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In ‘Unprecedented Move’ For A Conservative State, Utah Leaders Voice Support For Climate Action

A photo of a lake with mountains in the background.
Brian Albers
Leaders across the state have signed a compact to encourage broad support and action on climate and clean air solutions.

More than 100 state leaders from across the political spectrum gathered virtually Wednesday morning to sign, what they are calling, the first-ever Utah Climate and Clean Air Compact — urging the state to become a national leader on climate action.

The compact calls on state and local leaders — as well as all Utahns — to adopt the seven major recommendations laid out in the Utah Roadmap, a report commissioned by the state Legislature that recommends seven ‘mileposts’ to improve air quality and address the impacts of climate change over the next 30 years.

Those involved in the compact also pledge to act as responsible stewards of the environment and address a wide range of climate and clean air challenges, such as the economy and re-energizing rural communities.

“The roadmap will only be successful if we follow up to solve our problems,” said Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Zions Bank and one of the compact’s signees. “It will take all of us working with the Legislature to accomplish our goal of having a healthier planet and cleaner air that will lead to healthier lives and a stronger economy.”

A screenshot of a Zoom session.
Jon Reed
New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman was the keynote speaker at the virtual event Wednesday, advising leaders to focus on four zeroes: zero net energy buildings, zero waste manufacturing, zero carbon electric grid and zero emissions transportation.

Other signees include Rep. John Curtis, R-UT, Rep. Ben McAdams, D-UT and former Gov. Jon Huntsman. Real estate mogul Kem Gardner signed on as well, along with representatives from banks and investment firms, religious organizations and the Utah Inland Port Authority.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R- UT, appeared at the event and called global warming one of the three great challenges the country faces this century, though a spokesperson noted he was still considering the compact and has not signed it.

New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman spoke at the online event, calling it the most important thing happening in Utah — even with a vice presidential debate scheduled later in the day that’s expected to draw close to 100 million viewers.

“It’s something that’s going to last,” Friedman said, adding that broad support is needed to fight an issue that’s become as huge — and political — as climate change. “When trees are politics and air is politics and masks are politics, then you can't come together. Republicans and Democrats all need to be behind this. And the fact that a state like Utah is now deeply embracing that philosophy, I think can have a big impact on the country.”

He said if climate solutions aren’t big enough, they won’t be solutions at all. And while government initiatives like the Green New Deal are well and good, he said a more effective approach is leveraging the power of the market to incentivize environmentally clean solutions.

“If you shape the market in the right way, it will do what you want,” he said. “If you incentivize the market to give you dirty air, it will do that. But if you incentivize it to give you clean air and products and companies that can thrive by selling climate-friendly and green energy solutions, it will do that for you, too. And it will do it at scale.”

Corrected: October 8, 2020 at 10:24 AM MDT
A previous version of this story misstated Sen. Mitt Romney’s position on the compact.
Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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