Utah Lawmaker Mulls Climate Concerns in Wildfire Bill

October 9, 2012

At the request of a youth group, a Republican Utah lawmaker plans to address concerns about climate change in a bill dealing with wildfires.

State Rep. Kraig Powell of Heber City has requested the drafting of legislation that would examine how climate change is expected to cause more and bigger wildfires, and drive up wildfire suppression and rehabilitation costs.

Powell told The Salt Lake Tribune that his colleagues have been resistant to discussing climate change in the past.

“That’s a discussion we need to have in the Legislature,” he said. “I want to start a discussion, a dialogue among my colleagues.”

He’s working on the bill at the request of West High School senior Sara Ma and other members of the iMatter youth campaign, who want state leaders to start thinking about the effects of climate change.

“Me especially, I want our legislators to recognize that climate change is here and it’s happening and there is a cost and we must plan ahead,” Ma said. “We have scientists on our side.”

In meetings with Powell, iMatter members shared what they have learned about wildfire costs in Utah. For instance, they said Utah has already seen 400,000 acres burn this year with suppression costs of $47.1 million – part of a trend prompted by record hot, dry periods.

They also mentioned how rehabilitation costs of burn areas often exceed firefighting costs. They noted the 2007 Milford Flat fire caused $5 million in suppression costs and $17 million in rehabilitation costs.

Such information is what led to the concept of the bill, which is now being drafted by the Legislature’s lawyers.

“I’ve been learning a lot. It’s not a simple science,” Powell said, adding similar climate concerns have been raised by constituents in his district.

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