Interview: Mayor Jackie Biskupski of Salt Lake City, Utah

BY ON October 2, 2018

This is a Moms Clean Air Force exclusive interview with Jackie Biskupski, Mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah. Mayor Biskupski was one of the leaders at the Global Climate Action Summit. She serves as the Chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Alliance for a Sustainable Future Committee:

Jackie Biskupski, Mayor of Salt Lake CitySince President Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, you implemented Climate Positive 2040, which calls for 100 percent renewable energy by 2032, with an 80 percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2040. Could you elaborate?

Salt Lake City actually resolved to make the transition to 100 percent clean electricity before Trump came into office. In July 2016, the City Council and I signed a joint resolution [outlined] in our “Climate Positive SLC” plan.

There are several goals:

  • Powering 50 percent of our municipal operations with renewable electricity by 2020.
  • Moving to net-100 percent clean energy to power our entire community’s electricity needs by 2032.
  • Reducing our community’s carbon footprint 80 percent by 2040 (from a 2009 baseline)

In the summer of 2016, Salt Lake City was only the 16th city in the country to make this 100 percent clean energy commitment. Since then, there are now more than 200 communities making the same pledge.

The reason for that is the election of President Trump. His administration’s pull-back from the Paris Climate Agreement, and his abdication of leadership on this issue. This is happening alongside the non-stop torrent of weather-related records and impacts we’re seeing worldwide, underscoring the importance of taking action.

Salt Lake City has been fighting to improve its particulate matter stats and reduce its ozone pollution. An additional factor is “winter inversion,” exacerbated by increasing climate change. Can you define the problem and describe how you are factoring this into your anti-air pollution efforts?

Salt Lake City and the surrounding communities along the Wasatch Front face two distinct air pollution problems: ozone and particulate matter.  In the wintertime, we have inversions that trap emissions and lead to high PM2.5 pollution. In the summer, we’re seeing higher temperatures, exacerbated by climate change, making ozone pollution worse. With the additional particulate pollution from statewide and regional wildfires, summertime is quickly becoming a worse air quality season in some ways than the winter.

The good news is that all of our work to reduce pollution helps in both seasons, with the exception of wildfire smoke. Salt Lake City has done a lot to reduce emissions from our internal operations.

This includes:

  • Moving toward a cleaner government fleet. We have more than 200 alternative-fuel vehicles, including all-electric and hybrid electric vehicles.
  • Instituting a Comprehensive Energy Management Executive Order. The Order addresses all aspects of City operations that require the use of electricity, natural gas or other energy resources in order to operate buildings, facilities or other fixed assets. Through implementation, Salt Lake City Corporation is reducing energy waste and better ensuring the responsible use of City resources. By using less energy and simultaneously deploying clean, renewable energy resources, the City will mitigate pollution associated with regional air quality issues and cross-cutting challenges such as climate change.
  • Installing solar panels on government facilities and building to LEED Platinum and Net Zero specifications.

Ultimately, the air pollution problems we’re seeing as a result of wildfires and higher temperatures point to the urgency of taking action on climate change. A big reason we have our Climate Positive SLC goals is because climate change impacts public health, as it has so clearly demonstrated this year with wildfire smoke.

Mayor Biskupski talks in front of solar panels in Salt Lake City

How are you bringing businesses and individuals into the process?

We focus in large part on “walking the walk.” As a municipal government with 3,000 employees…we demonstrate how driving cleaner vehicles, reducing energy waste and using renewable energy is mainstream…[thereby] encouraging our businesses and residents to take the same clean air actions.

Two of our clean air ordinances are:

  • The Idle-Free Ordinance. It is not permitted to idle a vehicle for more than two minutes in Salt Lake City when not in traffic. Because vehicles account for over 50 percent of our air pollution problem, reducing unnecessary vehicular pollution is common sense.
  • The Energy Benchmarking and Transparency Ordinance. “Area sources” make up the second largest contributor to our air pollution problem in the winter. Commercial structures don’t have a tailpipe, but contribute a significant amount of these area source emissions in Salt Lake City because we are home to our state’s downtown core. This ordinance simply requires large commercial buildings to measure and report their energy use to the city on an annual basis. Oftentimes, they’ll see that they could save money by reducing energy waste—and this reduces community pollution too.

Salt Lake City also has a business consulting service, the e2 Program, through which our Sustainability Department meets with businesses and helps them determine how to reduce their environmental footprint.

For individuals, we have worked to make transit more affordable through the Hive Pass program and more convenient through passing the City’s first Transit Master Plan.

Toxins and particulate matter are especially dangerous to young children and pregnant women. Your office has promoted a push to reduce pesticides and educate the public. How is that going?

Yes. That’s exactly why Salt Lake City has partnered with Healthy Babies Bright Futures on evaluating how we, as the capital city, can reduce exposures to harmful chemicals. One of the outcomes of that work is the Pesticide Free SLC initiative, through which we are working to reduce chemical usage on City properties — while also providing resources to community members on how to do the same. This past summer, we distributed several hundred Pesticide Free yard signs and ran a successful outreach campaign through SLCgreen that provided tips for homeowners on using organic and sustainable methods of yard care.

The Mayor’s top-takeaway was clear:

“While the Trump Administration’s environmental policies are abhorrent, it has been inspiring to see the leadership from so many other cities, local communities, businesses and everyday people stepping in to take up the slack.”

Photos: Courtesy of the Office of the Mayor of Salt Lake City

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TOPICS: Air Pollution, Children's Health, Heat and Extreme Weather, MCAF News, Utah