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Addressing air pollution and climate change with clean energy

Published June 15, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

This weekend, for the third year in a row, I'll be traveling to Washington, D.C., to push Congress to enact meaningful legislation that will rein in climate change. Many people would view this as a fool's errand, given the gridlock that exists in Washington right now, but I've found a number of reasons to be hopeful.

Besides, this is one problem where failure is not an option.

While only one congressman from Utah, Rep. Jim Matheson, has publically affirmed that we need to address human-caused climate change, many politicians on both sides of the aisle are now saying we need to accept the science and take action.

These people are diverse politically, and include President Obama, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., former Republican congressman from South Carolina, Bob Inglis, and former secretary of state under President Reagan, George Schultz.

Action on climate change can't come soon enough, as the effects are already significant.

Nine percent of precipitation along the Wasatch Front is falling as rain instead of snow. Utah has endured record drought, wildfires, storms, bark beetle infestation, and heat ("A June scorcher," Tribune, June 11), but we have not experienced the impacts as severely as many others.

Both scientists and insurance companies have documented that severe weather events are now three times more frequent and destructive than in the past. This has happened as fossil fuel use has pushed heat-trapping atmospheric carbon dioxide to 400 ppm, higher than any time in the past 3 million years.

At a time when Washington has been gridlocked, Utah has been stagnant on the issue. The last time the Utah Legislature passed a bill on climate change was in 2010. By a large majority they affirmed resolution HJR012, basically saying the EPA should not regulate carbon dioxide pollution because global warming science could not be substantiated.

Gov. Gary Herbert's 2011 "Energy Initiatives and Imperatives" makes no mention of climate change or a need to emphasize clean energy development. Utah sits among a minority of states that do not have a Renewable Electricity Standard and ranks 41st among states in per capita renewable energy production.

And because we rely heavily on fossil fuels, the Wasatch Front experiences some of the most severe air pollution in the United States. When will our state officials come to understand that the solution to our air pollution as well as climate change is to move from fossil fuels to clean energy?

While Utah focuses on the fossil fuels of the past, many other states are aggressively developing the clean, renewable energy of the future. For example, this year California instituted its cap-and-trade program. With abundant hydropower, Washington State gets 60 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

The Nevada Legislature passed a resolution to eliminate coal as a source of power for electricity generation. And in 2012 both Iowa and South Dakota produced almost a quarter of their electricity from wind.

Can Utah transition to non-polluting renewable energy and still maintain a vibrant economy? Absolutely.

Stanford University Professor Mark Jacobson, co-wrote a peer-reviewed paper in February of this year showing how New York state could power its economy completely on renewable energy by 2030. In the process it would create jobs and reduce mortality from air pollution.

While we don't have a comparable academic study for Utah, HEAL Utah has published a thorough report demonstrating Utah's abundant clean energy potential.

I don't know when the U.S. Congress will seriously tackle climate change, but isn't it time for Utah to recognize and seriously develop clean energy rather than playing catch-up with other states?

David Folland is a retired pediatrician from Sandy and a volunteer with Citizens Climate Lobby.