Utah is taking a leading role in promoting a noncontroversial and truly win-win solution to the increasingly strident and divisive debate over climate change. With overwhelming bipartisan support, the Utah Legislature passed HCR8, which I sponsored along with Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, and which Gov. Gary Herbert has now signed.
This resolution states that soil sequestration of atmospheric CO2 in forests and rangeland soils is Utah’s preferred approach regarding any federal efforts to deal with climate issues.
Through enhancing the natural process of photosynthesis and plant growth, healthy, well-managed farms, forests and rangelands can sequester vast amounts of atmospheric carbon for very long time periods. As the resolution notes, scientific calculations show that doing this could sequester all of the additional CO2 produced by human activity from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to the present day. So this is a “win” for those concerned with atmospheric CO2 levels.
HCR8 focuses largely on federal land management agencies because roughly two-thirds of our land is federally managed. It notes that President Obama’s Executive Order 13563 already directs federal agencies “to focus on program and policy adjustments that promote … carbon sequestration.” Yet, none of the federal land management agencies in Utah appear to be taking this directive seriously. So the resolution calls on the president to direct these agencies to develop specific plans to sequester the maximum amount of CO2.
Efficiently sequestering CO2 on federal lands requires healing forest and range ecosystems. In too many cases, as the resolution notes, these are steadily deteriorating under current unwise and unsound federal management practices. The resolution points out that restoring ecosystem health to better sequester carbon also generates many additional important benefits, including healthier watersheds, increased water quality and quantity, greater drought security, improved wildlife habitats, enhanced biodiversity, greater food security and food quality, the recovery of endangered species populations, greater resistance to wildfire, increased forage production, stronger rural economies and more. Again, win-win.
All this can be achieved with simple management changes and at little or no added cost. In fact, in most cases these techniques more than pay for themselves. So this is also a winning solution for those Americans who are rightly concerned about the economic impacts of the hugely expensive, high-tech, industrial-based, impractical, forced compliance alternatives now being considered.
There would also be no need for severely restricting the use of some fossil energy sources. Doing that would put the U.S. at a huge international economic disadvantage and increase costs for consumers. Utah’s recommended approach is better. It can end the “war on coal” and enhance our energy self-reliance.
These advanced land management and agricultural techniques are well-developed and extensively demonstrated in the U.S. and in other countries, including Australia and Portugal. In Utah, for example, Deseret Ranch near Woodruff in Rich County has applied these practices for decades. It is a world-famous demonstration of the many environmental and economic benefits that flow from profitably using livestock to restore the health of ecosystems while sequestering large amounts of carbon.
Other findings show that healthy, biologically active, organic matter-rich soils can consume more methane than the livestock and wildlife living on them produce. Because methane has been labeled a greenhouse gas, this is yet another “win.”
The resolution notes and encourages the implementation of “advanced farming methods” to further improve carbon soil sequestration on agricultural lands. These methods increase drought resistance. They can also greatly reduce or eliminate use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides on agricultural lands, lessening or eliminating the environmental problems they now cause. Another “win.”
All Utahns should be very proud of the leadership Utah is showing in proposing a responsible, truly win-win solution to the climate controversy where everyone benefits and there are literally no downside impacts.
Rep. Mike Noel has represented House District 73, the largest district geographically in the state, for 13 years. He has made land management issues and legislation a major focus.