Utah won't be capping-and-trading greenhouse gas emissions in two years, when the multi-state partnership it belongs to launches its regional effort to tackle climate change.
But that does not mean the state is quitting the Western Climate Initiative, said Gov. Gary Herbert's office.
"While he disagrees with some principles favored by WCI," said Herbert spokeswoman Angie Welling, "he believes that Utah is better served by having a seat at the table than by removing itself from the conversation altogether."
The comment comes after an industry publication said Wednesday that Utah was pulling out of the partnership with seven states and four Canadian provinces to develop a system of greenhouse gas controls.
Cap-and-trade proposals aim to use market forces to reduce the pollution blamed for climate disruption by making avoidance of greenhouse gases a commodity that can be traded like metals or crops.
State policy makers have not enacted essential legislation that would authorize Utah to take part in the WCI's cap-and-trade programs, said Dianne Nielson, Herbert's energy adviser.
"We're simply not in a position at this time to implement cap-and trade," she said.
Herbert, a Republican, inherited Utah's commitment to the WCI when he took over as governor last August in the wake of then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s resignation to become U.S. Ambassador to China.
Huntsman, also a Republican, had joined the regional partnership in 2007, after convening a state panel on climate change impacts in Utah. But Herbert said as recently as last year that he was not persuaded that the scientific evidence supported the need for policies addressing climate disruption.
Utah lawmakers passed resolutions this year and last year urging the governor to pull out of the WCI, citing its potential impact on the economy and consumers.
But many point to developments outside Utah when they predict that some kind of carbon-pricing system appears likely in the near future. Besides regional cap-and-trade programs in the West, Midwest and Northeast, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun to outline its plans for carbon controls, and a new climate bill is expected from the U.S. Senate as soon as next week.
WCI supporters say that energy-generating states like Utah need to be at the bargaining table to ensure their interests are taken into account in the strategy that is ultimately adopted.
That might explain why states are continuing to participate in the WCI even though some members appear unlikely to be ready for a cap-and-trade system scheduled to begin in 2012. Arizona, for instance, already has said it will not be part of the cap-and-trade system, and implementation has stalled in Washington, Oregon and Montana.
Yet, Patrick Cummins, project manager for WCI, noted: "All parties are still at the table."
Through the WCI:
» About 65% of the greenhouse-gas emissions by WCI members are expected to be part of the cap-and-trade system that launches in 2012. That's because California and three Canadian provinces responsible for a big share of the regional emissions are participating.
» Member states and provinces have taken steps to inventory emissions, which is considered a crucial step in preparing for carbon controls.
» Utah and other WCI members have embraced policies to boost the use of renewable energy and to promote energy efficiency.
Nielson said the value of continuing to take part in WCI discussions is that Utah can ensure policy makers don't overlook its interests as they sort through the complex questions associated with climate change.
"That's what we are trying to figure out," she said. "That's why we are at the table."
U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah joined other Republicans this week in trying to stop the Obama administration from requiring climate change impacts as they evaluate the environmental impacts of roads, bridges and other federal projects. The senators said the administration's new requirement would cause delays in domestic energy production, highway construction and other job-creating activities.
"The White House's attempt to use [the National Environmental Policy Act] to combat global warming is yet another example of how the Obama administration continues to implement policies to please its left-wing base, without considering the harmful consequences for Americans and businesses," said Bennett in a news release.