OGDEN — Climate change is an issue Republicans need to come to the table on, U.S. Rep. John Curtis told viewers while speaking on a virtual panel hosted by Weber State University on Wednesday.
Curtis has spoken publicly multiple times recently about environmental policy. In March, he said while participating in another online discussion hosted by the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., that Republicans are “leading” on climate issues in the U.S.
He appeared on the Weber State webinar just before meeting with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who is in San Juan County to tour the Bears Ears area. During the discussion, which was part of a global event to discuss small- and large-scale solutions to climate change, his message shifted.
“Republicans have not been engaged on this topic, and that’s a real problem for Republicans, but it’s a bigger problem for us as a country because unless we get conservatives, unless we get Republicans to engage on this topic, we can’t accomplish the goals that we’ve talked about,” Curtis said. “You can’t do this with only half of the country.”
The Republican congressman, representing Congressional District 3 — which covers Salt Lake, Utah, Emery, Carbon, San Juan, Grand and Wasatch counties — is in his second term as a representative.
The League of Conservation Voters, which is an environmental advocacy group that tracks congressional initiatives that would impact the earth, has given Curtis a lifetime score of 2% on his national environmental scorecard. The lowest score given to legislators is 0%, and the highest is 100%. His score, however, has gone up progressively as he’s served in Congress. Most recently, he was given 5% in 2020.
As he mentioned in his remarks, climate change hasn’t always been an issue on Curtis’ radar.
“If you’re wondering why I’m a conservative and I’m engaged in this dialogue, it’s because a lot of good friends that I have who are far further advanced on this topic than I am, instead of finding things they don’t like about what I’m doing, they find the things that they like,” Curtis said.
That approach, Curtis argued, is how people concerned about climate change can keep it from becoming another divisive topic and get more people on board. He said people on all sides should be looking for common ground, something that hasn’t always happened.
Citing clashes over public land in San Juan County and anti-renewable energy sentiments in Carbon County, which was named for its coal deposits and is a high producer of natural gas, Curtis said environmental advocates need to be more careful in their dialogue around climate change.
“These good folks here in Carbon County and Emery County for decades risked their health, worked hard, broke their backs so that all of us could have warm temperatures in the winter, cold temperatures in the summer, and much of this climate dialogue has villainized them,” he said.
Instead, supporters of environmental policy should focus on problems everyone can get behind, like cleaner air and water. That kind of language is what Curtis said he has had to use as he works to get more of his Republican colleagues involved in tackling climate change.
And attitudes seem to be shifting, he contended. About four weeks ago, Curtis sent out an open invitation to Republican lawmakers to come to Utah to discuss climate change.
“I thought to myself, if I can get six to Salt Lake City to talk about climate, that’s going to be a big deal,” Curtis said.
To his surprise, two dozen Republican legislators showed up, including six ranking members of Congress. He said they came because they realize that as climate change becomes a bigger topic of discussion, Republicans need to have a seat at the table.
“I’ve learned there’s a different language and a different way to engage them, but in their heart they’re just like everybody else,” he noted. “They love this earth, they want to take care of it, they want to be good stewards, and we’ve got to do a better job of articulating that.”
So far, there aren’t any Republican initiatives to tackle carbon emissions to share, but Curtis has a lot of hope for the future of climate policy in the U.S. In 2019, the U.S. saw the largest overall decline in CO2 emissions, but percentage wise, the country is in the middle of the pack.
Citing legislation passed by Congress last year that would cut carbon emissions, he said Americans are making progress toward tackling climate change. It’s unclear what bill he was referring to, but it may have been the inclusion of a small amount of funding for some clean energy research and development programs in President Donald Trump’s last COVID-19 relief package.
“I have confidence, I have faith,” Curtis said. “We can do this; we’re the best.”