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The reason why

Published May 23, 2011 12:05 am

Petition rates a serious answer
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The First Amendment to the Constitution, as we all know, includes the right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances."

What most of us probably do not know — perhaps because it is buried more deeply and expressed less poetically — is that Utahns also have the statutory right to approach their state government and request that various agencies initiate the process of making new rules in furtherance of their lawful missions and in the interests of the people. This provision of the Utah State Code — Section 63G-3-601 — also provides that, should the state not grant the petitioners' requests, for a hearing and then for new rules, it must give the reason why. In writing.

Such a petition was filed recently by a group of Utahns, mostly of high school and college age, asking that each of several state agencies pull all the levers on their respective panels to slow the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and stave off the expected impact of global climate change.

And the answers that those agencies — which include the state's agriculture, environment, transportation, water and health departments — give to the students and their mentors should form the starting point for some long-overdue discussions about what Utah can, and cannot, reasonably hope to accomplish in this area.

It is only a starting point, most likely, because the agencies are all but certain to give these inspiring young people the official brush-off.

State agencies depend on the Utah Legislature for their continued funding. The Legislature, in turn, is dominated by development and real estate interests who never met a carbon atom they didn't want burned.

And, as the grand American muckraker Upton Sinclair once said, "It is hard to make a man understand something when his livelihood depends on him not understanding it."

What the Utah executive branch is unlikely to understand, so long as the legislative branch remains in active denial, is that global climate change is real, is influenced by human behaviors and is potentially catastrophic to our environment, our health and, yes, our livelihoods.

Meanwhile, the movement's goal of using state rules to lower greenhouse gas emission by 6 percent per year for the next 39 years may be beyond practical reach.

That doesn't mean the challenge isn't worth raising, or that the young people filing this petition don't deserve a serious answer to their altogether fair question: After you guys have squeezed every last dollar out of the earth, sky and water, what will be left for us?