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Climate: Candidates seem to be warming up to problems
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Becoming a mother sharpened Shelley Marshall's thinking about clean air, water and land. Now, as she helps her young daughter Ava grow strong, Marshall is determined to make sure the toddler's future is healthy.

To Marshall, the big issues of our time - the economy, health care and energy - all come back to smart environmental policies. She has made a point of following the presidential primaries this year, but she is not hearing enough about environmental issues, such as energy and climate change.

"I don't think it's being discussed as much as it should be," said the Salt Lake City resident. "And the answers I have heard have been pretty vague."

No, the environment has not been a hot topic in the presidential races up to this point. That might appear puzzling after a year in which the issue of global warming exploded into the public consciousness and gasoline prices have made sensible energy policies a pocketbook issue for Americans of all political stripes.

For Marshall, it is clear the candidates just aren't making the necessary logical connections. But to other political observers, it's a matter of timing.

Matthew Burbank, a political scientist at the University of Utah, said Westerners might have expected to draw more attention to the subject as part of a regional primary. But creation of the Super Tuesday primary dashed that hope.

"For primary voters, it isn't a particularly distinguishing issue," he said of the environment.

Tony Massaro, political director for the League of Conservation Voters, a Washington, D.C., group that advocates for pro-environment policies and candidates, said the fast-paced primary season, coupled with the complexity of the issues, has made it difficult for candidates to discuss energy and the environment in much depth.

"In all likelihood, we are not going to see that level of specificity the people of the West want and deserve until we have the general election matchup," said Massaro, a longtime Coloradoan.

Frank Maisano, a Washington lobbyist for coal companies, wind-power developers and refineries nationwide, said he is not surprised that energy and environment has not commanded the kind of attention that Westerners, with their understandably nuanced view of the subject, might want.

Meanwhile, the West is the nation's fastest-growing region, with the fastest-growing demand for energy, he noted. It is also the place where many of the nation's energy resources are concentrated - both fossil fuels that make up Old Energy and the wind, solar and geothermal energy sources seen as the nation's New Energy. The West, in other words, is central to the nation's overall energy security.

"That's why [Westerners] play an important role, that's why they need to be heard," Maisano said.

Marshall has started seeing some important differences among the candidates, although she has not decided who will get her vote. She will stay tuned to the debate on the environmental Web site Grist.org and in other media for more information about the candidates' positions on issues like these.

She did switch off the television last week when she saw GOP candidates touting nuclear power, which she sees it as a bad choice because of unresolved waste problem that might end up in Utah's backyard.

Just the same, she said, "It's nice to hear [the environment] be in the debate. But I'm not sure everyone's been connecting the dots, . . . [the environment] is the core issue that effects every issue."

fahys@sltrib.com

* Grist: Provides an all-around resource on environmental issues in the 2008 presidential campaign, http://www.grist.org/

* League of Conservation Voters: This group devotes part of its Web site to video clips of the candidates talking about environment in their own words, http://www.lcv.org/voterguide/

* Project Vote Smart: This guide offers a look at the candidates from many perspectives, environment included, http://www.vote-smart.org/election president.php

* U.S. Chamber of Commerce: A pro-business look at the candidates, including their views on environmental issues, http://www.uschamber.com

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