In Utah, conservative principles and protecting the environment go hand in hand. Utah’s history and culture embraces the responsible stewardship of our land, water and air. But historically conservative leaders in Washington D.C. have been slow to recognize the importance of environmental issues, too often expending all of their energy opposing extreme environmental proposals like the Green New Deal rather than creating proactive policies that support the environment and enhance the economy.
Thankfully, things are changing. More and more, conservative officials in Washington D.C. are listening to Western conservatives concerns on these key issues. This could mean a breakthrough on real challenges affecting our state economy, like climate change, forest management, and water policy, where politicians on the left and right need to find common sense solutions rather pushing extreme positions.
For proof, consider the new Conservative Climate Caucus that was recently formed by Congressman John Curtis and now includes the entire Utah congressional delegation – Congressmen Christ Stewart, Burgess Owens, and Blake Moore. In total, this House caucus includes nearly 70 members – making up a third of all the Republicans in the House.
Instead of creating overreaching regulatory programs that require massive federal spending, like those on the far left keep advocating for, the goal of the Conservative Climate Caucus is pragmatic. It is focused on private sector innovation that is driven by the free market and utilizes American resources and R&D investment and innovation. These programs aim to not only lower emissions but also keep energy affordable. In other words, this caucus is finding solutions that both enhance the U.S. economy and support the environment.
Conservative leaders in Washington D.C. support conservatives taking a proactive role on environmental issues as well. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy hosted a three-day Energy Innovation Agenda event earlier this year which brought together conservative lawmakers, energy sector officials and conservation groups. They discussed dozens of GOP legislative proposals “to deliver a cleaner, safer, and healthier environment while also growing our economy.”
These proposals focus on real solutions to actual climate challenges, such as securing a domestic supply chain for the critical minerals used in wind turbines, solar panels and electric cars; streamlining the permitting process for clean energy and infrastructure projects; promoting zero-carbon nuclear power especially in the developing world; and maximizing the use of agriculture, forestry and other natural solutions to pull carbon out of the atmosphere.
Conservative proposals to diversify U.S. energy sources not only supports the economy, they are sound environmental policy as well. Traditional energy sources produced in America are cleaner and better for the environment. For example, Russian natural gas exports to Europe and China have more than 40% higher lifecycle emissions than liquefied natural gas exports from the U.S. Likewise, mining coal in China releases 33% more methane than coal produced here.
“We can develop and build new technology at home that is clean, affordable, and exportable,” said McCarthy, the GOP House leader. “Unlike Democrat plans, ours don’t kill American jobs or make American energy more expensive through increased taxes and regulation.”
According to a new report by The Western Way, Utah’s renewable energy sector is a growing force driving the state’s rural economies with $5.3 billion in total output, 4,368 construction jobs, an annual output of $154.4 million, and nearly $25 million in annual property tax revenue.
Utah’s mining sector could also receive a boost from the policies as well. According to the Utah Geological Survey, our state hosts 28 of the 35 critical minerals used “in clean-energy technologies and high-tech devices.” Our state already produces six of them and Utah “is poised for further development of domestic critical mineral resources,” the UGS says.
But we will need strong, commonsense environmental regulations and permitting procedures to overcome unfounded opposition to mining so that we can unlock this potential. By connecting these projects to responsible climate change policy, conservatives are creating proactive solutions that can earn bipartisan consensus to support mining investment and mining jobs in states like Utah.
Congressman Curtis, recently made a statement that sums up why we must advance solutions to actual challenges facing our environment, saying “I had a great Scoutmaster and my father loved the outdoors, and they would take me into the outdoors and I could just see the beauty of God’s creation,” he said. “I just vowed to myself that I would do all we can to make sure my kids and grandkids have that same opportunity.”
Western conservatives like Utah’s congressional delegation are right to actively engage on U.S. energy and environmental policies. Creating real solutions to actual environmental challenges not only supports Utah’s special environment but boosts our state’s economy and jobs. Utah should urge these elected officials to continue to make this a priority in Washington DC.
Steve Handy is the state representative for Utah House District 16 that covers part of Layton, Clearfield and Hill AFB. He has been a member of House since 2010. He is a member of Utah’s Clean Air Caucus.