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Congressman John Curtis meets with athletes to talk climate change and the economy

Utah Congressman John Curtis talks with the media about the Conservative Climate Caucus at the Olympic Park
Utah Congressman John Curtis talks about the Conservative Climate Caucus at the Olympic Park Tuesday.

On Tuesday, a Utah congressman and a handful of pro athletes met at the Utah Olympic Park to hike in the mountains and talk about climate impacts on the region's outdoor winter economy.

U.S. Congressman John Curtis is the founder of the Conservative Climate Caucus. That was launched a little over a year ago and has become the second largest caucus in Congress, with a third of congressional Republicans signed on.

Curtis said he regrets that bipartisan work on climate issues doesn't get much media attention.

"According to the Energy Act of 2021, the most significant pieces of climate legislation in the country's history were bipartisan," Curtis said. "I meet almost weekly when I'm in Washington DC with members of both parties talking about how we reduce methane. How do we do all the things that are important as part of this? And so, I do anticipate bi-partisan work. I see it. I wish it made the news more often. It tends to make the news when we don't get along."

Curtis said the caucus aims to educate conservative lawmakers who traditionally shy from climate change topics.

"There's four points that I think are really important. We can have energy independence. We can have affordable, reliable prices. We can have a strong economy and we can reduce emissions." Curtis said he wants "to help people understand, these are not either-or-choices. We don't have to destroy our economy to reduce emissions, which is an important message for conservatives."

Olympic Nordic Combined Athlete Jared Shumate has lived in Park City his entire life and said he’s seen climate change effects over his 23 years on earth. He’s also a Protect Our Winters (POW) ambassador.

Shumate said Rep. Curtis has supported POW's mission, which is to show lawmakers that climate policies can be good for the environment and the economy.

Shumate said his future as a winter athlete depends on Congress passing climate legislation. His message:

"Become aware of the issues and especially the policies that are being voted on. Because I know for me, before I started working with Protect Our Winters, I didn't really read too much into the specifics of policies, but there are so many decisions that happen that affect our lives," Shumate said. "It's super important to be aware of all the issues and advocate for a cleaner environment."

Sierra Quitiquit is a professional big mountain skier raised in Park City who trained with the Park City Ski Team, competing as a junior Olympian. She’s also an ambassador for both POW and NATO’s Protect Our Youth campaign.

Sierra Quitiquit-Big Mountain Skier, NATO Youth Ambassador.JPG
Meg Haywood-Sullivan
Sierra Quitiquit-Big Mountain Skier, Protect Our Winters and NATO Youth Ambassador

Quitiquit said she believes all humans have the right to a safe future, including a clean environment.

"You know, Representative Curtis has been such a fantastic ally to the movement," Quitiquit said. "It's really unfortunate that we talk about climate change in a political context because breathing clean air and protecting our future for generations to come is certainly not political. The fact that Representative Curtis has taken a bold leadership position within the Conservative Party. I hope that his leadership affects more representatives and senators within his party."

POW ambassador Brody Leven is a professional ski mountaineer who travels the world to climb up and ski down mountains never skied before. He said his livelihood depends on winter snows, but the issue is bigger than having fewer powder days in Park City. As an advocate with POW, he said it includes electrifying the transportation grid and shifting the nation to clean, renewable energy.

"We're advocating for a just worker transition to get folks working in the fossil fuel industry, to capping methane leaks, and working in renewable sectors," Levin said. "We have a great opportunity for Utah to lead in energy independence. We have a great opportunity to not only represent Salt Lake for the Olympics, or Utah, but for the U.S. to truly lead on the global scale when it comes to climate. And we're really proud to have Representative Curtis leading with the conservative climate caucus."

Curtis said the Conservative Climate Caucus includes a task force intent on writing climate bills and moving them through the legislative process.

Utah Olympic Park-Spence Eccles Olympic Freestyle Pool
Utah Olympic Park-Spence Eccles Olympic Freestyle Pool

With rain clouds threatening, and athletes of all ages launching from platforms into the Spence Eccles Olympic freestyle pool, Curtis and POW members concluded the event with a hike and conversation.

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.