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Opinion: Want cleaner air? Unleash American ingenuity

Washington politicians and bureaucrats debate the best way to reduce emissions, but they focus too much on regulation and spending, ignoring the most critical need: innovation.

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Smoke rises from a refinery outside Lyon, France.

In this Oct. 15, 2021, file photo, smoke rises from the Feyzin Total refinery chimneys, outside Lyon, central France. The World Meteorological Organization says greenhouse gas concentrations hit a new record high last year and continued to increase at a faster clip than the average rate in the last decade

Laurent Cipriani, Associated Press

Utah technology executives know firsthand the transformative potential that innovation has in every aspect of life. And we know how the market works to reward and advance the best new products and technology.

Thoughtful human invention makes our lives better, our world cleaner, our society stronger. Such innovation is already bringing a clean-energy, low-carbon future closer and closer. 

Electric cars, for example, are cleaner and more efficient. Wind and solar have become less expensive power sources. Battery technology is advancing quickly. And next-generation nuclear and geothermal power are promising new possibilities. These are powerful trends from which Utah is already benefiting.

Utahns can either embrace these energy technologies or be left behind.

As technology leaders, we cannot ignore the innovative changes happening worldwide to make power cleaner. If we do, critical decisions and investments will happen elsewhere.

Utah must lead out. We want these new technologies developed and deployed here. Our employees want to work at climate-conscious companies. They want to be a part of reducing air pollution here and, yes, around the world.

Washington politicians and bureaucrats are now debating the best way to accelerate the progress on reducing emissions. But too much discussion centers on regulation and spending, ignoring the most critical need: government support for the innovation needed to clean and protect our environment.

The good news is that is beginning to change.

A new Conservative Climate Caucus, led by Utah Congressman John Curtis and joined by his fellow Utah colleagues Chris Stewart, Blake Moore and Burgess Owens, is a welcome step forward. They see the need for the next phase of innovation on clean energy and want to find responsible ways to encourage it.

We don’t need more regulations burdening and holding back the economy. We don’t need government picking and choosing the winning technologies. What we need are clear and powerful incentives to develop new and better energy technologies to compete in the global market.

Developing energy technologies generally requires a long-term investment from businesses and investors who need predictability and stable support for climate and environmental innovation, or those investments won’t happen and those innovations won’t occur.

We believe strongly that capitalism and our markets — if allowed to operate without burdensome regulation — will find the best solutions.

Today, there is no cost to use our air as a dumping ground for the byproducts of inefficient energy use. Polluters don’t pay for it the way we do for our sewers, trash and almost every other byproduct of human life. In effect, today’s policies subsidize and encourage pollution. That strikes us as working against, rather than for, innovation that can reduce emissions and clean the air.

If policymakers incentivize the market to give us clean air and zero-carbon energy, then the market will deliver. And it will do it at scale.

One possible option to reduce emissions is a carbon dividend approach. Here’s how it works: Fossil fuel companies would be charged a fee for their emissions. All the money from those fees would be returned to the American people in the form of dividend checks. Those responsible for lower emissions would come out ahead.

What about foreign polluters? Under a carbon dividend approach, a border adjustmentwould hold other countries accountable for their emissions, so businesses in Utah and across the United States can compete on a level playing field. Other countries — at least those wanting to sell products or do business in the U.S. — would no longer be allowed to pollute for free.

Regardless of the approach, what is needed is a simple, transparent and effective way to unleash the full power of American ingenuity toward a low-carbon future. Whether it’s small businesses, large corporations, utilities or individual households, a market-based approach will incentivize everyone to reduce emissions, or switch to newer, cleaner and more cost-effective technologies. It will be in their self-interest to do so.

As technology executives, we value solutions that acknowledge technical progress, encourage innovation and let businesses compete in the market for the best solutions. Our country was built on market principles that allow invention and innovation to flourish.

Now is the time for our representatives in Washington to act to encourage businesses to bring about a clean energy transition.

David Bywater is CEO of Vivint; Adam Edmunds is CEO of Entrata; Jonathan Johnson is CEO of Overstock; Sam Malouf is CEO of Malouf; Jeff Pedersen is CEO of Cariloha; Davis Smith is CEO of Cotopaxi; and Ryan Westwood is CEO of Simplus.