How Utah could be the Saudi Arabia of sustainable energy and why it likely won’t, writes Editorial Board

We pay lip service to solar, wind and geothermal, but Cox’s devotion to 20th century sources is depressing.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rocky Mountain Power's windmills in Spanish Fork Canyon in 2017.

A normally pious man took a Sunday off from church to go hunting. Alone in the woods, he came face to face with a giant bear. The man turned and ran.

Realizing he could not hope to outrun the bear, the man started climbing a tree. But it didn’t take long for the man to realize that bears can climb trees, too.

Out of options, the man turned his gaze to heaven.

“Lord,” he said, “I know I shouldn’t be calling upon you now, me having skipped church and all. But, if you can spare a kind thought for an old friend, I’d ask you one favor.

“If you can’t help me, please, just don’t help the bear.”

It is time for the United States, the state of Utah and all government agencies and subdivisions to stop helping the fossil fuel industry. Not to ban or stop or prohibit or tax it to death. But to leave it to survive as best it can in the open market that it and its supporters have always claimed to respect and revere.

Innovations and economies of scale, along with freely made decisions of purchasers and investors, are pointing a clear path to a future where sustainable sources of energy — solar, wind, geothermal — make more sense. They can both save the planet and grow markets, create jobs and ride the rocket of the marketplace, rather than rely on centralized planning.

Utah’s public and private sectors by all rights should be a leader in this monumental change. We have an innovative business class, top-flight research universities and solar, wind and geothermal resources just begging to be tapped.

Sustainable energy is also much more compatible with Utah’s other greatest asset, its public lands, which do not deserve to be despoiled by increased drilling and mining.

Despite the obvious need and the obvious benefits of sustainable energy, most of Utah’s elected leaders continue to hold tight to the dirty, declining industries of the past.

Gov. Spencer Cox is among the signers of a letter excoriating the Biden administration for its pause on drilling leases on federal land. He did so despite a review by agencies in his own executive branch that said the Biden move would have minimal impact on energy production in Utah. That’s largely because most oil and gas drilling here is done on state, private or tribal land, all of which is untouched by the presidential moratorium.

The governor’s One Utah Roadmap and statements from is own Office of Energy Development devote much of their, well, energy to talking up Utah’s relatively clean-burning coal and the supposed bonanza of the so-called waxy crude oil said to be in abundance in the Uintah Basin.

But everything Cox and other Utah Republicans say demonstrates they have loyalties, and no plan. On the rare occasions when they allow themselves a concern about carbon emissions, they have suggested building an expensive railroad to ship Uintah Basin oil — as a way of using fewer diesel trucks. This week they said supportive things about a planned nuclear power plant in Wyoming — a plan that substitutes deadly nuclear waste for CO2.

There is lip service paid to sustainable energy sources, but our state’s official devotion to 20th century energy sources is endlessly depressing.

Particularly maddening about the governor’s stand on oil leases is that he has spent time issuing much-needed directives and pleas — mostly pleas — that hope to minimize the effects of the ongoing mega-drought.

Cox hopes we all know just how short we are on water, how much we should act to reduce our use and how great the danger of runaway wildfires will be this summer if just a few careless individuals go target shooting or introduce small sparks to great stands of dry brush and grass.

The other day Cox invoked the power of prayer to break the drought. But he still can’t bring himself to openly face the facts about climate change.

Down St. George way, meanwhile, officials are warning that the expected hot, dry summer is likely to lead to power failures and more wildfires.

Real leadership — from the governor, the Legislature, county commissions, tribal councils, our universities and utility companies — would move Utah to become the Saudi Arabia of sustainable energy (except with democracy, human rights and fewer assassinations of journalists.)

The contrast between the governor’s call for reacting to the drought and his continued support for a major cause of that drought — climate change brought about by our continued reliance on fossil fuels — leaves us wondering if he is hearing his own words.

And why anyone else should heed them.