President Joe Biden began his term with a flurry of executive orders, many of which were designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While the intent of these orders may be positive, one of them is a blow to Utah and other Western states.
To be specific, the administration’s decision to suspend new oil and gas leases on federal lands will do little to change the country’s energy mix while disproportionately impacting rural economies.
The country’s use of oil and gas is driven by demand for those products. As long as people are willing to pay for them, they’ll keep being produced. There is a virtually unlimited supply on private land in other parts of the country that are unaffected by the order, and those communities will be happy to step up and fill the gap. This order won’t constrain the supply enough to matter. The only way to change our energy mix is to shift the demand to clean technologies.
To its credit, the Biden administration already reversed course for Utah’s tribal lands after listening to the Ute Tribe and understanding the economic harm that would be caused by the order. The administration should listen and reverse the order everywhere as the damage will be similar throughout.
At the same time — Utah can and should do much more to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. As the saying goes, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” Congressional Republicans have historically been too hesitant to offer ideas and solutions, often leaving the space entirely to Democrats.
That needs to change — and is beginning to — with Rep. John Curtis, Rep. Blake Moore and Sen. Mitt Romney actively engaging on the topic. There is nothing philosophically polarizing about a clean and healthy environment. Republicans and Democrats can both agree to being good stewards of the earth, and on leaving it better than we found it.
Targeted incentives can accelerate innovation for promising technologies. And market-based solutions can incentivize emissions reductions while leaving the details to the private sector. We don’t need to make binary choices. And this shouldn’t be a zero-sum game.
Governing by executive order is a terrible way to create lasting change. What can be done by a stroke of the pen can just as easily be undone by the next administration. We are seeing that now, as many of President Donald Trump’s policies are instantly reversed. Just as we don’t want the boundaries of the Bears Ears Monument to fluctuate from one administration to the next, we also don’t want energy policy doing the same thing.
Lasting change is made by Congress, and the most durable policies come with input and buy-in from both parties. A transition to clean energy means decades of investment into the required infrastructure. That effort should be welcomed and encouraged, and it needs to last much longer than one presidency.
There are tremendous opportunities for Utah. We have always been an energy producing state, and that isn’t going to change. We are just as rich in renewable resources as we are in coal, oil and gas. Utah’s “renewable energy corridor” in Millard and Beaver counties boasts solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biogas and geological storage. Those industries are already bringing jobs to rural Utah, and they are poised for huge growth.
President Biden’s executive order also directs the government to “coordinate the identification and delivery of Federal resources to revitalize the economies of coal, oil and gas, and power plant communities.” Utah should absolutely press for this to happen properly and effectively.
The Biden administration should increase payments in lieu of taxation (PILT) to rural Utah counties, and it should help invest in economic diversification. The Utah Coal Country Strike Team, led by the Kem C. Gardner Institute, is already showing the rest of the country how to make that happen.
Utahns have a history of finding solutions to challenging problems. We’ve done it on immigration, anti-discrimination, religious freedom and refugees. This is no different. The country’s energy economy is changing and the growth opportunities are in clean energy. Young voters in both parties are increasingly demanding faster action on climate change. Utah can — and should — lead the way.
Mia Love is a former U.S. representative of Utah’s 4th Congressional District.
Tom Moyer is a state coordinator with Utah Citizens’ Climate Lobby.