Opinion: The EPA has been restricted — it’s up to Utah to lead out on climate action
Decarbonization and environmentally friendly policies need to be a priority in Utah. We can combat climate change “the Utah way”
“With great power comes great responsibility,” says someone in every superhero movie ever made.
This commonly used quote is especially relevant now given the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision to restrict the EPA’s ability to limit carbon dioxide emission from power plants. This decision has, for the time being, given Utah leaders significant power to address climate change. The Legislature and Gov. Spencer Cox are now in the driver’s seat when it comes to protecting Utahns from harmful pollution, and steering our state toward a cleaner, healthier, decarbonized future.
It’s true that our congressional delegates also hold much responsibility to face up to climate change — quite possibly the greatest challenge of our time. Congress should act to invest in clean energy and resilient infrastructure, but now more than ever, states must lead to address the climate crisis.
The Legislature should set clear, ambitious and data-driven goals to address our state’s chronic air quality challenges and the urgent, existential crisis of climate change. We cannot allow our Legislature to shirk this awesome responsibility.
To be clear, the EPA still has regulating powers over power plants in our state. The court’s conservative supermajority ruled that the market cannot be allowed to find its own solutions when it comes to how utilities should adjust to climate change, and instead told the EPA it should instruct power plants on what technology to use to meet its emission-reduction goals.
The court’s ruling will not slow the pace of decarbonization in the electricity sector, nationally or locally, but it is going to make our nation’s climate policy much more costly and less efficient. We can choose to be dragged along by this broken regulatory process, or we can be proactive, innovative and future oriented. Some might say, do it the “Utah Way.”
The Utah Way often touts a market-driven policy. Market forces have already done a lot for decarbonization, and that will no doubt keep pushing power plants away from coal toward relatively cleaner and increasingly less expensive energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal and natural gas, along with various energy storage technologies.
It is unfortunate that the court has added this drag on the clean energy market.
Currently our state’s only climate-related goal, set in 2008, is to produce 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025, which we will likely meet. Compared to other states’ goals, it is hardly ambitious.
The Utah Office of Energy Development’s latest plan lays out some bold goals, including a commitment “to pragmatic, market-driven climate solutions that enable innovative energy production” including a “focus on supporting Utah-based research and development, ensuring we stay good stewards of our environment for future generations of Utahns.” This is an aspiring framework that now needs to become policy.
PacifiCorp, the parent company of Rocky Mountain Power, which supplies electricity for the vast majority of Utahns, is weaning itself away from coal-fueled generation in favor of renewable sources. The company’s 2021 Integrated Resource Plan envisions a 74% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, which is up from a 59% reduction in its 2019 plan.
But the Legislature can, and should, set a more stringent goal to drive innovation in the electricity sector. If we aim to achieve a 50% carbon emissions reduction by 2030 (a reachable goal outlined in the 2020 Kem Gardner Policy Institute “Utah Roadmap”), we could harness market forces to drive innovation and create thousands of new jobs, while also improving our air quality and reducing climate emissions over this decade.
There are plenty of policy solutions before us that both Democrats and Republicans should champion, such as:
- Creating an official state target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.
- Calling for all new major developments like the Inland Port and the Point of the Mountain to be at or as close to zero emissions as possible, including standards to bring zero and low emissions trucks and heavy-duty vehicles to Utah.
- Adopting the newest 2021 energy code to improve energy efficiency standards for new homes and buildings, and to ensure that homes are capable of charging electric vehicles.
- Passing legislation to create a “clean energy fund” to give Utah families and businesses a new tool to invest in clean energy improvements for their homes and commercial buildings, like zero-emissions electric heat pumps, rooftop solar systems and EV charging equipment.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s EPA ruling, there has never been more pressure on Utah’s leaders to be ambitious on clean air and climate than now. And yet, we are living through an exciting era of new technologies and possibilities. We have the goals and roadmaps before us to build a resilient, cleaner, electrified economy with modern infrastructure for all Utahns to live and work. Now we just need political courage to make it reality. We need some true superheroes.
I am ready and eager to work with my legislative colleagues to move us forward.
Rep. Andrew Stoddard, represents neighborhoods in Midvale, Sandy, and Murray. He is a practicing personal injury lawyer.