Two Roads Diverge: Assessing Governor Cox's One Utah Roadmap

By Stan Holmes

Utah's new governor, Spencer Cox, has a new plan for the state's future. His One Utah Roadmap, released January 19, 2021, is less environmentally friendly than The Utah Roadmap presented to the Utah Legislature in January 2020. This article makes some comparisons between the two roadmaps and suggests areas where the environmental community might press for revisiting the former and revising the latter.

In fairness, The Utah Roadmap of 2020 was developed with the more focused mandate revealed by its subtitle: Positive solutions on climate and air quality. The report acknowledged that "human actions contribute to air pollution and the earth’s rising temperature. We face an imperative..for urgent action," said the report's lead author, Natalie Gochnour, Director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. The seven sets of "Milepost" recommendations contained in the first Utah Roadmap include:  

 1) Adopt emissions-reduction goals and measure results. By 2030, reduce statewide CO2 emission 50% below 2005 levels;  and by 2050, reduce criteria pollutant air emissions 50% below 2017 levels.

2) Lead by example. State government should convert fleet vehicles to electric and cleaner fuels, adopt energy efficiency for state buildings, fund reforestation, and invest in energy planning.

3) Create a premier air quality/changing climate solutions laboratory. The state should fund experts to conduct "premier state-level air quality/changing climate research" while improving emissions inventories and monitoring.

4) Accelerate quality growth efforts. Link economic development with transportation and housing decisions.  Provide transportation options, preserve open space, and promote energy efficient buildings.

5) Position Utah as the market-based EV state. This means an expanded network of EV [electric vehicle] charging stations, incentivizing replacement of older vehicles, and increasing the supply of EVs.

6) Provide economic transition assistance to rural communities. Top priority for economic development investment should be the energy-transition [fossil fuel-dependent] counties such as Carbon, Emery, and Uintah.

7) Participate in national dialogue about market-based approaches to reduce carbon emissions.  Discussion items include energy storage, carbon pricing, cap and trade, and new technologies. 

While The Utah Roadmap sets no timeline for implementation or review, and the majority of Utah lawmakers won't commit to the recommendations package anyway, the report sets forth an evidence-based plan for novel policymakers who would take initiatives needed to address public health and economic sustainability challenges posed by human-caused climate change.


So, what does Governor Cox's One Utah Roadmap offer?   

The Cox roadmap's six priority categories clearly favor economic development over public health and the environment.  The term "environment" is never used and "public health" appears just the context of COVID-19. And although the term "sustainability" appears several times, it is never defined. Since proposed development of the Utah Inland Port and "The Point" [of the Mountain] are offered as examples of "high profile sustainability" projects, one might be left questioning what Cox's transition team authors actually intended to sustain.

One Utah Roadmap does include some items recommended in The Utah Roadmap, such as more EV charging stations, converting state vehicle fleets to zero- and low-emission, establishing a "premier air quality/changing climate solutions" lab, and promoting clean energy public-private partnerships, though the latter must be "fiscally prudent."

Here is a topical sampling from the six priority areas of the One Utah Roadmap:

1) Economic advancement. Focus on technical training, build an Innovation District at "The Point", conduct a regulatory review, promote rural development, and create a $1 billion rainy day fund.

2) Education innovation and investment. Increase salaries for starting teachers, diversify the racial, cultural, and linguistic composition of the educator workforce, and make post-secondary education the norm.

3) Rural matters. Support the Lake Powell pipeline, the Inland Port and rural satellite ports, the Bear River project, and the Uintah [Basin] Railway.  Develop a state coal and petroleum reserve, oppose enlargement of national monuments, and pursue local management of public lands.

4) Health security. Support the Unified Command COVID-19 response.  Hire and train more community health workers.  Provide mental health personnel in schools.  Research racial and ethnic health inequities.

5) Equality and opportunity. Show state "lead by example" support of the Utah Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Compact.  Invest in training and "upskilling" opportunities for women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ workers.  Ensure health insurance for all children.

6) Streamline and modernize state government. Objectives include "department- and division-level organizational structure refinements."  Benefits of expanded remote work will be considered to decrease environmental impacts and create job opportunities statewide.

Governor Cox's One Utah Roadmap is a mix of good and bad.

The Good ledger entries acknowledge the need to pay teachers fairly, to address and correct systemic inequalities [which the earlier roadmap didn't address], make education more accessible, treat children's mental and physical health needs, and boost rural economic opportunities for rural Utah communities.

Unfortunately, the governor's "Rural Matters" priority area is where future prospects really go bad. Where the 2020 Utah Roadmap counseled policymakers to help rural communities break free from reliance on the mining industry, the Cox roadmap would further subsidize coal and oil extraction with the proposed reserve and export channels such as the Uinta Basin Railway and new satellite port facilities.  Support for the Lake Powell pipeline, Bear River diversion, and intent to fight for state control of federal lands means that Utah "green" forces are assured of continued conflict with state and local politicians.

Advocates for Utah's environment will also have to watch out for what government "streamlining" might entail.  Our first hint of an issue with the Cox administration on this score is the proposed merger of the Department of Environmental Quality with the Department of Natural Resources. A very bad marriage that could significantly undermine the DEQ's efficacy.

Fortunately, the One Utah Roadmap will be up for review after 250 days, in late September, at which point Utah advocates for a truly sustainable path forward may press for reconsideration of the first roadmap and revision of the most recent version.  

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