Tribune Editorial: Utah’s Legislature passes a win, and a loss, for the environment

In very anticlimactic fashion, the Legislature passed a resolution this session that recognizes “the impacts of a changing climate” and our stewardship over it.

Yes, the Utah Legislature.

Rep. Rebecca Edwards sponsored House Joint Resolution 7, which is a nonbinding resolution to commit the state to consider the environment in future policy decisions, for a future that is “economically and environmentally viable.”

The resolution passed a House committee at the pleading, and insistence, of about 20 students from Logan High School. One of the students called HJR7 “a logical first step toward well-reasoned action.”

Rep. Mike Noel told the students, “This whole issue of climate change has been used by organizations to fool people.” He went on to conclude that God is in charge of climate, and he’ll leave it to Him.

Luckily, the legislative committee was willing to do God’s work, and passed the bill, as did the Legislature as a whole.

A separate resolution that acknowledged the science behind climate change did not fare as well.

And neither did California’s environment.

The Legislature passed a bill that would fund $1.65 million of an effort to sue California on the ground that its laws to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, and charge more to utilities that buy power from coal-fired plants, make Utah’s coal a more expensive option.

California would respond that that’s the point.

The lawsuit needs the state as a plaintiff to make a stronger argument about interstate commerce. The Legislature would hire the outside firm Snell & Wilmer to litigate the case.

Isn’t our Attorney General’s Office able to make an interstate commerce argument for much less than $1.65 million?

There’s a surprising level of hypocrisy in the idea of Utah, which holds the principle of federalism so dear, suing California over passing a law that is consistent with its own principles and values.

In fact, California has been operating under its greenhouse-gas emissions law since 2006. The state director for Environment California said, “The oil industry has tried to repeal the law in legislation, in the courts and at the ballot box. They lost every single time.”

Gov. Gary Herbert weighed in on this bill earlier in the session to question whether it was a good use of Utah’s money. Since then, though, he said he understands the argument and feels “a lot better about it.”

The future of energy, and the environment, is not coal. The sooner Utah gets on board with this fact, the sooner we will stop wasting money on expensive legal battles and policy decisions that don’t help Utahns, or its environment.