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Salt Lake City mayor urges action on climate change in testimony before congressional committee

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SALT LAKE CITY — Mayor Jackie Biskupski detailed record-setting wildfire seasons, unprecedented drought and heat, as well as persistent algal blooms and notorious air pollution that compromises public health in presenting to U.S. House members the climate change impacts that are very real threats to Salt Lake City residents.

Biskupski, testifying Tuesday before a congressional subcommittee, was among a handful of local and state leaders from across the U.S. who described the effects of a changing climate and then cited local examples of what strategies are in place to minimize carbon emissions.

"The ski industry, a $1.3 billion contributor to Utah's economy, is also threatened and will decline due to a shorter ski season," she said, noting winters shortened by as much as five weeks. Wasatch streams, she added, can expect to have as much as 4 percent less volume of water with each degree of warming temperatures.

But Biskupski noted positive steps the city has taken over the years to make a difference in mitigating harmful carbon emissions.

Salt Lake City was the first city in the country with a public safety building designed to be net-zero energy, meaning it produces as much energy as it consumes, and the city also has two first-of-its-kind fire department stations that are net-zero energy.

Biskupski, who spoke before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, also detailed a unique effort beginning this year in Utah with the passage of HB411.

Sponsored by Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, and signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert, the unique legislation establishes the framework for communities to wholly embrace 100 percent net renewable energy within a certain time frame by working with Rocky Mountain Power.

Residents will have opt-in and opt-out provisions in a public hearing process that will unfold over several months.

But she and several others who testified said cities and states can't make strides in the clean energy fight without the leadership of the federal government, and urged action on several fronts.

In particular, she urged renewed funding for energy efficiency and conservation block grant programs under the U.S. Department of Energy, pass-through funding from the department to state governments for energy efficiency improvements and taking legislative action to reverse the rollback on fuel efficiency standards in cars.

In earlier testimony, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat who is running for U.S. president, said claims that a green economy kills jobs are just wrong, pointing to his state's thriving economy and the fast-growing job sectors in the solar and wind industries.

There were some testy moments in the committee, however, via multiple exchanges between Inslee and several GOP members who took issue with Inslee's position on retiring all fossil fuels by 2045.

"I hope my colleagues can learn honestly from Washington state's mistakes instead of repeating them on a national level," said Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Montana, pointing to job losses in the coal sector. In Inslee's state, the last coal-fired power plant is being retired.

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue


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