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Global warming report gives grim outlook for state

Published October 9, 2007 9:40 pm

Governor's panel offers suggestions for action
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Posted: 9:43 PM- Utah is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions per capita than the rest of the nation. The state is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. And if nothing changes, prolonged, extreme droughts and heat waves are virtually assured.

The grim findings released Tuesday in the final report from Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Climate Change are bad news for coming generations. But they also underpin scores of suggestions for an action plan to shrink the state's carbon footprint, a goal the governor intends to pursue.

And that's the hard part. "Obviously we can't go out and do 70 things at once," said Dianne Nielson, Huntsman's energy policy adviser.

But with 200 options regarding energy supply, conservation, transportation, land use and building, the report provides a framework for legislation and rule changes - especially combined with an energy efficiency strategy and renewable energy initiative to be announced later this month.

Huntsman commissioned the report on Aug. 25, 2006, with the specific instruction that it include a scientific report that was not subject to the same debate as the rest of the issues the council undertook.

The report's eight authors include researchers from the University of Utah, Utah State University, Brigham Young University and the state Department of Natural Resources. It states without reservation that global warming is a fact and that human activity is responsible for most of the climate change that has occurred for the past half-century.

The findings for Utah in particular note that:

+The average temperature during the past decade was higher than observed during any other comparable period during the past century and about 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the 100-year average.

+The state is expected to warm more than the average for the entire globe, bringing fewer frosts, longer growing seasons and more heat waves.

+Greenhouse gas emissions at or above current levels will result in a decline in mountain snowpack and the threat of severe and prolonged droughts.

+Emissions in Utah amounted to nearly 80 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2005, about 1 percent of the nation's total. Each Utah resident contributes about 29 tons annually, slightly higher than the national average of 27.5 tons.

+Gross carbon dioxide emissions in Utah are rising at a faster rate than the rest of the country. Statewide, emissions increased 40 percent between 1990 and 2005, compared to 16 percent nationwide.

+The main source of Utah's greenhouse gases is electricity use (37 percent), followed by transportation (25 percent) and all residential, commercial and industrial fossil fuel use combined (18 percent).

The findings led the advisory council to put energy development and use at the top of its list of priorities along with fire management, open space preservation, public education, climate adaptation, building efficiency and aggressive mass-transit strategies.

But the short deadline meant setting aside cost-benefit analyses of any specific policies, said Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy and a member of the advisory panel.

"There have to be policies that go forward, " she said. " "It's still really nebulous and you have to figure out how to draft legislation."

Nielson agreed. "Whatever the focus is, if there's more legislation or more authority required, we'll have those discussions," she said, promising the level of across-the-board participation that the council made possible.

Utah Mining Association director David Litvin, also an advisory council member, said that despite the array of policy attitudes on the council there was not any attempt to define one option being more desirable than others.

"We need all of it: coal, nuclear; we need oil, we need gas, hydro, geothermal," he said. "The mining community in Utah is prepared to work in a cooperative way . . . to ensure we have an effective policy in the state."




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