My view: A two-way road: Building energy policy bridges

By Gerald Elias

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, March 14 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

I recently hiked along picturesque Gemini Bridges Road near Moab, soaking up spectacular views of pinyon pine, red rock and the snow-capped La Sals. Rounding a bend I heard an out-of-place, repetitious thud, which turned out to be an unsightly oil rig, pumping away. What a desecration of the sanctity of this place, I thought — in sight, sound and concept. Absorbed by sun and scenery, though, I quickly put the rig in the back of my mind.

Returning about an hour later, I encountered a young man and woman picking up what little trash there was along the side of the road. I thanked them for their efforts and asked whether they worked for Moab or the Forest Service. Neither, they said. They worked for the oil company and did a once-a-month public service cleanup, feeling it was important to maintain a pristine landscape.

That was an eye-opening moment for me. As an ardent environmentalist advocating a prompt transition to renewable energy, it had been easy for me to consider the fossil fuel industry as the enemy. Now here were these two, cleaning up the mess left behind by thoughtless bikers and off-roaders, some of whom undoubtedly share my opinion of energy policy.

That brought to mind the recent proposal by Rep. Jerry Anderson of Price, a former biology teacher, to permit up to a doubling of carbon dioxide emissions into our atmosphere. If it was good enough for the dinosaurs, his line of reasoning went, it’s good enough for us.

I’m certainly glad Anderson wasn’t my science teacher. But, as alarming as his proposition is to me, I began to understand the impetus for it. As a representative of generations of good people from Carbon County who have spent their lives providing our essential energy needs, I believe Anderson was saying (at least in part) that he’s got their back — that he intends to protect their jobs and their way of life.

In Utah, 2 percent of the population work in the industries of agriculture, forestry, mining, fishing and hunting. In Anderson’s district it’s more than six times that number, or 13 percent, the second most intensive district in the state in that category. A comprehensive discussion of energy policy must include his people on the ground, and in the ground.

Just as the discovery of crude oil in the 19th century brought about the abrupt collapse of industrial whaling, there will be a day when there are no more jobs mining coal, drilling oil or fracking, because our energy will be supplied by solar, wind and geothermal sources.

Personally, I can’t wait for that day to come. Public officials like Anderson should not only accept the inevitable transition to clean, renewable energy, but embrace it and be at the vanguard of the movement, precisely because his constituents need to be well positioned and well trained to be integrated into the new future. Then he really will have his constituents’ backs.

Currently, Citizens Climate Lobby is working hard for legislation that would impose fees on sources of carbon energy to provide a strong disincentive to exacerbate our already destabilized climate, and return the revenue to the consumers. Part of this revenue should additionally be dedicated to retrain workers and professionals in the fossil fuel industry.

The transition to renewable energy must not result in the loss of jobs, livelihoods and communities. There are too many people like the two I met on Gemini Bridges Road to allow this to happen. The day Anderson announces that the name Carbon County has been changed to Solar County will be a win-win for us all.

Gerald Elias is an author and musician living in Salt Lake City and is a volunteer for Citizens Climate Lobby.

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