Utah Rep. Jim Matheson was in a position he never wanted to be: He held a pivotal vote on the House Energy and Commerce Committee as it debated, and passed, a bill to promote clean energy and limit emissions of greenhouse gases. He had to step forward and be counted, do more than give lip service to concerns over global warming and a desire to encourage clean-energy technology and conservation.
But Matheson, with a foot in each camp as always, squandered this opportunity to stand up on these all-important issues and join Congress members seeking solutions. Along with only two other Democrats, he voted no.
Since Republicans on the committee were aligned against the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (only one voted for it), and all the more traditional Democrats supported it, that supposedly left political hybrids like Matheson holding the aces. And Matheson cast his with the GOP.
The act passed 33-25, so this vital bill will move forward to other committees and to the full House without Matheson's support. That's good for the country and, ironically, good for Matheson politically. But disappointing for Utah.
Matheson represents a district with heavily Republican pockets that depend on coal mining and coal-fired power plants where many believe global warming is either a hoax or overblown. By contrast, he claims to embrace climate science and says our dependence on oil must end.
Thursday he faced a day of reckoning. And he picked political expediency over science.
This legislation represents a policy shift from fossil fuel development to renewable energy. Utahns who care about air quality, the looming crisis of global warming, energy independence and Utah's long-term economic health would like to know we have one congressman who shares these concerns. But Matheson chose instead to place coal, oil and gas interests ahead of his constituents' and fear of change ahead of faith in American ingenuity.
Matheson says the target for reducing emissions (a 17 percent reduction below 2005 levels by 2020) is too "aggressive" and new technology may not be developed in time. We disagree. On the contrary, the target, a result of a committee compromise, may not be aggressive enough to mitigate global warming. We agree with him that electrical transmission systems must be updated and corn-based ethanol should be dumped. But these are not reasons enough to vote against the bill.
In the end, Matheson, yet again hedging his bets, failed Utah and the country.