The fight against global warming is about to get more personal for Utahns, with Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. joining forces with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
On Monday, Schwarzenegger will be in Utah as Huntsman signs the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative, a pact enacted earlier this year by Schwarzenegger and four other Western governors.
The agreement calls for an overall regional goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all six states collectively and calls for a cap and trade program whereby emission credits could be sold. In addition, a tracking registry for emissions would be implemented.
Global warming has moved to the forefront of public debate recently, drawing red and blue states together in an effort to combat climate change which has been blamed for prolonged droughts, reduced snowpacks and more severe forest fires.
Huntsman's signing of the initiative is a bold move that sends a national message to conservatives that global warming demands attention, according to Dan Schnur, a political science instructor at the University of California Berkeley.
"This has the potential to be the energy version of Nixon going to China," Schnur said. "A lot of cold warriors felt much more comfortable establishing relations with China once Nixon was on the issue. A governor like Huntsman from a state like Utah provides cover for conservatives in other places."
Aaron McLear, press secretary to Schwarzenegger, said global warming is something that transcends partisan politics. "This is more about being pro-environment, pro-economy, pro-national security and creating jobs," McLear said. "I think this is a good thing for the people of Utah and California."
Utah, which relies almost entirely on fossil fuels to generate its electricity, will become part of a pact that was signed in February by Schwarzenegger and the governors of Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington. British Columbia also has agreed to the pact.
Huntsman said he is less interested in what political slant one might put on the problem, instead expressing concern about taking steps toward a solution.
"I think most Americans and most Utahns are coming around to a view that we must take action," Huntsman said. "All I know is that our air is less clean than it was in the past. We have more red days than ever before. We have water quality problems. These are issues that we all need to get behind."
Dan Skopec, undersecretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, called Utah's signing of the initiative significant.
"For Gov. Huntsman to do this we recognize is a really bold move," Skopec said. "Utah provides a lot of power to other states in the West. As you seek to reduce emissions at the state level, one of the big criticisms is that you get leakage people just move out of state and keep emitting and you haven't done anything to solve the climate problem. You can address the leakage issue when you have Utah joining this initiative."
The Center for Climate Strategies a nonprofit group specializing in climate issues estimates that Utah's annual carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2005 totaled roughly 68.8 million metric tons, a 4 percent increase from 65.9 million metric tons in 2000 and a 40 percent increase compared to 1990, when state emissions totaled 49.3 million metric tons.
Jim Steenburgh, professor and chair of the Department of Meteorology at the University of Utah, said there is strong scientific consensus that Earth's climate is changing.
"There's no scientific doubt any longer that the Earth has warmed over the last 100 years," Steenburgh said. "Particularly in the last 50 years the rate of warming has been accelerating."
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