Rep. John Curtis hoped light, not heat, would be the outcome of bipartisan conversations about environmental stewardship as he challenged both sides of the political aisle to change how they talk about the climate at his 2nd annual Conservative Climate Summit.

“There really is no debate about the fact that we want to leave this earth better than we found it,” Curtis said during his opening remarks at the conference Friday. “And yet we often times line up on sides and call the other side crazy.”

Curtis, a Republican, was later joined on the stage by his GOP colleague Rep. Chris Stewart, whose resignation from Utah’s 2nd Congressional District is effective Sept. 15. Celeste Maloy, who won the GOP primary held this week to replace Stewart, also made a brief appearance.

The four-term congressman, who has represented Utah’s 3rd Congressional District since 2017, has led out on articulating a uniquely conservative case for energy innovation and environmental conservation as vice chair of the Energy, Climate, and Grid Security and Federal Lands subcommittees, and as the founder of the Conservative Climate Caucus in 2021. The caucus currently has over 80 members, including Stewart, and Utah Republican Reps. Blake Moore of Utah’s 1st District and Burgess Owens of Utah’s 4th.

Curtis’ message is simple. Everybody recognizes the value of affordable, reliable and clean energy, and partisan disagreements about the issue largely stem from a misunderstanding that climate action and economic freedom are at odds.

“The same policy that is best for our environment is the same policy that is also best for national security, energy independence, agriculture and our economy,” Curtis said.

After an opening invitation from UVU President Astrid Tuminez to remember “climate change doesn’t respect any politics,” Curtis addressed his “friends on the right.”

“I’m not going to ask you to leave your conservative credentials at the door today,” Curtis said. “But I do ask that you come with an open mind. I do ask that you reverse the narrative that somehow we don’t care about this earth.”

He had somewhat more to say for his “friends on the left,” who he said should recognize that fossil fuels must be part of the ongoing transition to cleaner and more efficient energy; that discussions of reduced carbon emissions must be placed within a worldwide context, keeping in mind that fossil fuels are essential for progress in developing countries; and that it is counterproductive to jump on climate policies that “feel good” but don’t get at the root of the problem.

Rep. John Curtis and Rep. Chris Stewart speak with Celeste Maloy at the 2nd Annual Conservative Climate Summit at Utah Valley University in Orem on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Curtis questions Stewart

Following Curtis’ remarks, the other member of Utah’s congressional delegation present, Stewart, complimented him, saying it takes a rare personality to persuade individuals across the political spectrum to rethink their assumptions on such a divisive issue.

“Thank you for leading on this. It took political courage. But you have the demeanor and the respect so you were one of the few people that could do this,” Stewart said.

Curtis took the opportunity to ask Stewart for an update on his wife’s health. Stewart announced his resignation in May, citing his wife’s “health concerns.” He later clarified she had suffered a stroke a year ago and continued to struggle with vision loss.

“Things are harder and it wasn’t fair to her to be in a situation where her health wasn’t what it used to be and to be gone all the time,” Stewart said. “As much as I loved serving and as much as I wanted to continue to serve, we needed to be together.”

Stewart expressed confidence in his likely replacement in Congress, saying of Maloy, who worked as his chief legal counsel in Washington D.C., for the last four years, “when it comes to water, climate, energy, natural resources, etc., etc., she’s the smartest person on the Hill.”

On Wednesday, Maloy was declared the winner of the GOP special primary to fill Stewart’s seat. She will face her Democratic opponent in November’s general election.

Curtis and Stewart were then joined by their colleagues Rep. Marianette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, vice chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus, and Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark, chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

“I think we may have found a new recruit for the Natural Resources Committee,” Westerman said, speaking of Maloy. Curtis quipped, “No pressure, but I predict she’ll someday be the chair of natural resources.”

Rep. John Curtis and Rep. Chris Stewart speak with Celeste Maloy at the 2nd Annual Conservative Climate Summit at Utah Valley University in Orem.
Rep. John Curtis and Rep. Chris Stewart speak with Celeste Maloy at the 2nd Annual Conservative Climate Summit at Utah Valley University in Orem on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

A conservative approach

Curtis, who often speaks of his “climate journey” — when he came to realize the missed opportunity conservatives were experiencing by not taking the lead on environmental issues — prompted his three House-counterparts to share their own journeys.

Stewart recounted what he learned about conservation and land management ranching as a young man. Stewart said those who work the land and live in rural areas are often mischaracterized as not caring or knowing about environmental issues.

“It’s often implied, ‘Well, you’re a conservative, therefore you don’t care about the environment, you don’t care about climate,’” Stewart said, adding, “Well, what nonsense.”

Stewart said a highlight from his time as a U.S. lawmaker was climbing on top of a “300-foot” wind turbine at the Milford Wind Corridor in southern Utah and looking towards the University of Utah site in Milford, Utah, which Stewart helped fund by securing $140 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Westerman praised permitting reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act that were included in May’s debt ceiling deal. Curtis has been a vocal supporter of these reforms as well as the importance of nuclear energy.

A common theme of the conference was how decreasing the regulatory burden surrounding new nuclear and other renewable technologies is necessary to produce a resilient electric grid and finding innovative and realistic solutions to clean, reliable and affordable energy moving forward.

As the climate summit came to a close, Curtis was presented with the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Legislative Action Award for 2023. The award is given to “new members who demonstrate the skill, grace, and tenacity to get things done for their constituents and the nation.”

The conference included speeches from Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and documentary filmmaker John Dennis Liu, as well as nine breakout sessions focusing on emissions reductions, water resources and the nexus of energy independence and national security.

Utah Rep. John Curtis, Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, Iowa Rep. Marianette Miller-Meeks and Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman speak at the second annual Conservative Climate Summit at Utah Valley University in Orem on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News