Utah Congressman & local leaders discuss climate in virtual town hall
By KC Hildreth
This May, the volunteers in CCL’s Wasatch Back, UT, chapter organized a virtual town hall event to draw attention to climate change, clean air, and the efforts underway regionally to create a cleaner environment for all. The town hall featured Republican Rep. John Curtis of Utah’s 3rd district, alongside BYU environmental economics professor Dr. C. Arden Pope, Mayor Kelleen Potter of Heber, Mayor Celeste Johnson of Midway, and Mayor Mike Kourianos of Price. The event was moderated by Cecilia Foster, who leads CCL’s chapter at Brigham Young University, and Andrew Sandstrom, President Emeritus of BYU College Republicans.
In addition to highlighting the issue of climate change and its relationship to clean air, volunteers created the event to bring the more conservative and rural communities into the conversation. This was evident in Mayor Mike Kourianos’ participation, which was a real highlight of the evening. Mayor Kourianos is not only the mayor of a coal town in Utah, but also a manager at a coal-fired power plant. Having him in the discussion was important for everyone, especially Rep. Curtis, who is intent on finding ways to help these small local economies move past dependence on the coal industry. Building bridges is imperative to bringing rural communities into climate solutions.
The virtual town hall was a very productive and encouraging conversation, attended by about 100 Utahns. Volunteers were able to generate such participation by promoting the event with around 20 other local organizations. The event was also covered in the local media, including this story in Utah’s Deseret News.
In his remarks, Rep. Curtis emphasized his view that climate change should be nonpartisan, and that Congress can play a leadership role on the issue. “One of the responsibilities of Congress is to chart the ship, to put down the ground rules in a way that we can achieve success,” Rep. Curtis explained. “This is why it’s so important for us to get off of partisan bickering on this and move to a point where we’re actually putting policy forward. We really need to step up to the plate.”
ICYMI: Last week I was happy to join a virtual town hall hosted by @CCLWasatchBack. I am passionate about finding ways to talk about the climate that don’t get one side or the other defensive. We have good answers that can be bipartisan. 🌎https://t.co/lcT0mJj9vo
— Rep. John Curtis (@RepJohnCurtis) May 12, 2020
Rep. Curtis also emphasized the important role of Republican politicians, specifically, in the climate conversation. “We can’t be afraid of engaging—we’ve got good answers,” he said. “We’ve got answers that don’t kill the economy, we’ve got answers that can be bipartisan.” As an example, he talked about innovation giving America the chance to lead the world in the right direction. “As the U.S. exports clean energy technology, we can get China, Russia, Iran, India to implement our technology because it’s the better solution,” Rep. Curtis said. “Just like throughout history as the U.S. has come forward with technology that was a better solution, we can do that again.”
Dr. Pope agreed, pointing out that a clean environment is an “economic good” for all of us. Dr. Pope also provided excellent background into the science of air quality and its effect on human health. He facilitated a great discussion around ozone, PM 2.5, CO2 and CO and their complex relationship to air quality, health, and climate change.
As the participants talked about the science, they also explored various solutions such as nuclear, solar, and carbon sequestration. Rep. Curtis said, “The real mission for me is finding ways to talk about these issues that don’t get one side or the other defensive. The moment one side or the other becomes defensive, there’s no way we’re going to make progress. We only get there by finding things that are palatable to both sides.”
The most surprising thing about the event was the level of agreement around the need to act. Although there was some healthy debate around carbon fees and costs, all the participants agreed that climate change and air quality are serious issues that need to be addressed.
Rep. Curtis has been bringing up these issues on his Twitter page, with several #CurtisClimateChat videos earlier this year. In reference to those videos, moderator Andrew Sandstrom told Rep. Curtis, “As a Republican, it was electrifying for me to see that my congressman was talking about climate, when I was also talking about climate with fellow Republicans at BYU.”
Starting a new weekly series, #CurtisClimateChat. Wanting clean air, being good stewards and taking care of the environment transcend political party lines. Join the conversation! #utpol pic.twitter.com/jHm7L7CARO
— Rep. John Curtis (@RepJohnCurtis) January 28, 2020
Overall, this was a very well attended and positive event. It was obvious that all the participants love Utah, want to encourage a pristine environment, and are open to having a conversation around the “how.” We at CCL Wasatch Back are finding that these events are fantastic opportunities to raise awareness, attract volunteers to the cause, and create conversations and relationships across party lines. The key to progress on climate change is to think big, but act small with regular, local conversations that cumulatively move the needle over time.
Rep. Curtis left attendees with an encouraging message: “I’d like to invite everyone who’s listening to join us in productive dialogue, in asking hard questions and being thoughtful about our answers, and working together in a positive way.” This event was one successful step in that direction.
KC Hildreth is a CCL volunteer for CCL’s Wasatch Back chapter in Utah.