What is the Ski and Snowboarding Caucus? A Utah Republican and New Hampshire Democrat explain
Reps. John Curtis and Annie Kuster shared with The Washington Post how they are working across the aisle
Utah Republican Rep. John Curtis and Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster of New Hampshire shared their solutions on how to save ski towns and resorts from climate change during the March 29 Across the Aisle event hosted by the Washington Post. They warned that while this winter snowfall was remarkable, the long-term trends in our climate don’t necessarily paint the same forecast.
Curtis and Kuster said their efforts as co-chairs of the Ski and Snowboard Caucus have led to productive bipartisan conversations in Congress.
“Sometimes we get off track talking about climate change from a partisan perspective and this (caucus) is a good way to pull us all on to the same sheet and find some common principles that we can all agree on,” said Curtis, who represent’s Utah’s 3rd District.
Utah and surrounding Western states have received a historic amount of snowfall this winter, but Leigh Ann Caldwell, the program host, asked Curtis if he thought it would continue from year to year.
“Utahns don’t know if this year is an anomaly or a new trend,” he said. “It would be wise to still stay in our water conservation mode.”
Kuster said some studies from over the years show climate change is causing much more dramatic weather events. She referenced the recent tornadoes in the southern part of the United States and the droughts that have stricken the western part of the nation for a number of years.
“I think from year to year it might be difficult to see a trend, but over time our winters are definitely getting warmer with many instances of not having sufficient snow to be able to open the ski areas for a season length that people are used to,” Kuster said.
Earlier this year, Patrick Belmont, a Utah State University professor of watershed sciences, said a shrinking Great Salt Lake could threaten the lake effect deep-powder that Utah ski resorts are known for worldwide.
Notwithstanding this winter’s snowfall, he said it’s wishful thinking to expect more than a few “good snow years” like this in the next decade.
Numerous others have also raised concerns, including Utah’s ski resorts themselves. Allison Palmintere, director of communications for Ski Utah, told the Great Salt Lake Collaborative that the Beehive State’s ski resorts are a “canary in a coal mine” in regards to how climate change can affect everyone’s lives in the years ahead.
Climate problems offer bipartisan opportunities
Curtis and Kuster said they believe most of their congressional colleagues want to work together over energy solutions and climate change.
“We are surrounded by hundreds of our colleagues on the right and on the left who want to do the right thing,” Curtis said. “It just doesn’t always make the news.”
The two listed a number of ways Republicans and Democrats have worked together in constructive dialogue to find common areas of action. The work ahead is daunting if left to one party, they said, and the right solution won’t happen without everyone’s input.
“There’s an initiate desire in all of us to be good stewards over these resources and — I like to say — leave the Earth better than we found it,” Curtis said. “I was taught that as a Boy Scout.”
Can Republicans and Democrats work together on these issues?
Curtis commented on rhetoric used in some climate dialogues that “scare away some people” from participating. “They’re told that we have to have unaffordable energy prices and energy sources that are not reliable,” but Curtis said this doesn’t have to be.
The Utah congressman turned to his home state to suggest other ways to get more Republicans to engage in discussions. Curtis said he’s encouraged his Democratic colleagues to look more to what local and state governments can do.
“I think it’s a false choice to only depend on Washington, D.C., to solve all of this,” he said.
Curtis drew on the work of Utah’s government to showcase how they mitigated wildfires and helped everyone be “water conscious” in an effort to save the Great Salt Lake. He said individuals and local governments can play a big role in working together to make a difference.
Republican solutions to climate and energy issues
The Republican-majority House passed the Lower Energy Costs Act, HR1, on March 30 that among other things revamps the permitting process to streamline reviews for projects.
Speaking a day before its passage, Curtis talked about why this bill should be a common ground for Republicans and Democrats who want to make progress on clean energy development.
“Right now, it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to permit a solar farm, a wind farm or a pipeline you can’t get it done,” Curtis said, adding that any new nuclear plants or geothermal energy plants have similar difficulties with permitting.
“Without permitting reform, I don’t think anyone believes we can hit our clean energy goals,” he said.
While Kuster said the bill in its whole wouldn’t receive many Democratic votes — she ultimately voted against it — she agreed with Curtis.
“John is right. We won’t reach our goals toward reducing climate pollution and limiting the affects of climate change without some type of permitting reform,” she said.
Will the nation’s ski industry survive 30 or 40 years in the future?
Caldwell ended the online event by asking if warming trends will eventually take the nation’s ski industry out of market competition.
Curtis said that possibly is “unacceptable” for him and it is part of why he is seeking to work with colleagues on both sides of the political aisle. He encouraged his fellow legislators to focus on “practical approaches” that will work for the industry.
“The amount of carbon we will need to reduce to reach our goals is so substantial that we really can’t be wasting resources,” he said.
Kuster said ski resorts in some areas of the country will be affected more than others, and that’s why she is working with Curtis and others to address these issues.
She said Republicans and Democrats need to come together like they have on the Ski and Snowboard Caucus to find solutions that work.
“We are working in a divided government, but what we know about our climate is we have no time to waste, so now is a good time to work together,” she said.
“So if it’s skiing that brings us together. ... I look forward to working across the aisle with John and all of our colleagues,” Kuster said.