Energy Policy

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson (D) discusses his city's environmental initiatives

From advocating light rail expansion to offering free parking for alternative fuel vehicles, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson (D) has tackled a wide range of environmental initiatives during his time in office. During today's OnPoint, Anderson talks about plans to reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions and why he is a vocal opponent of nuclear waste storage plans for Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Plus, he explains how he got elected in one of the most conservative states in the country, and why Democrats need to outline a more aggressive national energy strategy.


Brian Stempeck: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Brian Stempeck. Joining me today is Rocky Anderson. He's the mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah. Mr. Mayor thanks a lot for being here today

Rocky Anderson: My pleasure Brian.

Brian Stempeck: Now you recently had your annual State of the City address where you talked about a number of different environmental issues. Right now what do you think are the top environmental problems that are facing Salt Lake City?

Rocky Anderson: The number one problem facing our world and every city in the world is climate change. There's no question about that. The science is so clear now. Now it's been reported by NASA that last year was the hottest day on the globe on average than any time since they been recording temperatures. We're seeing the oceans rising. We're seeing glaciers and ice caps melting. We're seeing disease carrying insects go to different places they've never been before, at higher altitudes, different latitudes. It's all making a huge difference. And I can tell you we're going to see millions and millions of people as environmental refugees. We saw it in the Gulf States this year with those hurricanes. We know that the intensity of hurricanes increases because of warmer water. All of that I think spells real disaster. And this isn't a dress rehearsal. We've got to get it right and we've got to do it right away.

Brian Stempeck: What do you see as the direct impact on Salt Lake City?

Rocky Anderson: Well you asked earlier about in local communities the most important environmental challenge facing us. I think that what we see in front of us sometimes is what we pay attention to. And certainly air quality is a major problem in most of our metropolitan areas. It certainly is in Salt Lake City. And as we combat climate change we also reduce the criteria pollutants that cause so much of our air pollution. So it can be a win-win if we all, government, businesses and individuals, will do our share to reduce the emission of greenhouse gas emissions.

Brian Stempeck: Now Salt Lake City is one of many cities that signed onto, basically in your own way, signed onto the Kyoto Protocol, reduce emissions to a certain level below 1990 levels. How is the city going to try and meet that goal?

Rocky Anderson: Well actually we're almost there. We're 76 percent of the way there in our governmental operations. And I think that's such an important message, is that this is all doable. And it's not going to cause economic devastation as President Bush and others would have people believe. In fact, there are real economic incentives to taking some of the measures that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially conservation measures that can be undertaken. So in Salt Lake City government for instance, and a lot of these things businesses can do and even individuals in their day-to-day lives, we got rid of all our luminescent light bulbs in our City Hall and converted over to compact fluorescent bulbs. It saves us about $33,000 a year in electric costs and we've reduced greenhouse gas emissions by about 1,000 tons a year. That is massive. We've been able to take some of those cost savings and by wind power produced electricity, shifting over from coal burning plant produced electricity. And of course coal burning plants are one of the main contributors to both poor air quality in our communities and the trend toward climate change. We have converted our traffic lights over from luminescent bulbs to high-efficiency LED lights. That makes a huge difference in the amount of electricity used and there, a cost savings. Our methane at our wastewater treatment plant, that's a real problem, because methane has a much greater greenhouse effect than even carbon dioxide. So any time we're able to keep that out of the atmosphere it makes a huge difference. So we not only capture that methane and make sure doesn't go in the atmosphere, but we use it now to fuel a cogeneration plant that produces about half of our electric needs at our wastewater treatment plant.

Brian Stempeck: Some of the numbers you're mentioning though, say 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide basically is saved by switching to a certain kind of light bulb. That's a very small amount in the scheme of things when you talk about all the coal plants in the United States, all the different power plants, the cars and trucks. Is it enough for just the cities to be doing this? I mean what do you think should be happening in the state or the federal level?

Rocky Anderson: Well I think the important thing in terms of what the cities do, we can make a real difference, we've cut down greenhouse gas emissions by about 23,000 tons per year. And our collective action can make a difference, but it's not going to be enough to reverse climate change. But we are showing that we can do it. We can do it economically. And if we can do it so too can our nations, so too can states, businesses and individuals. And this is something that's going to take all of us finally getting on board. So we're working with a lot of businesses, showing them that although we know they're in the business of doing whatever they do and not out researching the environmental issues, we can take to them on a silver platter, we can inventory what they're doing and say, okay, instead of doing this here's the research. Here's what it shows both in terms of cost savings and the positive environmental effects. And we now have 33 of our local businesses signed up as what we call E2 businesses, which stands for economically and environmentally sustainable. Next we're going to roll this program out for individuals and call it our E2 Citizens Program. So that once people do this in their own lives, if they take the measures to drive a natural gas vehicle or a high-efficiency vehicle or hybrid, once they take the steps to change their light bulbs and use compact fluorescents and save electricity or wash their laundry in cold water, those sorts of daily things that people can do, then they make the personal commitment. Then there's the personal ethic that converts into political change in the long run. And that's what we need to get people to understand, that we can all do these things, that they're all effective and they'll all, taken together, make a real change. But we need completely different leadership. There's an absence, an astounding vacuum, in terms of leadership by the Bush administration on this topic.

