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Speaking at conference, Utah delegation hopeful for GOP climate policies

By Harrison Epstein - | Jun 17, 2023
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U.S. Reps. John Curtis, left, and Burgess Owens laugh during introductions at the congressional Western Caucus panel at the American Conservation Coalition summit in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 16, 2023. Curtis and Owens represent Utah's 3rd and 4th congressional districts, respectively.
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U.S. Rep. John Curtis speaks during the congressional Western Caucus panel at the American Conservation Coalition summit in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 16, 2023.
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U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens speaks during the congressional Western Caucus panel at the American Conservation Coalition summit in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 16, 2023.

In a Salt Lake City ballroom, over 100 elected officials and politically active young adults shared a vision for the future.

“I think this is very fundamentally important for conservatives to be able to articulate, that we care deeply about this earth, we care deeply about leaving it better than we found it,” U.S. Rep. John Curtis said. “We’ve been very good at telling everybody what we don’t like. And we’ve not been so good at telling people what we would like to do.”

The second conference of the American Conservation Coalition was designed to bring together Republicans with a focus on solving climate-related issues. Curtis has been one of the Republican Party’s leaders on climate issues, founding the 73-member Conservative Climate Caucus and, on Friday, being recognized by the ACC as the group’s “Eco-Right Champion.”

He and U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens, of Utah’s 4th Congressional District, spoke together on a panel of congressional Western Caucus members. U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart was originally scheduled for the discussion but was not present Friday.

The final member of Utah’s congressional delegation, Rep. Blake Moore, did not participate in the panel, but was seated in the back of the room and later discussed the state’s conservation efforts with Benji Backer, president of the coalition.

Each member of the panel brought a different geographical and personal perspective. Curtis is a lifelong resident of the Wasatch Front who represents Utah’s eastern border from forests to desert and land filled with energy-producing resources while Owens represents a sizable portion of central Utah including Utah Lake, most of rural Utah County and Sanpete County.

Utah County is divided between the 3rd and 4th districts with Curtis representing residents west of Interstate 15 in Lehi and north of 400 South in Springville and Owens representing the rest of the county.

They were joined by Rep. Pete Stauber of Minnesota, Rep. Cliff Bentz of Oregon, Rep. Doug LeMalfa of California and Rep. Jim Baird of Indiana. Each person’s congressional district relies on different environmental necessities including agriculture, ranching and mining.

Asked by the panel’s moderator to highlight the differences between conservative and progressive approaches to climate policy, Curtis mentioned fossil fuels, saying, “Quite frankly, we believe fossil fuels can play an important role in reducing emissions,” and put a focus on global greenhouse gas emissions, rather than domestic. Owens, meanwhile, said climate policy requires conservative principles and that the Republican Party needs to take back the conversation and “be aggressive with it, be positive, be bold.”

While some members of the panel took aim at China or President Joe Biden’s administration — or both — Utah’s representatives focused on their visions for the future and the political benefits of climate attention.

According to a Pew Research poll published in April, 54% of Americans see climate change as a major threat. On a partisan level, though, 78% of left-leaning voters view it as a threat compared to 23% of right-leaning voters.

“A good conservative Republican principle is to care deeply about being cautious with our resources and preserving our resources and make sure we’re passing on the Earth better than we had it,” Curtis said. “Instead of responding to their ideas with our own ideas, with science and things like that, we tend to just put up a wall and say, ‘You guys are crazy,’ not realizing that we’re the ones that sound crazy.”

The sentiment of leading and discussions rather than shutting off was echoed by Owens, who, speaking as a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, believes that innovation in technology and climate policy would have a positive impact on the economy. He ended his final speaking opportunity on the panel with a plea for attendees.

“Continue to think outside the box. Continue to reach out to legislators who truly want to figure out how to free up the regulations, free up the opportunity,” he said.

The summit comes on the heels of Curtis leading the fight to block a proposed rule change by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management regarding the creation of conservation leases. Owens, Moore and Stewart are co-sponsors of his bill. A group of Republican governors, including Utah Gov. Spencer Cox also signed a letter urging BLM to withdraw the proposed rule.


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