Utah climate clash


When University of Utah professor Jim Steenburgh and a team of climatologists issued a scientific report on climate change in 2007 to then-Governor Jon Huntsman, they emphasized their "very high confidence" that humans were mostly responsible for recent warming patterns.

But many Utah lawmakers didn't take their word for it. And while the state’s new governor, Gary Herbert, has trumpeted his plans to let "good science" guide policy and lead a "legitimate" debate on man’s role in global warming, the Legislature has so far left climatologists out of the conversation.

This Wednesday, Steenburgh will become the first climate scientist "ever to testify to state lawmakers about likely climate changes in store for Utah," according to the Salt Lake Tribune. He plans to summarize the two-year-old report for legislators, which projected that Utah would "warm more than the average for the entire globe."

Steenburgh's slated testimony is hardly evidence of a sea-change in Utah's attitude toward climate change, though. He'll share the agenda with Roy Spencer, a well-known climate change skeptic and former NASA scientist. Utah State University climate scientist Robert Davies told the Tribune that Spencer’s work is "completely fringe," and guessed that he was asked to appear because lawmakers "are looking for cover to make decisions that go against what the scientific community has recommended."

Governor Herbert doesn't look to be warming up to Steenburgh's ideas, either. While Huntsman, who left Utah's top job to serve as Obama's ambassador to China, signed the Western Climate Initiative, which would establish an emissions trading system between western states to slash carbon output 15 percent by 2020, Herbert unabashedly asserts that research on man-made warming is inconclusive. Speculation is flying that he may even pull out of the  Initiative.

"Gary Herbert puts question marks on things that [Huntsman] has put periods on," said Joe Demma, Herbert’s then-chief of staff, earlier this year.

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