Gov. Gary Herbert, like most of the state’s ruling class, wants Utah to have the maximum flexibility to make its own laws, set its own standards, chart its own course.
Fair enough. But the only hope this state, or any state, has of reaching that goal is to follow the advice given (in the movies, anyway) by Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi: “If we are to have independence, we must prove worthy of it.”
The action Herbert announced Thursday, that he was suspending work toward state compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan while the matter is fought over in court, is a big step in exactly the wrong direction. For two big reasons.
The first, and most obvious, is that the CPP is — or, at least, was — a good idea. National steps to clean up the emissions from power plants, to reduce the amount of carbon they spew into the atmosphere, are overdue.
The EPA, acting under the authority of the Clean Air Act, moved to issue the plan in hopes of shrinking the power industry’s carbon footprint and at least reducing the impact those emissions have on altering the global climate.
It was commendable that the agency allowed the states to take a first crack at writing their own rules and regulations for how they would achieve those goals. One size doesn’t fit all, and all that.
Or it would have been commendable, but for the fact that Utah, 26 other states and a gaggle of power utilities sued the EPA in federal court to stop the whole CPP. They argued that it was an overreach of federal authority into the business of the states and their traditional role of regulating the electric business. And that it would cost people money.
Early this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the whole CPP to be set aside while those challenges proceeded. That unusual move was widely seen as a big hint that the court was on a path to invalidating the whole plan. Though, with the death a few days later of Justice Antonin Scalia, all predictions are off.
That was all Herbert needed to decide that Utah’s efforts toward complying with the CPP should be put on hold. It would be, he said, a waste of time and effort until the fate of the plan is known.
Except it does Herbert and his fellow Republicans no good to demonstrate, as they have in this matter, that they are reluctant to do the right thing unless the federal government makes them.
Even if the CPP dies, necessity and common sense demand that there be some plan to reduce carbon emissions.
All Herbert has done with this act of careless defiance is to demonstrate to the EPA and the rest of the federal government that Utah isn’t to be taken seriously as a partner. That future efforts to clean up our planet, and to do many other worthy things, will have to be just as top-down as many Utahns fear.