If you plant or claim you own a bunch of trees and there's no one around to verify they're in the ground, do they really count toward your state's efforts to affect climate change?
Or, if the trees you planted are destroyed by insects or fire, how much of an environmental benefit can you really claim in the state where the trees were planted, or counted, for the purpose of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions?
Those questions are representative of the many issues still being worked out by members of the Western Climate Initiative, which met all day Wednesday in Salt Lake City to further carve out recommendations toward directing state regulators and lawmakers on policy issues related to global warming.
"We're here to listen," said Utah Division of Air Quality director Cheryl Heying. "There's a lot of unknowns. There's a lot of proposals."
Utah Department of Environmental Quality executive director Rick Sprott said he doesn't want other group member states making decisions of regional impact without Utah, which signed on to the group last year, joining Arizona, British Columbia, California, Manitoba, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.
"I can assure you, us being in the room has made a substantial influence on the tone of conversation," Sprott said. He described Utahns as conservative but pragmatic. "It's good to have pragmatists in the room."
Those among the 200 or so gathered for the group's meeting included the Union of Concerned Scientists, energy provider BP America, Sierra Club, Wasatch Clean Air Coalition, Climate Solutions, based in Olympia, Wash., and Blue Source's Lauren Kimble, who told a WCI panel her company supports the broad use of offsets for the group's cap and trade system for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Kimble's company claims to be the leader in helping businesses reduce greenhouse gases or capture and store carbon emissions.
In lieu of explaining ideas behind offsets or cap and trade, Sprott described a need to avoid a scenario where a group member manages to reduce greenhouse emissions in its home state by purchasing power from a non-member state, where the result is that emissions actually increase. On the financial side, he doesn't want group recommendations resulting in skyrocketing energy costs in neighboring group states that pass the increases to users in Utah."It's important we press forward in planning to do this in an orderly fashion so we don't wreak economic havoc," Sprott said about coming up with recommendations later this year with the intention of influencing state legislatures on energy and environmental issues. "We want to be at the table guiding discussions."