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Politics & Government

Gov. Cox issues emergency drought declaration

Governor's Monthly News Conference-1, April 21, 2022
Laura Seitz
/
Deseret News
Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during the PBS Utah Governor’s Monthly News Conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 21, 2022.

During his April monthly news conference Thursday, Gov. Spencer Cox focused on water, the impact of inflation on Utahns and more. The big move was that Cox issued a state of emergency in response to Utah’s drought conditions, following through on a statement he made earlier in the week at the drying Jordanelle Reservoir in Wasatch County.

Drought

The governor’s order opens up access to funding and resources for communities that are struggling due to the lack of water. Cox issued a similar measure last year in response to the drought.

“Once again, we're asking Utahns, farmers, businesses [and] citizens in institutions across the state to do their part to conserve and reduce water usage as we're heading into the season where we start to water our crops and our lawns,” Cox said.

Last summer, Cox asked Utahns to pray for rain to help address drought conditions. On Thursday, he said he believes that helped, but “we're certainly not relying solely on deity to solve our problems.”

Cox pointed to the Legislature’s recent investments in water conservation and the state’s new water action plan. But he said more needs to be done.

“Unfortunately, it's not enough to get us out of the drought right now. So the state of emergency is very important.”

The emergency declaration is effective immediately and stays in effect for 30 days unless the Legislature moves to extend it.

Inflation

Another topic that was top of mind for the governor was inflation. Cox is especially concerned about high prices at the gas pump for Utahns and has spoken with legislative leaders about ways to ease the impact on consumers.

One thing that’s on the table? Free fare at public transit districts across the state — at least for certain periods of time. Cox said the numbers from the Utah Transit Authority’s Free Fare February program — which showed an increase in ridership — were encouraging.

“Now, we know that wouldn't help everyone,” Cox said. “But that's a real win-win because … that gives an opportunity for citizens who are struggling, who have access to transit, to be able to use that. That also reduces demand at the pump. If you keep your car parked and get on transit, you're not buying gas, which will help to lower the cost of gas over time.”

Cox said the Legislature would need to appropriate money for such a program.

Sen. Mike Lee

The governor had little to say about texts from Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. The correspondence, first reported by CNN, painted a picture of Lee’s efforts to advise and encourage the Trump Administration in its attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

Lee recently told the Deseret News he believed his texts were taken out of context for “political motives.”

Cox said he couldn’t speak on the senator’s behalf, but he had a conversation with him in early January. Cox said Lee told him he had researched the claims about the election and hadn’t found anything.

“I can only speak to what [Lee] told me,” he said. “Kind of lost in all of this is the fact that he did vote to certify the election, which many others did not. So, I appreciated that.”

Cox also shared his thoughts on a bill Lee has proposed in an effort to address the state’s affordable housing crisis. It would open up federal land in the West to set aside for building housing, which environmental advocates say would harm public lands.

Cox said he completely supports the proposal.

“We need to increase supply,” he said. “I think we can utilize some of those lands in very smart ways, environmentally safe ways, that just make sense.”

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