Mayor Holly Daines of Logan signed Utah’s first Climate and Clean Air Compact on Oct. 7, and local advocates say it’s just the first step to address the issues.
“I think one of the most important things about it, frankly, is that this is a pretty diverse group of people representing different kinds of institutions,” said fellow signatory Rob Davies, an associate professor of physics at Utah State University, “from institutions of higher education, to municipalities, to businesses, to nonprofit organizations and the gamut. It certainly comprises both progressive and conservative voices.”
In a written statement to The Herald Journal, Daines wrote that the diversity of other signatories was a draw for her.
“I like the fact it is a non-partisan group of business, government, faith and other leaders,” Daines wrote. “We all need to be aware of how we can address these important issues in ways that make sense to us as a city. There are some areas we’re looking at right now, and we’ll be bringing some ideas to Council down the road.”
And the sooner the better, according to Davies.
“Logan has taken the first step to looking forward and saying, ‘Yeah, we can see that this is coming,’” he said. “They don’t know what to do yet, but that’s next.”
While there is no way to determine the exact “point of no return” when it comes to climate change, experts agree the threshold is near if changes are not made.
“It is certainly true that fossil fuels are going away,” he said. “I mean, coal has already collapsed. Natural gas is on its way to collapsing. Oil is kind of the final frontier in fossil fuels … but it’s not fast enough, and certainly to address climate change we need to move faster away from fossil fuels.”
Though several areas in Utah are invested in fossil fuels, the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute’s “Utah Roadmap: Positive Solutions to Climate and Air Quality” acknowledged the need to work with those in the field to safely transition away from coal and natural gas to avoid economic shortfalls.
Logan was among 29 organizations and municipalities in the state that bought into what could be the country’s first small-scale, modular nuclear reactor project in Idaho, but due to several concerns, the council voted to withdraw from the project on Aug. 15, leaving Hyrum as the only investor in the county.
Matt Draper, the electricity supervisor for Hyrum, said with any investment, there’s risk.
“I mean, you buy a vehicle, you have a risk of buying a lemon, right, or something else happening,” he said. “We just try to keep the risk at the very least that we can keep it. I mean, we had risk with the wind farm up in Idaho Falls, and we took that risk, and it’s turned out alright. There’s always a spot that you’re gonna have to assume risk if you want to get something.”
He added that nuclear power, such as the NuScale project, is also the only carbon-free option at the moment.
The compact was designed by the Utah Clean Energy Alliance to follow the mileposts of the Utah Roadmap. On top of addressing clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the goal is to improve air quality in the state.
Local physician Ed Redd said air quality in the valley has improved significantly in the last two decades due to a combination of less coal burning and more efficient technology in cars and homes. But due to the topography of Cache Valley, even with lower emissions, pollutants tend to get stuck in times of inversion due to wildfires, which are “outside of local control” and yet lead to problems for people with cardiovascular and pulmonary sensitivities.
“If you talk to physicians and patients who have asthma and lung problems, they’ll tell you that when there’s a lot of smoke in the air, they have a more difficult time managing their asthma,” he said. “That’s a pretty common experience for most patients with significant problems.”
This summer had multiple red air days due to wildfires in California, which Davies said were 100% caused by climate change and burned nearly 5 million acres — “that’s five times the previous worst fire season in California.”
“We’ve got social and racial problems that are big and need to be addressed,” he said. “What we tend not to understand about climate change is how much bigger it is than every other problem. We just group it as just one more problem. We stick in our brain, and we kind of give it equal weight with these other problems. But if we don’t fix this problem, none of the other problems matter.”
Rob Campbell, president of Campbell Scientific, is the only other local signatory, though the Logan Municipal Council expressed support for the compact.
No official statement has come from any of the other municipalities or faith organizations in the county, nor from USU, though the university’s Sustainability Council will meet on Wednesday to discuss the agreement, according to sustainability coordinator Alexi Lamm.