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Opinion: This Utah climate action is a win for all sides

If Utah lawmakers can agree on climate action, why can’t the nation do the same?

SHARE Opinion: This Utah climate action is a win for all sides
Smog blankets the Salt Lake Valley during an inversion.

Smog blankets the Salt Lake Valley during an inversion as seen from Little Cottonwood Canyon on Jan. 20, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The recent divisive partisan fight in Washington over the Democrats’ controversial $369 billion climate legislation was disappointing to watch. 

Equally troubling is how the climate and energy provisions in the bill are being “scored” as a “zero-sum game.” Renewable energy provisions are deemed a “win” for climate, while provisions supporting fossil fuel use are viewed as a “loss.”

A much better public policy approach is to develop the broadest bipartisan consensus on as many issues as possible. Utah has shown that on important climate questions not only can we achieve this but that unanimity is even possible. 

In the last legislative session, we unanimously passed and Gov. Spencer Cox signed HCR1, “Concurrent Resolution to Work Together to Address the Climate, Public Lands, and Carbon Sequestration,” which lays out a win-win strategy for protecting and improving our natural resources and the environment while also significantly controlling greenhouse gases

The underlying approach in HCR1 is to protect the atmospheric carbon now being stored in natural systems like forests and rangeland soils while also sequestering additional CO2 by better harnessing the processes nature has perfected and proven throughout the ages.

Everyone understands how forest fires massively contribute to air pollution and produce greenhouse gases. Less well understood is the importance of rangeland and soil health, and HCR1 also highlights this.       

The proven potential here is enormous, as several examples illustrate. Dr. Fred Provenza, world-renowned emeritus professor at Utah State University, and several colleagues have estimated that simply restoring the soil health of the world’s historic grasslands could “lower greenhouse gas concentrations to pre-industrial levels in a matter of decades.” 

The Rodale Institute has done extensive surveys and conducted field trials of organic and regenerative agriculture practices in the U.S. and abroad. Based on this they conclude: “We have proven that organic agriculture and, specifically, regenerative organic agriculture can sequester carbon from the atmosphere and reverse climate change. … With the use of cover crops, compost, crop rotation and reduced tillage, we can actually sequester more carbon than is currently emitted, tipping the needle past 100% to reverse climate change.”

This approach is also a win-win because these natural sequestration processes also generate many valuable “co-benefits.” These include improved water quality and quantity, better fish and wildlife habitat, increased biodiversity, improved food and commodity yields using far less chemicals, better drought resiliency, reduced flooding and danger of catastrophic wildfire, as well as stronger and more prosperous rural economies, among others.

HCR1 focuses primarily on improving federal forest management to better prevent catastrophic wildfires but its basic principles are broadly applicable.   

While the federal government is beginning to incorporate some of its recommendations in managing forests and rangelands, these efforts are pitifully inadequate in light of the magnitude of both the problems and the potential for remediation. 

One of HCR1’s most significant recommendations is that the federal government adopt a “social benefits of carbon control” test to rank climate policy options. Since many different policies can lower greenhouse gas levels, it is only common sense and responsible policy-making to choose the most co-beneficial ones. 

Applying this test would allow us to transition to the energy sources of the future more gradually, rationally, economically and responsibly while still addressing climate concerns. It would mean we could still provide the affordable, abundant and reliable energy that is so essential to improving and maintaining our quality of life. Rather than engaging in a zero-sum game, we could choose a win-win solution.

HCR1 passed unanimously because it incorporates such a “climate-smart” approach. It teaches an important lesson that, sadly, Washington has yet to learn. 

Keven Stratton represents House District 48 in Utah County.