Jamie Henn: Communities should control their own energy future

(AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey) A MarkWest Liberty natural gas pipeline and fracking well cap is seen in Valencia, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020.

Why is it that Utah lawmakers wax poetic about the importance of local control, right up until it stands in the way of a powerful industry making a profit?

The latest example of Utah legislators undermining the rights of our cities to determine what’s best for their future is the proposed legislation from Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, that would preemptively block communities from putting into place rules that ensure new homes are built with clean, affordable, all-electric systems, instead of climate-polluting methane gas.

As no community in Utah has yet attempted to put these rules into place, you may wonder why Handy and his fellow Republicans believe such a bill is necessary.

Handy has said the effort is about preserving choice but, in reality, it’s just the opposite. This preemption bill is part of a national strategy by the fossil fuel industry to strip communities of their rights and authority, permanently eliminating local control over issues related to climate, health and safety issues.

The bill here in Utah is a mirror image of similar, industry-backed attempts to undermine local decision-making in states like Missouri, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arizona and Mississippi.

This industry effort goes against many of the values we say we stand for here in Utah: independence, community and self-determination. Our cities are responsible for protecting the health and safety of their residents. It’s vital they retain their independence to act on issues that impact them the most.

If a city wants to pass laws that help them move toward a clean energy future, that should be their choice. They shouldn’t be forced to stick with climate-polluting gas because our state legislators are cozy with fossil fuel companies.

In fact, the very reason the fossil fuel industry is pushing bills like the one now proposed in Utah is because communities across the country are realizing that moving their buildings and homes to all-electric systems powered by renewable energy is one of the fastest, most affordable ways to address the climate crisis, while improving public health and quality of life.

New, all-electric homes and offices have lower energy bills, improved indoor air quality and a lower carbon footprint than those hooked up to gas.

Polling earlier this year found that 95% of Utahns believe that air pollution is a serious problem and a majority believe that lawmakers should take action on climate change. Passing this legislation initiative would eliminate independence to do just that. We should be doing everything we can to encourage our communities to move to a clean energy future, not hamstringing their ability to act.

Handy has presented this legislation as a homegrown attempt to protect consumers but, make no mistake, this is all about protecting gas industry CEOs. It’s a strategy that was hatched in the boardrooms of out-of-state companies and is being dispatched all across the country.

We can’t let them tell Utahns what we can and can’t do on energy issues. Local officials must retain the authority to protect the health and safety of their communities.

If local control means anything to our state lawmakers, they’ll reject this bill and respect our right to protect our families, communities and environment.

Jamie Henn

Jamie Henn, Salt Lake City, is the director of Fossil Free Media and a board member of O2 Utah.