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Rhode Island Democrat Talks Climate In Utah

Judy Fahys
Brooke Froelich, center, takes part in a discussion about climate change and air pollution with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, R-Rhode Island, and local environmentalists.

Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse has given 144 speeches on the floor of the U.S. Senate about addressing climate change.

This week, he spent three days in Utah to learn more from its people and local policymakers. It is the 13th state the Democratic Senator has visited in his quest to understand how climate change is affecting ordinary Americans.

“Wherever I’ve gone around the country,” he says, “you get very quickly to people who are very much a part of the local community and who very much care about climate change and understand the threat it presents.”

He heard that more paychecks in the state come from alternative-energy jobs than the fossil-fuel industry. Whitehouse also heard how Salt Lake City and Summit County are building a clean-energy future. He was impressed by the shrinking Great Salt Lake and the winter sports industry’s concern about declining snowpacks.

Whitehouse says he focuses his fact-finding tours on states with Republican senators, like Utah, where climate change gets little attention from politicians. Junior Utah Sen. Mike Lee fought the Paris climate deal last fall. And, even though Sen. Orrin Hatch once called climate research “science fiction,” Whitehouse remains optimistic.

“I’m hoping that when the time comes,” he says, “that we can do a big, bipartisan effort together, that he’d be willing to be part of that effort.”

Whitehouse ended his Utah visit with a breakfast meeting with environmental advocates like Brooke Froelich of the Born Wild Project. Bouncing her toddler, Huck, on her lap, she was happy to talk to a Washington lawmaker who’s also concerned about a healthy environment for future generations.

“Right now Utah needs to have some change,” she says, “and we’re really grateful to meet with senator Whitehouse to discuss and bring awareness to this and to have some call to action.”

Froelich says she would welcome an opportunity to have a similar conversation with Utah’s delegation in Washington.

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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