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Committee Rejects Climate Change Bill

House Bill 77 climate change

Legislation that for the first time would have acknowledged the science of human-caused climate change by the government of the State of Utah was debated during a committee meeting on Monday, before being rejected on a 11-4 vote.

Republican representative Kraig Powell, of Heber, wants the state legislature to acknowledge the effects that climate change is having on wildfires in Utah.

“What the bill does is - it authorizes the state division of forestry, fire and public lands to consider the effects of climate change on their efforts to develop and implement firefighting strategies.”

Fighting wildfires cost the state more than $50 million dollars in 2012, according to data presented at a meeting of the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee on Monday, and Powell says that because of the increased frequency and intensity of fires, a pre-suppression strategy that addresses warming is needed.

House Bill 77 had more than a dozen public proponents, and comments in support of the measure included many like these from Utah author and photographer Stephen Trimble:

“If the scientists are right, there will be more fire and less snow and more dust and changing forests and faster run-off and impacts on all of our watersheds in Utah. What we’re asking in this bill is not to dictate policy but to give the planners a chance to think about everything.”

Of the bill’s three public detractors present at the hearing, two were from the ultra-conservative Utah Eagle Forum, including the group’s President, Gayle Ruzicka.

“I look at this legislation where we want to put into code that climate change is human caused. There’s such a discussion out there, and such a disagreement on that; why would suddenly the state of Utah know the answer? End of argument.”

Before the bill was rejected by the committee, Republican representative Ken Ivory tried to amend its language to eliminate any reference to climate change, saying that the real cause of Utah’s wildfire woes is federal mismanagement of forests.  

Past sessions of the legislature have been hostile to the science of global warming, and in 2010 the state’s governing body even went as far as passing a resolution urging the Environmental Protection Agency to stop its carbon dioxide reduction programs.

Despite the setback, Representative Powell says that this isn’t the end for his legislation.

“A bill is never dead in the Utah legislature until the last day of session. But I am a little bit concerned that we are now moving more to an extreme position that does not recognize scientific data.”