Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Utah Energy Policy Gets Wiggle Room

Utah State Capitol –

With the state’s legislative session winding down (less than 24 hours to go), and with Utah’s budget complete and ready for formal adoption, last-minute lawmaking put some serious amendments into new state energy policy. SB 412 seemed to provide ample wiggle room for doing things the old way and to allow Utah’s industries to ignore global-warming concerns from the world scientific community. The law would require a taxpayer-funded, comprehensive economic analysis before the state’s new energy policy could even be debated, defined and/or adopted. Supporters believe that it will ease the impact of climate change regulations issued by the federal government. Under SB-412, an economic impact study involving extraction industries and proposed power generating facilities would be mandatory.

In an interview on Wednesday, SB 412 was described by Senator Ralph Okerland (r, Monroe, Sevier County) as an effort to assess impacts of alternative energy development to existing industries. Some of his constituents say that it could actually restrict the state from adopting newer, emerging technologies and provide "startup setbacks" or barriers to the entry of new Utah green businesses.

Utah State Senator Ralph Okerland

"When the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining, I have 600 coal miners in my district who provide base-load power to the grid. We are interested in the economic impacts of policies issued by the federal government which may adversely impact existing industry and families in Utah," said Sen. Okerland. Critics of the bill wonder why climate change is the only subject requiring “special handling” prior to the debate and the adoption of a state energy policy.

The bill’s sponsors say that “global warming is not proven” while on the same day, scientists convening in Copenhagen indicated that the world's sea levels could rise substantially in the near future as a result of unchecked climate change.

Arch Coal in Salina, Utah (Senator Okerland's district) is a provider of coal which is trucked to power generating plants in several states throughout the intermountain West. The present policy discussion in Washington, D.C. involves the mandated recapture of "greenhouse gases" such as carbon dioxide, emitted from older coal combustion generation facilities. Nobel laureate and Energy Secretary Steven Chu has not ignored the fact that America has a lot of coal, and that it is an inexpensive source of power for the country. His emphasis is on using it more wisely.

During the last days the lawmakers are at work in the state capitol, some laws, appropriations and amendments are introduced immediately prior to the session's adjournment. Sen. Okerland's SB412 calls for Utah to use "alternative compliance methods" to anticipated federal regulations "which would temper the effect of future climate change legislation" from the federal government. The Utah house of representatives will receive the bill today, the last day of the legislative session.


SB412 has died a technical death. (see comment update)



    The governor's office announced that the bill died a "technical death" due to a wording problem that allowed it's disqualification. In a televised news conference, the governor indicated that this bill was one that didn't require a veto. This fueled speculation that it was the governor's staff that ferreted-out the technical glitch that allowed for a non-confrontational sidestep of the matter.

    The governor has indicated that participation in the "Western Climate Initiative" (involving several participating states in the intermountain west) is important for the state of Utah.

  2. The author of this "kill alternative energy" bill, Roger Barrus, R-Centerville, has gone on the record as saying that if the nation remains on the same path regarding climate change policy, "it will be imperative that we pass it" next session.