Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Salt Lake City Lawmaker Proposes Carbon Tax

Photo of solar panels on the rooftop of the Vivint Smart Home Arena
Judy Fahys / KUER News
New legislation introduced by State Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, would impose a statewide carbon tax on the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change.

A state lawmaker is proposing a carbon tax to stimulate a shift away from fossil fuels.


But it's uncertain whether the Republican-controlled State Legislature will advance the bill with just nine days before the Utah’s 2019 legislative General Session ends.

Introduced by Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, the legislation would impose a $10 per ton tax on burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. He said the bill, HB 304 , would raise $677 million dollars when fully implemented and apply that revenue to reducing other taxes, such as the sales tax on food and energy taxes.


“It taxes pollution; it taxes greenhouse gases,” said Briscoe, who proposed similar, bipartisan legislation last year.


“It’s actually free-market economics – if you want less of something, tax it and provide an incentive for people to use something else,” he said in an interview. “We’re trying to send a signal to people who use fossil-fuel energy to shift to cleaner energy.”


The Utah Office of Energy Development says that coal accounts for 76 percent of electric generation in

Pie chart of Utah energy generation
Credit Utah Office of Energy Development

  the state, while natural gas provides 19 percent of power needs. Hydroelectric and “other” sources generate the remaining 5 percent of power in the state.


A recent report commissioned by the Sierra Club suggests that clean energy sources are becoming a better bargain for Pacificorp in Utah than its two coal-fired plants. Pacificorp is growing its portfolio of renewables. But many agree the shift is not happening fast enough – and not just Democrats.


Briscoe’s bill last year was cosponsored by former State Rep. Becky Edwards, a Republican who successfully sponsored a resolution last year that recognized the importance of environmental stewardship, repeatedly mentions the changing climate. Edwards retired from the Legislature last year, but the issue remains at the forefront for at least one of her majority-party colleagues.


“I can’t turn a blind eye to the science” of climate change, said Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George. “The fact of the matter is it’s happening – that’s what I believe – and good leadership requires us to address that issue in one form or another.”


Briscoe said he’s not sure whether his bill will get much attention this year, but he’s not discouraged.


Polling by Yale researchers shows that about 62 percent of Utahns say that fossil fuel companies should pay a carbon tax. That’s makes Utahns just slightly less supportive of taxing greenhouse gas emissions than the national average, which is 65 percent.



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.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.