Jim Wightman and Mark Reynolds: Climate change is a winning issue

In the homestretch of the 2020 campaign, presidential candidate Joe Biden leaned hard into the issue of climate change, running climate-focused ads in swing states. He bet this issue would now be a winner, and it paid off. The votes have been tallied, and candidate Biden is now President-elect Biden.

Yet his party doesn’t have unified control of our federal government. Biden will govern alongside a Democratic House, a conservative Supreme Court and a Senate with either a slim Republican or Democratic majority. Thus, “working together” will be the most challenging issue facing his administration.

Biden understands that lawmakers of both parties care about climate change. While campaigning he said, “Hurricanes don’t swerve to avoid red states or blue states. Wildfires don’t skip towns that voted a certain way … It’s not a partisan phenomenon, and our response should be the same.”

Some Senate Republicans have shown bipartisanship. In October 2020, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, participating in a climate policy webinar with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., noted that bipartisanship gives a policy longevity, stating: “Let’s work in a way that is going to get the support that you need from both Republicans and Democrats.”

Utah lawmakers have indicated their readiness to work on climate change.

In 2019, Sen. Mitt Romney joined the bipartisan Senate Climate Change Caucus focused on addressing climate issues through private-sector investments and technological innovation. Last August, Rep. John Curtis called for bipartisanship, urging agreement over the simple question: “Do we want to leave the Earth better than we found it?”

During his campaign, newly elected Republican Rep. Blake Moore, of Utah’s 1st Congressional District, expressed a willingness to address and understand climate change issues.

These notable voices are responding to groundswell of public demand for climate action.

According to the respected Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 54% of Americans are either “alarmed” or “concerned” about climate change. Here in Salt Lake County, 68% of adults are worried about global warming, 75% think global warming is happening, and 68% support requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax.

Frankly, those numbers make sense and reflect a year of human suffering wherein 5 million-plus acres have burned across Western states this year, displacing thousands of people. The Southeast has been battered by a record-breaking hurricane season, where storm after storm makes landfall before communities have time to recover from the previous one.

In Utah, since 2000, the longest recorded duration of drought lasted 288 weeks, beginning April 3, 2001, and ending Oct. 3, 2006. This year, the most intense period of drought occurred the week of Nov. 17, when drought affected 40.64% of Utah land. We need to move as quickly as we can to address the root cause of these extreme events: excess greenhouse gas emissions.

One economically efficient and effective policy would be for Congress to enact legislation placing a fee on all U.S. oil, gas and coal consumption based on the greenhouse gas emissions they produce; providing an incentive to pursue clean energy options, while reducing harmful fossil fuel emissions. The revenue generated could be returned to Americans as a “carbon cash back,” putting money in people’s pockets recurringly while transitioning to a clean energy economy. Carbon fee legislation is sitting in Congress now, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763).

In the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, H.R. 763 has been endorsed by Solitude Mountain Resort, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Holladay Mayor Rob Dahle, among many others. We urge Sen. Romney and Rep. Curtis to push to make this legislation the law of the land.

Mark Reynolds

Mark Reynolds is executive director of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and is a graduate of the University of Utah and East High School.

Jim Wightman

Jim Wightman, CPA, MBA, served as director of internal audit in the Salt Lake County auditor’s office from 2000 to 2012, lives in Bountiful and is a member of the Salt Lake City chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby