SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that included “climate change” in discussion of wildfire suppression strategies in Utah died in committee, after lawmakers tried to hijack it to blame the federal government for so many wildfires.
Rep. Kraig Powell’s HB77 was voted down 11 to 4 after nearly two hours of discussion and testimony Monday in the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment committee. More than a hundred people packed the meeting to weigh in on the issue of climate change.
Powell’s bill would have added climate change to be considered by the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands as part of long-term wildfire suppression strategies. Powell, R-Heber, said he has had constituents bring the issue up — which is why he ran the bill.
His fellow lawmakers were skeptical, questioning the science of whether climate change is real. Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, suggested federal mismanagement of forest lands was a larger reason behind the more than 1,453 wildfires that burned more than a half-million acres in Utah within the past year.
A dozen people testified in favor of the bill, three people testified in opposition to it. State forester Dick Buehler dealt the bill a serious blow by testifying that it would not affect anything wildland firefighters already do.
“I don’t see how this bill would help us,” Buehler told the committee. “We’re here to do what the legislature asks us to do.”
Rep. Rebecca Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, moved to delete climate change from the bill. The committee rejected that. Then, Rep. Ivory moved to eliminate climate change and substitute “federal mismanagement” to the bill. The committee also rejected that.
Powell appeared upset as he addressed the committee before his bill was killed.
“You know what? This discussion is not going away. However, long you’re going to serve in the legislature, representatives, it is not going away. I have now come to realize that,” Powell said. “And I’ll tell you, it is not a Democrat issue. It’s a Republican issue, and it’s my Republican constituents that I’m hearing from again and again on this issue.
I’m not saying that we need to stop drilling. I’m definitely not saying we need to stop using petroleum or that we need to stop using coal. I don’t know what we actually need to do. What I’m saying is reading the data, the evidence says this is happening.”
Outside the committee meeting, Powell told FOX 13 he would attempt to bring the bill back at some point in the legislative session.