In the midst of Utah’s public lands madness, much of our leaders’ rhetoric claims public lands are good for the soul, but not for the economy. Better Utah’s super volunteer, Doris Schmidt, did some extensive research and wrote up a report challenging this narrative and demonstrating just how good public lands are for our economy.
Doris found that safeguarding the environment has proven to be a singularly effective way to create jobs in Utah. Our large and growing outdoor-recreation economy dwarfs the declining coal industry, although coal is most often proposed as a way to grow jobs on public lands. The outdoor recreation economy extends beyond tourism to include manufacturing, marketing, gear sales, vehicles, equipment, and clothing used in outdoor activities. It draws new businesses to Utah in a pattern of growth that has outperformed most other job sectors.
The coal industry, in contrast, has suffered a decades-long decline with decreases in demand, the rise of alternative fuels including natural gas, and lower employment as automation replaces workers. Proposals to mine coal that lies under the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument cannot solve the fact that demand, not supply, for coal is dwindling.
However, the decline of coal does not have to mean the demise of hope for Utah’s “coal country,” however, as the transition from a coal-based economy presents a variety of opportunities for the region. Variety is the key, with diversified economies offering the greatest stability. Solar energy is likely to be part of that mix; with Utah ranked No. 2 in the nation for solar capacity installed per capita and No. 6 for total solar capacity installed, the solar industry created more new jobs in the state in 2016 than the total employed by coal.
The land itself stands as the region’s greatest economic asset, with its abundant beauty and seemingly limitless potential for outdoor recreation. Safeguarding that beauty, and maximizing the economic potential of outdoor recreation – including the goods and services that support it – can only benefit the quality of life and economic growth that bring Utah long-term prosperity.