GOP climate champion John Curtis launches Utah Senate bid

By Timothy Cama | 01/03/2024 01:27 PM EST

The House lawmaker joins a crowded field to succeed Sen. Mitt Romney, who is retiring. Two conservative climate groups have already backed his campaign.

Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah).

Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus, on Capitol Hill. Francis Chung/POLITICO

Rep. John Curtis, a Utah Republican and one of the GOP’s leading voices on fighting climate change, is running for the Senate, though he did not mention climate in announcing his bid.

Curtis, who has represented the 3rd District since 2017, launched his campaign late Tuesday, becoming one of the front-runners in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican. The field of Republican contenders is crowded and now includes the son of the late Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Curtis’ bid quickly won the backing of two conservative climate change organizations, one of which praised him for “promoting Republican principles to improve the climate.”


In a video announcing his campaign, Curtis said, “We need to get America back on track,” adding that he would “work hard every day to make Utah an even better place.” Curtis had previously said he would not run for the seat but then changed his mind after hearing from constituents.

The two-minute video did not touch on his work on climate change. Instead, he pledged to push conservative priorities on fossil fuel and land use.

“I’ll work to make America not just energy independent, but energy dominant. That’s good for our economy, our security and our pocketbooks,” he said.

“I’ll continue to push back against D.C.’s takeover of what should be Utah’s land,” he continued, referring to ongoing battles against national monument designations in the state that put restrictions on the use of some federal lands.

Climate change caucus

Curtis in 2021 launched the Conservative Climate Caucus and remains its chair. He recently traveled to the U.N. climate talks in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to push permitting overhaul; is co-chair of a bipartisan wildfire caucus; and has backed the Biden administration on solar policies.

“You’ll see Republicans, instead of running from the climate dialogue, actually jumping in and being part of that dialogue, which is very important for us to be at the table,” he told E&E News in 2021.

He cast his climate caucus as an alternative to Democratic messaging on the issue, which he considers alarmist and off-putting.

“One of the problems that keeps Republicans from engaging is the crisis mentality,” he said later that year. “Republicans tend to be more methodical, more practical, and Democrats — I’m stereotyping here — tend to be more alarmist in nature.”

The caucus’ launch and growth coincided with a push, mostly led by former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), among House Republicans to counter Democratic climate policy proposals with their own conservative alternatives. The effort has not yielded significant policy changes.

The limits of the caucus were on display in 2021, when just two days after its formation, the vast majority of its members voted against an effort to curb methane emissions. That opposition ran counter to the wishes of some major fossil fuel companies, including Exxon, Shell and BP. At the time, Curtis said he needed to “better understand methane.”

In October, Curtis launched his own effort to curb methane emissions with a bill, H.R. 5964, the “Methane Emissions Reduction Act.” It is a more modest effort than a fee imposed on producers in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which Curtis has sought to repeal.

Curtis’ climate change work has mainly focused on talking about potential legislation, criticizing Democrats and pushing Republican policies as positive changes for the climate.

Reps. John Curtis and Scott Peters.
Curtis and Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) during an event at the COP28 climate summit in December. | Joshua Bickel/AP

He was a leading Republican voice last month at the COP28 international climate summit in Dubai.

He did some public events and met with John Kerry, President Joe Biden’s climate envoy; Curtis said he told Kerry: “There’s one thing everybody agrees on in this room. And that’s true that we need permit reform. Permitting reform right now is stopping every climate and energy goal we have, and not just that it’s chips and it’s broadband and everything. So we talked a lot about that.”

In addition to his work on climate, Curtis co-chairs the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus with Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.). Last year he voted against legislation to reimpose certain tariffs on imported solar energy technology, bucking the vast majority of his party.

Curtis sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Natural Resources Committee. In the latter, he’s advocated for conservative western U.S. priorities, like a bill to roll back the Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to allow entities to lease land for conservation purposes and one to restrict presidential authority to create national monuments.

Backing from climate groups

Curtis’ announcement earned quick praise from conservative climate change organizations. On Wednesday, Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions endorsed Curtis’ bid, saying he has “proven himself a groundbreaking leader in the House of Representatives spearheading the Conservative Climate Caucus.”

The statement from CRES President Heather Reams said that the caucus “has already made huge advancements in public awareness of conservative engagement on energy issues and promoting Republican principles to improve the climate.”

She added that should he win that seat, “he will undoubtedly continue his work leading Republicans to engage and support commonsense policies to produce more affordable, reliable, and clean American-made energy.”

ACC Action, the advocacy arm of the American Conservation Coalition, also endorsed Curtis.

“Representative John Curtis understands that conservation is conservative,” Danielle Butcher Franz, the group’s CEO, said in a statement. “At ACC Action, we look forward to seeing how his steadfast conservative leadership will change the U.S. Senate for the better.”

Brent Hatch.
Brent Hatch, seen here in 2008, is the son of the late Sen. Orrin Hatch. | Douglas C. Pizac/AP

Brent Hatch, a Republican attorney and son of the late Sen. Orrin Hatch, also entered the Senate race Tuesday. Hatch, a trial lawyer who previously served as associate counsel to the late President George H.W. Bush, has never held elected office. He is treasurer and past director of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization.

Other candidates in the Republican primary include former state House Speaker Brad Wilson; former Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs; and Carolyn Phippen, a former adviser to Sen. Mike Lee.

The Republican nominee is expected to easily win the general election. Nonetheless, a handful of Democrats are running, including former Rep. Ben McAdams, former state House Minority Leader Luz Escamilla and state Sen. Kathleen Riebe.