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Guest opinion: Utahns agree, it’s time to act on climate change and clean the air

Qiling Wang, Deseret News

As mayors of Heber City and Midway, we strive to do our part to keep Utah a great place to visit, work and live. That’s why we are calling attention to growing concern about our environment.

Over the past year, more and more people have asked us about worsening air quality on the Wasatch Front, how this trend will affect air quality on the Wasatch Back and what we can do about it.

A new poll confirms a clear shift in attitudes in our state. Nearly half of Utahns are more concerned about climate change than they were a year ago, according to the survey, which was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies. More than 60% of respondents now favor taking some action to address it, the survey found.

What’s encouraging is that support for addressing climate change cuts across party lines. Many Republicans favor taking action as well as significant majorities of independents and Democrats. More than ever, there’s hope to find common ground on a solution.

We don’t all have to hold the same view on climate change to consider the upsides of reducing emissions: cleaner air and peace of mind that we are preserving Utah’s snowcapped beauty for future generations. Utah can also gain by becoming a center for clean tech innovation. With a balanced approach, we can achieve all these benefits while helping Utah families and businesses get ahead.

Sen. Romney recently discussed a sensible market-based solution, which we are proud to support. Known as carbon dividends, this plan proposes charging fossil fuel companies for their carbon emissions and giving all the money directly back to the American people through quarterly payments. This approach would cut harmful emissions in half, and a family of four would receive about $2,000 per year.

Businesses — even oil and gas companies — have joined environmentalists to support this solution because a nationwide and steadily-rising carbon fee would gradually transition the United States to a clean-energy future. With more money in their pockets, consumers would spend it and stimulate the economy.

More than any other state, Utah is poised to gain from a policy that unleashes clean tech innovation across the economy. We are already home to numerous clean tech businesses; they would thrive even more under a nationwide carbon fee. Meanwhile, our state’s vast public lands, unique geological features and business-friendly climate makes it attractive to companies seeking to develop renewable energy and energy storage projects.

Some in Congress have lined up against a carbon fee policy, arguing it would harm ordinary people. But this anti-tax argument is undermined when the revenues are returned to the American people. The vast majority of Utah families — and families across the country —would come out financially ahead under this solution, collecting more in “carbon dividends” than they pay in higher energy costs. Meanwhile, carbon tariffs would be applied at the border to level the playing field for American companies competing against dirtier overseas manufacturers. So, it’s a win for America on day one.

Utahns recognize this plan as a win too. Some 70% of respondents overall — and about two-thirds of Republicans and conservatives — favor the carbon dividends solution, according to the poll.

Whatever your views on climate change, we can all support a commonsense policy that cleans up our air, helps Utah’s families and businesses get ahead, bolsters the competitiveness of American industry and drives more innovation in the economy. Carbon dividends offer all these advantages while creating a cleaner, safer world. It’s a breakthrough climate solution that’s worthy of your consideration and ultimate support.

Celeste Johnson is the mayor of Midway. Kelleen Potter is the mayor of Heber City.