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BYU and University of Utah professors wanted Legislature to listen to them on climate change

It's not that they lost.

What really bothers a group of Utah scientists and professors was that no one on Capitol Hill seemed interested in what they had to say about a joint resolution of the Utah Legislature that questions the science of climate change.

"What really concerned me was the lack of opportunities for folks like me," said Andrew Jorgenson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Utah and a critic of the resolution. "(People) were strongly concerned about this joint resolution and not given an opportunity to speak."

But legislators said their goal was, and always is, to give as many people as possible a chance to comment in a variety of ways.

The debate

The resolution, HJR12, called on the Environmental Protection Agency to halt plans to reduce carbon dioxide until a "full and independent investigation of climate data and global warming science can be substantiated."

The resolution was full of errors, said Jorgenson, who studies the human dimensions of global environmental change. He wanted to correct them for the Legislature, but said he wasn't given enough time.

BYU assistant geology professor Barry Bickmore wrote a letter to the Legislature that was signed by nearly a dozen of his colleagues, asking that the resolution be tabled.

He said he never got a chance to expand on his concerns, either, and the resolution passed through both the House and Senate with only a few dissenting votes.

The legislative process has been frustrating, Bickmore said, because it sends the wrong message to those who want to participate.

"They don't care whether they're making good arguments or not," Bickmore said. "When you have someone who doesn't care about the quality of their arguments, it usually means they don't care about the quality of anyone else's arguments."

HJR12 was sponsored by Rep. Kerry Gibson, R-Ogden, and Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City. Jenkins said there are just too many climate change arguments right now, adding that he and Gibson drafted the resolution because as a legislator, he can't justify spending millions, potentially billions, without proven data.

"For people like me who are intelligent, I hope, but not scientists, we have a hard time buying into this," he said. "The whole idea was to say, 'Gee, let's take a deep breath, slow down and let's look at this for a while.' "

Jenkins said he expected the backlash but was frustrated by people who told him, "You don't know what you're talking about," then never explained what he supposedly didn't understand.

"Nobody came up and said, 'This is new data, empirical, it's been peer-reviewed. … Look at this,' "Jenkins said.

Bickmore said that's what his letter, filled with peer-reviewed references, was supposed to do, but Jenkins said he never got a copy.

Committee concerns

Jorgenson was asked for expert testimony at the Feb. 19 Senate subcommittee hearing, but when he arrived, he was told he'd only get two minutes, because of the huge crowd.

Gibson and representatives from the Utah Farm Bureau and Desert Power made a presentation on HJR12, which took nearly 45 minutes, Jorgenson estimated, then the audience was allowed to comment.

During his two minutes, Bickmore said he refuted what he believed were errors in the initial presentation then offered to answer questions, but no one asked any.

"We gave them every opportunity to ask us for more comment, but they never did," he said. "If we had gotten any signal, whatsoever, that they wanted to hear more from us, we would have put together quite a bit more evidence, but they never so much as acknowledged us."

Those who attend the legislative committee meetings need to know they are public meetings, not public hearings, said Gibson. Taking comments from those who attend is part of the process but not the sole purpose, he said.

Sen. Margaret Dayton, who was filling in as the committee chair, said she tried to hear from as many people as possible, which meant there had to be a per-person time limit. "It is always frustrating to me when everyone who comes to speak is not allowed to," she said.

Someone who felt ignored could send in written comments for the record or ask their legislator for an amendment, Gibson said. And he noted he would have "gladly responded" to respectful e-mails, but those he received were mostly profanity-laced and hateful, not helpful.

Bickmore said his e-mail to Gibson, and several other legislators, was never returned.


"I don't think I was harassed or unfairly treated," said Joe Andrade, a biomedical engineer and former dean of the College of Engineering at the U. who testified against HJR12.

"I'm not sure I was listened to, but that's another issue," he said. "I'm not sure I made any difference, but I didn't really expect to, given the tenor of the Legislature."

If the "apathetic electorate" wants someone with a fresh set of ears, they need to make that request in the voting booth and speak out about irresponsible pieces of legislation, Andrade said.

Kent Udell, a mechanical engineering professor at the U., voiced his concerns over HJR12 through a commentary article supporting Bickmore and the other BYU professors.

He applauded the Legislature for its aggressive support of engineering initiatives like the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative; however, he wished such support would extend to seeking out professors, not shunning them. "I haven't found them to be really open to our input," Udell said.

Jorgenson said whether the topic is climate change, immigration issues or groundwater recovery, there are hundreds of professors here who are experts in their fields.

"I have the utmost respect for the dedication and service that our elected officials do for us, and I greatly respect what they're trying to do," he said. "I wish they would allow us to help them as much as we possibly can."