State of the City | Salt Air

1/9/2014 | Amy Tibbals
Corigan Kushma

Many of us may feel relatively helpless in regards to our city's air-quality problems. Warranted enough, but all is not lost. We've got two bits of happy news. 1) SLC has a bad-ass for a Mayor, and 2) he's tossing out some actual solutions to our smog blanket problem. On Wednesday, we took our COLLECTIVE presence to the 6th floor of the Rice-Eccles Stadium Tower while Mayor Ralph Becker [hear, hear!] gave the State of the City Address. A well-chosen spot, no doubt, to illustrate just how big the problem is, and MB offered up a heartfelt speech on his love of this city, his concern for our air and health, and his committment to making things better. "Enough is enough," indeed, sir.

There's plenty to gripe about with the air. We're seeing a rise in physical health issues in the form of spikes in heart attacks and respiratory problems. Our economic health is suffering in the loss of new jobs and tax revenue. The primary reason new businesses don’t relocate to our city is because of our air quality, and the U of U has reported losing top researchers, faculty, and recruits to the issue. This all aside from the fact that we really just want to see the sun and breathe the caliber of air that doesn't quietly place us a few miles closer to death's doorstep.

Becker was quick to remind us, however, that our city has made some worthwhile strides in a keen direction. The new rail lines, low/no emission city fleet vehicles, added bike lanes, and our net-zero public safety building make the shortlist of good moves. And Becker's got a few other ideas. For example, an incentive program is being created to replace wood burning stoves [*holy-shit statistic: the emissions from heating one home with a wood burning stove are equivalent to heating 90,000 homes with natural gas]. Salt Lake is also raising the minimum standard for new and renovated municipal buildings to LEED Gold, effective immediately [round of fabulous applause]. In March, Salt Lake residents will be offered a municipal transit pass for the very low cost of $30/month. Oh, and assistance to commercial building owners to become more efficient, tailpipe emission reduction plans, a net zero airport, etc. All music to our ears. 

Here's the meat and potatoes, though: Mayor Becker has sent out a ‘call for help’ to the State...five things he is asking for in order to really see results here. 1) Raise the sales tax to fund better public transit. Word on the street is that our public transit is not up to par -- takes too long, too inconvenient, etc. The only way to make it better? Fund it. 2) Make lower-sulphur gasoline available. Tier 3 gasoline has lower levels of sulphur and decreased emissions. It's required for use in other states, and should be here, as well. 3) Change state law to allow for air quality standards that are relevant to Utah. We currently operate under a law which says we cannot have standards that are more strict than federal standards? What the what? Becker said it best: "Since when are we satisfied with our federal officials and their decisions?” 4) Higher gas prices. It stings for many, but in effect, it makes the true cost of driving apparent at the pump. Hopefully, instead of whining, we can find ways to drive less frequently. 5) Require buildings to use power efficiently. Area source emissions account for a huge part of our pollution problem here, and our current energy codes date back to 2006. That's hella old.

According to Mayor Becker, if the state can't deliver, he's just asking for the power...then we can accomplish it at the local level. And it was precisely at that moment that the sun broke through the pollutants and a catchy song about the inversion was performed by recess-deprived elementary school children. #Magic. Heaps of 'thanks' to Mayor Becker for his ideas and efforts. We're COLLECTIVELY behind you.

This city's too pretty to look so shitty.

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