PROVO, Utah – We’ve heard it said before that you never learn anything while talking; you learn by listening.
Yet when it comes to energy development and what’s best for the state of Utah, all too often we find ourselves failing to listen to those most impacted by policy decisions.
Nobody understands the needs of rural Utah better than those who live and work there. We need to listen to them as we refine the state’s energy future.
Gov. Spencer Cox took this listening approach as a transition team made up of rural voices led the development of the Rural Matters report. This team worked collaboratively with stakeholders and constituents from rural Utah to identify and address their most immediate and urgent needs, many of which are outlined in the One Utah Roadmap.
Contrary to a Salt Lake Tribune editorial published Jan. 22, Cox is committed to expanding Utah’s sustainable long-term energy strategy. The One Utah Roadmap highlights several immediate sustainability opportunities, including converting state fleets to zero- and low-emission vehicles, utilizing locally refined Tier 3 fuels and building out a statewide electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Some rural communities are already benefiting from renewable energy development. Millard and Beaver counties have expanding geothermal, solar, hydro, wind and biofuel portfolios. We’re seeing steady growth in rooftop solar and more energy-efficient architecture. More detailed plans will be developed in the coming months.
But the fact is that in the short-term, the state is not ready — technologically or with available resources — to completely convert our energy portfolio to renewables overnight. Nor can we ignore the acute transportation, water and other infrastructure needs.
The path to the future cannot come at the expense of rural Utah’s reality today.
And it’s not just rural Utah that would feel the pain.
The Uintah Basin provides raw, unrefined oil products that power Utah. Those raw resources are shipped to Wasatch Front refineries. The refineries process the raw materials into fuels that are then used to power both urban centers and rural areas. This rural-urban relationship provides high paying jobs in Uintah, Salt Lake and Davis counties and gives tax and royalty benefits to counties and communities.
Removing this symbiotic relationship would cause chaos.
When we refuse to listen and appreciate the needs of others, we end up with policies that harm families.
Consider President Joe Biden’s decision last week to halt energy leases on federal lands. Such a unilateral and sweeping decision will be felt nationwide and is detrimental to Utah’s rural communities, tribes and businesses. It was a decision strictly made because of ideological differences, without consideration for the significant and immediate harm it will cause.
But when he stopped to listen to those impacted, like the Ute Tribe, Biden reversed course and allowed the tribes to proceed with fossil fuel development, a decision we support.
Utah’s energy and economic plans can’t be driven by political winds; rather, strategies must be informed by market trends.
Rural economic drivers will inevitably evolve. Who would have guessed that 20 years ago, Utah County would be a thriving and robust tech industry coined Silicon Slopes, or that southwest Salt Lake County would be home to the booming community of Daybreak?
And we will continue to transition away from fossil fuels. But an abrupt approach will devastate rural communities and hurt all Utahns.
The One Utah Roadmap offers a practical path forward, a plan where we can work together instead of against each other, where we can find common ground and can all experience the joy of living in a thriving community.