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Senator Romney Discusses The Need To Tackle Climate Change With Utah Democratic Legislators

Photo of Mitt Romney.
Judy Fahys / KUER
Many of the topics U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, discussed with Republican legislators also came up as he spoke with Democrats. One exception: Democrats raised the question of climate change, which Romney spoke about openly.

Addressing Utah lawmakers at the State Capitol Thursday, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah broke ranks with mainstream Republicans when he offered full-throated support for tackling climate change.

In highlighting the importance of taking a global approach to addressing the threat of global warming, Romney said the public generally sees Congress as being deeply divided along party lines. But he said he’s found both Republican and Democratic senators are friendly and willing to work towards common goals, such as the bipartisan Natural Resources Act that just passed the Senate earlier this month, 92-8.

During a lunchtime visit, House Republicans peppered Romney with questions about balancing the federal budget, public lands and a wide range of other issues. The dialogue with Democrats in the State Legislature was similar — until State Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, asked Romney about climate change, a topic that didn’t come up in the senator’s conversation with the House GOP caucus.

“I do believe that the climate is changing,” Romney said. “I think it’s hard to escape that fact, actually, given the results of the last decade or so” when eight of the past 10 years are on the list of top-10 hottest globally.

Romney’s comments come as recent polling from Yale University shows a deep partisan divide on the subject of climate change. Roughly 80 percent of Utah Democrats believe human activity is mostly responsible for causing climate change, and Congress should do more to address it. Among Republicans, about one-third believe human activity is to blame, and think Congress should step up to the challenge.

Utah’s junior U.S. senator also said he believes human activity is a major contributor to global warming, which is not a new stance for the former Republican presidential nominee. Romney stood out among GOP candidates seeking the White House in 2012 because of his views on climate science. On Thursday, seven years later, he reaffirmed his position, calling himself a “renegade Republican” on some issues.

Romney said he favored staying in the Paris climate agreement, which the Trump administration pulled the United States out of two years ago, shortly after taking office.

“I believe we have to have an international understanding if we’re going to deal with this in a way that makes a difference,” Romney told the Legislature’s Democratic caucus. “And buying a Prius is a wonderful thing to do, I’m sure, but Americans buying Priuses is not going to significantly impact our environment.”

Romney said reducing the greenhouse gases blamed for climate change will require the United States and other nations — especially China, India and developing countries — to work together.

Briscoe, the Democratic lawmaker who posed the question to Romney, said he was pleased that the Republican senator was openly discussing the issue.

“It’s opening doors,” said Briscoe, who’s sponsoring a carbon-tax bill in the 2019 Legislature. “I hope it starts enabling more people who share his opinion but are afraid to voice it to come forward. I hope it breaks down walls and barriers.”

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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