Some Utah lawmakers deny climate change, but OK a bill recognizing its impacts after hearing pleas from students

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Rep. Rebecca Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, as seen on the House floor on January 26, 2018. Edwards is sponsoring HCR7, acknowledging “the impacts of a changing climate” on Utahns, which was passed favorably on Thursday by the Utah Legislature’s House Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment.

A bill that commits Utah’s leaders to recognizing “the impacts of a changing climate” drew initial approval Thursday after an impassioned hearing.

The House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee voted 8-3 to favorably recommend HCR7 to the full House of Representatives, after a group of about 20 students from Logan High School pled with lawmakers to consider the state’s future.

“We live in a rapidly changing world, and it’s forward-thinking policies like this one that will allow us to stay ahead of the curve,” said Wes Carter, a junior at Logan High School.

Carter said he was alarmed at how partisan politics had “muddied the waters of environmental policy,” and called HCR7 “a logical first step toward well-reasoned action.”

On the flip side, the Logan High students argued, preserving natural resources and encouraging renewable energy would foster innovation and create new jobs, some of which they said they anticipated filling some day.

The committee did not discuss HCR1, a similar resolution that prompted debate during a hearing on Tuesday. That resolution, sponsored by Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, challenged state lawmakers to acknowledge the science behind climate-change theories.

Rep. Rebecca Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, said the Cache County students had inspired her to sponsor HCR7. They provided the original language for the bill, she said, but that bill failed to pass committee last year. Since then, Edwards said she and the students had altered the bill to make it more acceptable to Utah lawmakers.

Though members of the Natural Resources largely praised the Logan students for their tenacity, some berated the teens instead.

“I want these students to know that there’s a lot of work to do in the energy sector,” said Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, adding that the Logan High students had only expressed one side of the issue.

Albrecht said the students should go back to school, graduate, and then study fields such as clean coal technology, nuclear power, battery technology and forestry.

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, pointed to predictions made by scientists in the 60s and 70s that he said had failed to come to fruition.

“This whole issue of climate change has been used by organizations to fool people,” Noel said. “We don’t know about the climate. One thing I do know is that there is someone who is in charge of the climate, and I believe in that, so I won’t be voting for this.”

Noel also argued that carbon dioxide — a primary contributor to climate change — is not a pollutant because it feeds plants.

Albrecht and Rep. Christine Watkins, R-Price, joined Noel in voting against HCR7.