ST. GEORGE — Talk of issues and policy to be addressed in the upcoming general session of the Utah Legislature was shared by four members of Southern Utah’s Sunshine Caucus during a Wednesday morning breakfast with the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce.
Sen. Don Ipson and Reps. Walt Brooks, Colin Jack and Joseph Elison spoke about some of the state budget’s near-$3 billion surplus and how it may be used, as well as issues related to Utah’s water rights and efforts to push back on environmental, social and governance policies.
Sen. Evan Vickers and Rep. R. Neil Walter did not join the discussion that focused on giving chamber members a preview of upcoming legislation that might impact their businesses for better or worse.
This is the second of two articles covering topics discussed at the chamber breakfast. This story covers highlights of the legislators’ collective opinion of environmental, social and government policy and how best to contact local legislators with questions and issues during the session.
The first article – found here – covered a discussion of the state’s budget surplus and issues related to Utah’s water use and rights to the Colorado River.
Pushback on environmental, social and governance policies
“Environmental, social governance – it’s basically a social credit score that is subject to someone else’s agenda and Utah has been really one of the spearheads of making sure we stop this,” Brooks said. “Basically it’s going to put someone outside of banking in control of what you do. It’s not a good thing.”
According to Investopedia.com, environmental, social and governance refers to “a set of standards for a company’s behavior used by socially conscious investors to screen potential investments” and is seen as a way to “screen investments based on corporate policies and to encourage companies to act responsibly” by being “responsible stewards of the environment, good corporate citizens” who are “led by accountable managers.”
A general idea is that an investment firm will invest in ventures that have good environmental, social and governance ratings versus those that do not. Where worry from the legislators and other parties against these policies is how this may be used to dictate policy to entities seeking that investment.
Elison, who has a background in finance, broke down the idea behind environmental, social and governance policy as he sees it.
“Basically what happens is, for example, if you are an oil-producing or an oil-dependent industry, and because the Green New Deal is saying we’re going to get rid of oil, they are forcing banks to say they’re no longer going to lend to anybody that is in the oil industry,” he said. “So (the oil-based company) doesn’t get the capital they need to run their business. Basically, it’s a financial sanction on private industry. It’s a global push – and we’re pushing back.”
A way Utah and several other states are choosing not to support environmental, social and governance policy is by not investing their trust funds and other state funds into entities that promote the policy, Elison said, adding that a big proponent of these policies is the investment firm BlackRock.
BlackRock and Vanguard, another investment firm, recently were called out by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, and the attorneys general of 13 other states for Vanguard allegedly seeking to manipulate the energy market through controlling shares in publicly-listed utility companies the firm is seeking to purchase.
Reyes and the other states are demanding the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission investigate Vanguard’s intent behind wanting to buy the shares. The attorney general argues the investment firm will use its influence over the utility companies to get them to move away from coal and natural gas for electricity production and trigger energy price hikes as they transition to some energy alternative compliant with environmental, social and governance policy.
“FERC should ensure that Vanguard’s activism will not lead to electricity price hikes and grid instability,” the Attorney General’s Office stated in a Nov. 30 press release.
Ipson called the environmental, social and governance policy a social agenda that was nuts.
“It needs to be stopped,” he said.
Best way to contact legislators
When asked about which bills business owners and the public should know about, Ipson turned it around and said that constituents need to help keep their legislators aware of bills important to them.
“I reach out to you guys,” he said as he motioned to the gathered chamber members. “You’ve got our numbers. If you see bills that come up that you are concerned about, reach out and give us your input. We need that. We need to know if there’s a bill that affects the business community – that’s important to me, it’s important to all of us.”
Legislators don’t have the time to look through every bill that is proposed to go through the Legislature, Ipson said. There may be 1,200 bills drafted with around 400-500 passed with lawmakers only able to really digest a select amount during the general session, he said.
As far as getting a hold of the legislators, Ipson and Brooks recommended keeping correspondence short and to the point while also identifying who the email is from.
“We get thousands of emails,” Brooks said. “Personally, if they’re not from my district, I disregard them, because that is not who I represent.”
Adding to the use of email, Ipson said constituents should put their names first and keep the rest of it short.
“We get emails that are pages long, and who reads that?” Ipson said, to which Brooks jokingly replied, “My intern.”
Email and text messages are the best ways to get a hold of the legislators while the session is underway, Ipson added.
Calling state lawmakers directly also can work, yet may lead to unanswered calls and voicemails that go unheard if the call was made during a committee hearing or floor debate the legislator is involved in at the time.
The general session of the Utah Legislature begins Tuesday, Jan 17. and runs through March 3.
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