OPINION: From hog manure to geothermal energy, Southern Utah’s industry leaders offer conservation ideas

By Reps. Dan Newhouse (WA-04) and Chris Stewart (UT-02)

This piece was originally published in the St. George News.

Over the past several days, leaders from across Utah’s public, private and non-profit sectors have gathered at Southern Utah University to analyze the challenges and opportunities facing rural communities at Governor Cox’s “One Utah Summit.” To build upon these collaborative discussions, we are continuing the effort this week by joining leaders on the ground to see some of the innovative leadership by local agriculture and energy producers.

As Chairman and Vice Chair of the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of members of Congress focused on advocating the needs of rural communities across the country, it is important for us to hear firsthand from rural Americans about the work they are doing to advance our shared priorities – particularly when it comes to food security, conservation and energy independence.

We are hosting a forum to hear from a panel of agriculture experts from Snow College, Southern Utah University and Utah State to learn how the state’s agriculture industry is feeding the country, responsibly managing our lands and water and promoting producer-led conservation. Alongside Utah Department of Agriculture and Food Commissioner Craig Buttars, local farmers and representatives from the Utah Association of Conservation Districts, we plan to discuss ways the state and federal government can partner with local leaders and private citizens and hear how we can support their best practices that benefit both local producers and local environments.

We recently introduced a resolution alongside a bipartisan group of both House and Senate Members to recognize the 75th anniversary of the National Association of Conservation Districts and honor their collaborative efforts with local partners like the conservation districts right here who serve Southwest Utah’s communities.

We will also partner with the Five County Association of Governments – representing Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane and Washington Counties – to host a renewable energy field tour. In addition to discussing the region’s hydroelectric, wind and solar energy infrastructure, we will tour the Utah Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) Site in Milford, an international field laboratory established to provide a controlled environment where researchers can develop, test, and optimize enhanced geothermal system technologies.

Led by the University of Utah’s Energy & Geoscience Institute in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and a collaborative of local universities, private partners, and national laboratories, this project serves on the frontlines of research to improve technologies that will accelerate renewable energy production from resources miles below the Earth’s surface.

We will also tour Align Renewable Natural Gas (RNG), a first of its kind project developed by Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods. The project produces RNG from a network of 26 family farms that raise hogs under contract with Smithfield. Capturing methane from hog farming operations, the project produces clean energy for homes, businesses and transportation — and has the capacity to produce enough RNG to reduce 100,000 metric tons of emissions annually, the equivalent of taking 23,000 cars off the road.

Not only does this benefit the environment, but it also simplifies and reduces the costs associated with manure management for local farms – another win-win for producers and the environment.

What we learn here in Southwest Utah will be invaluable as we continue our work in the nation’s capital, advocating for responsible land management and energy development throughout the United States. We will continue to listen and lift up the voices of local communities across the region who are on the forefront of energy and agriculture innovation.

Dan Newhouse represents Washington’s 4th Congressional District and serves as Chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus. Chris Stewart represents Utah's 2nd Congressional District and serves as Vice Chair of the Congressional Western Caucus. 

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