution lawmakers sent to his desk that states a changing climate affects Utahns and, further, encourages the use of science to understand the causes of climate change and find innovative solutions to it.

It was a remarkable moment given that Utah is one of the reddest states in the nation, and many residents who have fought for sensible action on climate change viewed it as a well-earned victory. HEAL Utah, a nonprofit that advocates for environmentally friendly policies, went as far as referring to the resolution as a “landmark.”

That assertion is difficult to dispute. Even five years ago, the thought of the Republican-dominated Utah Legislature passing such a resolution — as opposed to denying the existence of climate change out of hand — would have been laughable. So it’s clear real headway has been made. And to their credit, three of Summit County’s four Republican legislators voted for the resolution, with only Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber, opposing it.

When it comes to an issue as urgent as climate change, though, words only matter so much. More important is action. Now that the Legislature has declared that climate change is real, residents must demand that lawmakers pass legislation to combat it. Without that, the breakthrough the resolution represents would ultimately ring hollow.

Fortunately, the resolution itself offers a common-sense starting point for climate change policies in a Republican state, by encouraging “individuals, corporations, and state agencies to reduce emissions through incentives and support of the growth in technologies and services that will enlarge our economy in a way that is both energy efficient and cost effective.” In other words, the Legislature should pursue environmentally friendly policies that will also benefit Utah’s booming economy. Many experts say measures that combat climate change and economic growth go hand in hand, so that approach should provide plenty of opportunities for action.

Lawmakers would also be wise to look at Park City and Summit County as examples of the type of progress that can happen when elected officials think big. Both local governments have put in place ambitious environmental goals that will take more than a decade to reach. Park City, in particular, has been lauded for changing the perception of how aggressive a city can be in its environmental policies.

That the idea of the Legislature taking cues from liberal Park City on climate change does not seem entirely implausible is progress. Perhaps for the first time, Utahns should be encouraged by what they’re seeing from Capitol Hill on this issue. But starting with the 2019 legislative session, they should accept nothing less than lawmakers taking action to address the calamitous trend they’ve finally admitted is real.

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