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Warming Underlies the West’s Key Woes

July 1, 2008

By Robert Gehrke, The Salt Lake Tribune

Jul. 1–JACKSON, Wyo. — Over and over again this week, Western governors have been confronted with the issue of climate change and the threat it poses to the sustainability of the region’s way of life.

It puts stresses on wildlife and its habitat, threatens water supply and challenges energy development, the attendees at the Western Governors Association annual meeting have been told.

And the issue has not been couched in terms of whether climate change is real, but how the governors can move aggressively to deal with the challenges it creates.

“What happens now is not that it’s [a separate] issue, it’s part of the discussion on every issue people are talking about,” said Gov. Dave Freudenthal, of Wyoming, outgoing chairman of the Western Governors Association. “Much of the political judgment is over. The political judgment is you’ve got to consider this factor in everything you do.”

Today, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. will guide a session looking at what states can do to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, the economic impacts of climate change and how Western governors can ensure the federal government understands the region’s concerns when setting climate policy.

“I think the science is increasingly compelling on our changing climate,” said Huntsman, incoming WGA chairman. “I guess it would be easy to talk about water and wildlife and everything else in isolation but you can’t.”

Even the West’s most conservative governors say they recognize that something is happening that leaders need to confront.

“No question about it. All you need to do is take a look at our weather patterns the last couple [of] years and we are having a climate change. The question is how much influence we have on that and, of course, there are various opinions,” said Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, of Idaho. “I think it’s beneficial to always have the question as part of our vision, however far down the years you want to look.”

The governors created a special council Sunday to try to preserve wildlife habitat and migration corridors that have been threatened by growth and development, but are also shrinking and changing as temperatures and seasons have altered.

On Monday, the discussion looked at how to meet future energy demands in a clean manner that won’t aggravate climate change.

Earlier in the day, the governors discussed the demands placed on the region’s water supply by anticipated growth, which Brad Udall, director of the Western Water Assessment, cautioned will be aggravated by expected global warming.

“We now know, and have known for some time, that climate change will fundamentally alter the water cycle,” Udall said. Governors must expect more droughts and more floods, more rain and less snow, earlier runoff and rising seas.

The governors adopted a plan that calls for improved monitoring and data collection, water storage, and better anticipation and planning to address the effects of climate change.

Huntsman has already said that climate change will be at the forefront of the issues he hopes to address during his year leading the association, and he hopes to make the West’s voice heard with the new presidential administration.

“This is here to stay, so we’ll infuse more science and more discussion next year, and a more significant global component,” he said.

gehrke@sltrib.com

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