This article was published in the Spring 2021 issue

by Emily Hales, Co-Lead of Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s Utah Valley Chapter and Josh Craft, Government and Corporate Relations Manager, Utah Clean Energy

Early in the COVID-19 crisis, Silicon Slopes worked closely with state leaders to help provide widespread COVID-19 testing in Utah. This community rallied together and utilized networks, ingenuity, and their collective resources to address a pressing problem. This is a testament to what can be accomplished when leaders and members of our community take action to address critical problems.

Thankfully, we may be seeing the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. But that does not mean it is time to put away our leadership and innovation - we have more problems to solve. Climate change is at the top of that list. Clay Wilkes, CEO of Galileo Financial Technologies, recently articulated the gravity of the problem, “While the company I lead is focused on the movement of money, I’d be shortsighted to ignore that looming threat on the horizon, because, frankly, it threatens our existence...Money won’t matter in a world where climate change is unchecked.”

While the magnitude of our climate challenge is daunting, there is incredible momentum underway to meet the challenge. In the conservative state of Utah, business, community, and political leaders are speaking out about the benefits climate solutions can bring to our communities. The Utah Legislature took an important step by enacting H.C.R. 7-Concurrent Resolution on Environmental and Environmental Stewardship in 2018, resolving to “address causes of a changing climate and support innovation and environmental stewardship in order to realize positive solutions.” The University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute released its “Utah Roadmap: Positive Solutions on Climate and Air Quality” in 2020, laying out concrete steps for Utah policymakers to take to reduce emissions. And last October, more than 150 Utah business and community leaders came together to sign the Utah Climate and Clean Air Compact, a set of principles about environmental stewardship, climate change, and air quality. Signatories include leaders from Zions Bank, The Larry H. Miller Group, Adobe, Rio Tinto, Snowbird, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, Goldman Sachs, five colleges and universities, and state legislators and local elected officials of different political views.

Utah’s Congressional delegation has also been speaking out on climate change. Congressman John Curtis has emerged as a national leader on climate solutions, holding a regular #CurtisClimateChat on Twitter and discussing climate action with his Republican colleagues. Senator Mitt Romney has regularly discussed his support for climate action and he has joined the Bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus.

Opportunity Ahead: Market-Based Climate Solution

Clearly, Utahns of all stripes are working to implement innovative climate solutions, and smart public policy is critical. One specific policy gaining traction locally and nationally is a market-based climate solution, known as “carbon fee and dividend.” Carbon fee and dividend was pioneered at the grassroots level by Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and more recently has been supported by the bipartisan, business-led Climate Leadership Council. Here’s how it would work: This policy places a fee on CO2 emissions, starting at somewhere between $15 and $40 per ton of CO2, escalating over time. Putting a price on pollution incentivizes businesses and households to choose low emission forms of energy and encourages innovation in energy and emissions reducing technologies. The revenue generated by this fee would be rebated directly back to American households in the form of a monthly dividend. That would offset any increases in energy costs and make most households better off financially. And importantly, the legislation creates a border adjustment on imports and exports to ensure that other countries are doing their fair share to reduce emissions.

Carbon fee and dividend legislation was introduced in Congress on April 2 as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. A similar proposal, the “Baker Shultz Carbon Dividend Plan'' is gaining traction among Republican and business-led groups. Analysis has found that a carbon fee proposal would stimulate the economy because most consumers will have additional money to spend. Nationally, this approach would cut emissions by 50% below 1990 levels, create 2.8 million new jobs, and prevent 230,000 premature deaths due to reduction in air pollutants.

Utah leaders see the wisdom of this effective, market driven approach that minimizes regulatory burdens. Senator Romney stated his openness to carbon fee and dividend legislation, telling the New York Times Dealbook, “We need to create incentives for the private sector, to really do some investing as well in reducing emissions. And so I’m open to ideas that would make that happen, and the carbon tax and carbon dividend is such an idea.” In late March, more than 100 Utah leaders gathered (virtually) to meet with former Representative Ryan Costello and the Climate Leadership Council to be briefed on the Baker Shultz Carbon Dividend Plan. Scott Anderson, the President and CEO of Zions Bank, wrote recently in Utah Policy.com that this plan would help Utah businesses create new economic opportunities. “It will slash U.S. carbon emissions by more than half over the next two decades while giving businesses the certainty and steady incentives they need to innovate. And it rewards forward-thinking entrepreneurs, like we have in Utah.”

Utah’s tech and startup business community is perfectly positioned to provide its leadership role by addressing the urgent and complex problem of damage to our climate. So, what steps can be taken right now?  We can endorse the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act and join the hundreds of businesses and industry leaders who have already done so.  Our companies can inform Utah’s state and federal legislators, indicating that we support market-based solutions like carbon fee and dividends as a smart and efficient national policy to mitigate climate change.  We can review our company policies on climate change and ensure they meaningfully address the rapidly changing climate.  Finally, we can capitalize on our strengths by lending our ingenuity, our technological leadership and know-how to resolve climate change while building a prosperous economy.


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