Stephen G. Handy: Mitt Romney is a standard-bearer on climate in the GOP

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) In this March 3, 2018, photo, Sen. Mitt Romney tours Arches National Park as Arches National Park Superintendent Kate Cannon near Moab, Utah.

Utah has been transforming its energy sector in recent years, a trend that will become even more dramatic over the next decade as policies are put into place to accelerate the development of new technology. Our state has cut our carbon emissions by 15 percent over the last decade and, at the same time, we have some of the most affordable electricity in the nation. Clean and renewable energy now supports 6,000 jobs for Utah workers, and the state ranks in the top ten in the nation for both solar energy generation and geothermal.

For example, in October of 2019, the parent company of Rocky Mountain Power, PacifiCorp, released its new 20-year energy plan that includes new renewable energy and the closure of 83% of its coal units by 2038. The draft includes the addition of 3,000 megawatts of new solar power in Utah and 354 megawatts of battery storage expected to be phased in between 2020 and 2037.

Likewise, Dominion Energy is making significant investments to expand its Renewable Natural Gas portfolio in Utah with the 2019 passage of HB 107 Sustainable Transportation and Energy Plan Act Amendments. Renewable Natural Gas is bio-methane captured from food and animal waste. By capturing methane, the development of RNG significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural operations. RNG has the potential of making significant emission reductions in heavy duty and refuse trucks and transit and school buses.

Studies from the last 10 years indicate a simultaneous growth in the GDP and energy usage nationwide, meaning we are becoming more efficient and it’s not hurting our economy. In fact, in some parts of the country, job growth in the clean energy sector outpaces overall job growth significantly.

Voters are taking notice and backing clean energy more than ever before, across the political spectrum. Public opinion regarding clean energy, especially among conservative voters, has improved dramatically. This trend is perhaps most apparent among young Republicans nationwide. Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) Forum and the American Conservations Coalition (ACC) released a poll that found over three quarters of Republicans in the millennial generation support governmental action to incentivize and otherwise promote the development of clean energy sources.

As voters make their opinions known, their elected officials in Congress are listening. U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney knows that the natural beauty of Utah — including its clean air and water — is one of the state’s most important assets. It is with that in mind that he joined the bipartisan U.S. Senate Climate Solutions Caucus.

Romney ought to be commended for joining the caucus. In doing so, he is enlisting his colleagues in a shared mission to spread realistic and economically feasible energy initiatives that align with his constituents’ conservative beliefs while still being able to gain bipartisan support.

“Addressing climate change is going to require significant private sector investments and a major global breakthrough in innovation and technology. To that end, Congress should explore ways to incentivize the research, development, and deployment of clean technologies,” Romney said of his decision to join the caucus.

As the party’s former presidential nominee, Senator Romney’s decision to join the caucus should be seen as a clear move for Republicans to work on solutions to address climate change. It’s just the latest example of his leadership on this issue; this summer, he and fellow U.S. Sen. Mike Lee introduced the Early Action Against Ozone Act.

Alongside Romney and Lee there is a growing number of Senate Republicans who are taking on leadership roles in the area of clean energy development. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine; Cory Gardner, R-Colo.; and Martha McSally, R-Ariz., introduced the Better Energy Storage (BEST) Act, which has broad bipartisan support. Sens. John Cornyn and Bill Cassidy of Texas and Louisiana, respectively, introduced the Launching Energy Advancement and Development through Innovations for Natural Gas (LEADING) Act, which promotes R&D of better methods of carbon capture.

These bills have bipartisan support because American innovation in clean energy is a commonsense issue. Reducing emissions gives us clean air and clean water, but it also gives us opportunities to create jobs and boost or national security.

Any self-respecting Utahn knows that we have to protect the pristine natural beauty of our state, from Arches National Park to the High Uintas. The Senate Climate Solutions Caucus will blend conservatism and conservationism to promote bipartisan legislation that will protect our environment, grow our economy, and bring Utah and the country into the clean energy future.

While our national politics may be divided on many issues, Republicans and Democrats alike can agree to embrace responsible approaches to protecting the environment while growing the economy.

Stephen G. Handy

State Rep. Stephen G. Handy, R-Layton, represents District 16 in the Utah House of Representatives.