Wasatch Back Mayors Want to Set an Example When it Comes to Climate and Clean Air

Oct 17, 2020

The mayors of Park City and Heber look to set an example for other communities when it comes to climate change and clean air policies.
Credit Heber City

The Utah Climate and Clean Air Compact was signed by over 130 prominent political, business, and religious leaders earlier this month, including Park City Mayor Andy Beerman and Heber City Mayor Kelleen Potter. KPCW spoke with both of them about the compact and what the Wasatch Back can do on this important issue:


The words “climate change” can provoke some polarizing reactions from people these days.


Ask 10 people their thoughts on the subject and you’re likely to get answers ranging from a flippant dismissal of the topic to a dystopian outlook of a dying planet and a dire need for immediate action.


In a state that’s well known for its more conservative leanings, there’s a pretty good chance you'll hear more of the former than the latter here in Utah.


Despite the deep-red reputation, the Utah Climate and Clean Air Compact brought together over 130 state and local leaders from politics, business, and religion across the political spectrum.


The compact encourages leaders to implement several recommendations to take on the effects of climate change and push for policies leading to better air quality over the next several decades. 


Signatories include Democratic Utah Congressman Ben McAdams, as well as Republican John Curtis.


Park City Mayor Andy Beerman and Heber Mayor Kelleen Potter also signed on. Their positions as mayors are non-partisan and Beerman says he sees climate change as an issue that transcends political parties. 


“I ask that about many issues right now,” said Beerman. “I mean, they should be human issues, not party issues. I think in Utah, the fact that we have such an acute problem on the Wasatch Front with air quality brings it home and it’s impossible to deny. On an inversion day, you can’t walk around Salt Lake and say there isn’t a problem here.”


For Potter, she says she started to notice hazier skies in the Heber Valley a few years ago and a recent hike with Beerman and other local leaders brought into focus just how much consensus there is on the reality of climate change. 


“One of the people on our hike was a BYU professor and he said it’s not really anymore about people’s opinions, there’s just so much science and data out there that we can’t ignore that it’s definitely time,” she said. “I’m happy, and happy to support some of our leaders, like Congressman Curtis, who are being vocal and saying this isn’t a partisan issue, that we all need to come together, and that’s what we saw here with this clean air compact. We saw people from both sides of the political spectrum.”


Although the compact is broad, one pillar in particular caught Potter’s attention: the economic benefits of Utah taking a leadership role on this issue. She says with the state poised to make another bid for the Winter Olympics in 2030, smart climate policy is a great way to encourage tourism and boost visitors here for recreation and the state’s celebrated open spaces.


“Taking action on these things will make a difference to our economy because we want people to come here for an Olympics and for tourism and winter recreation,” said Potter. “We’re looking at all these different areas to see what we can do to make a difference in our future.”


Park City is currently working towards zero waste city wide, as well as the entire community being run on renewable energy by 2030. Beerman admits that anything a small city in the Wasatch Back does to improve air quality or decrease its carbon footprint will make little difference in the big picture of things, but he and Potter both agree their cities can still set examples for what is possible. 


“I think we can serve as an example,” Beerman said. “When we decided to put our climate goals into place, we realized that we’re a drop in the global bucket. What we do up here, we could be 100% net zero and it would make no difference on a planetary level so we decided to be a proof in concept, we decided to show leadership and show what’s possible and hopefully inspire other communities.”


Beerman and Potter say one area that could make a real difference is construction. Current Utah law does not allow cities to mandate sustainable construction practices, they can only encourage them though various incentives. Both mayors say those incentives are limited and can still be a hard sell with contractors.


For the two Wasatch Back Mayors, they say lobbying the state legislature for that change is a real possibility. 


More information on the Utah Climate and Clean Air Compact can be found here.


KPCW news reports on climate change issues are brought to you by the Park City Climate Fund at the Park City Community Foundation, an initiative that engages Park City in implementing local, high-impact climate solutions that have potential to be effective in similar communities.