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Lawmakers divided on Utah's environmental message

By Ryan Morgan | Posted - Mar. 6, 2017 at 9:58 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — A short-lived environmental resolution failed alongside its spiritual predecessor Monday after House lawmakers were divided on a vote to move the measure forward.

HJR18, sponsored by Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, found a moment of life after a group of Utah students raised the issue of climate change with an informal public hearing at the Capitol that gained nearly 14,000 views on Facebook.

The students originally held their hearing as a protest of Orem Republican Sen. Margaret Dayton's decision to not hold a formal hearing on SJR9, a similar resolution sponsored by Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City.

Edwards' resolution, submitted over the weekend before the final week of the 2017 Legislature, borrowed much of the sentiment of the earlier resolution. It called for a conservative environmental stewardship through the argument that Utah could sustain both a strong economy and environmental cleanliness and sustainability without compromising one for the other.

The resolution, which Edwards presented in a bipartisan effort with Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, calls on "economically viable" public and private solutions to reduce air pollution and balance human impacts on the climate.

Kwinn Sutton, a BYU student and speaker for the resolution, called on lawmakers to reject "political orthodoxy" in support of clean solutions that he said outstrip the fossil fuel industry's ability to efficiently supply energy.

Sutton, along with several Utah high school and college students, presented their case during a lengthy period of public comment in a meeting of the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee.

Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, cited his experience in the energy sector as he spoke against moving to complete reliance on renewable energy.

"I have solar on my home," Albrecht said. "But I don’t think that you can take coal and gas out of the equation just yet."

Albrecht cited a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study that found that much of the pollution experienced in the United States comes from pollution carried over from Asia. With coal in high demand in Japan, there would be a greater interest in Utah's coal supply, he said, which has a higher cleanliness and burning efficiency than most other coal supplies.

"Do we want to send the message to D.C. that we are done with fossil fuels here in Utah? Do we want to kill our economy?" Albrecht asked.

Despite the lengthy discussion, the resolution failed on a tie vote of 5-5. Email: rmorgan@deseretnews.com

Ryan Morgan

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