Brian Stempeck: Well, I wanted to ask you that. One of the Bush administration's key priorities is more nuclear power. We've seen that from a lot of Senate Republicans as well, pushing for that in the energy bill we saw passed. That's something you've seemed to oppose. I mean you were one of the politicians who has written letters opposing Yucca Mountain storing nuclear waste.

Rocky Anderson: Absolutely.

Brian Stempeck: A lot of people say nuclear power is really the only way that you can address climate change on a large-scale. So if nuclear power isn't part of the equation then how do you do it?

Rocky Anderson: Well I wish we had the waste issue resolved because if you could have nuclear power and knew what you were going to do with the most toxic materials known to our world, then it would make a lot of sense. That our nation's nuclear policy was really built on an assumption that we'd be able to keep using these materials and not just produce a lot of it and then not know how to store it, not know how to transport it safely. And absolutely right, I don't want to see, especially these Eastern utilities, where they've been able to provide electricity at low cost and generating this incredibly lethal material. And then have it shipped out of their communities through the heart of cities like Salt Lake City, through dozens of municipal areas. And then stored in a place where the science does not justify the assumptions that it would be say to store it there for thousands and thousands of years. Now this material remains toxic, as I'm sure you know, for many, many thousands of years. And until we can provide those assurances as to how we can safely store and transport this material we've got to find other options. So I have great hope for nuclear energy someday, just not now given the state of the science and how things have gone in the industry. But if there were an effort like with the Apollo project to really commit this nation's resources toward a goal of using renewable clean resources we could get there. We're already seeing major shifts. I know a lot of us are very impatient and wondering why aren't we so much further ahead? But if you look back just four or five years we've made tremendous progress, even with a complete void of leadership in the Bush administration.

Brian Stempeck: You've been very critical of the Bush administration, both on nuclear power and on other issues such as the war. When President Bush came to Salt Lake City you actually led a protest against that. Do you ever feel like you're out of step with your own constituents? I mean Utah's a state that voted 70 percent for President Bush in the 2004 election, the most of any state. Do you ever feel like you're maybe going against the wishes of some people in Salt Lake City?

Rocky Anderson: Oh of course, but that's what leadership is about. It's not just going along being led along by the polls like President Bush is in so many respects. I think that leadership means reading, studying, figuring out the best way to go about things, setting goals and helping bring people along. Not just hanging out there on your own. So as we have incorporated so many of these projects, environmental projects, particularly in our city, we've been able to demonstrate to folks that in many instances you can save money and it is absolutely the right thing to do. And in our city at least, in Salt Lake City, I have tremendous support for our efforts to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and to clean up our air.

Brian Stempeck: What can we expect to see from you next? You've talked about urban sprawl as being a major priority in the city dealing with renewable energy, dealing with energy efficiency. What do you have coming for us in 2006?

Rocky Anderson: Well in this area there is so much more there can be done. In Utah, appallingly enough, we have no energy policy. And there are a group of people, legislators and such, industry folks, who are getting together and are trying to develop energy policy. I'm pushing very, very hard to make sure that, as in an increasing number of states now, we have an alternative portfolio requirement. That is that we say, by law, that a certain percentage of our electrical needs be met by producing electricity through clean renewable sources. It can be done if we set our minds to it, if you have the political will, if you've got the commitment. But just to keep going along with the status quo, depending on dirty, polluting, dangerous coal burning plants, that is simply not the answer. And it's a real betrayal. Not only of the interest of all of us now, but certainly of later generations that are going to look back and I think wonder what in the world were they thinking to keep going along in that same kind of paradigm, along the same failed course, when they knew better? They knew about the problems with the air pollution. They knew about public health implications. They knew about the long-term impacts on climate change. And why didn't they do anything? That's what leadership is, is looking out for the future.

Brian Stempeck: You ran for Congress in 1996, did fairly well. Any thoughts about taking these ideas to the federal level?

Rocky Anderson: Well we certainly, I think, by setting the example can make the most powerful case. Now it's not just a matter of theory or principal. Now we can go to officials at the federal level and show them what it is we've been doing and what great positive effects we've been able to accomplish. Now we've done that with municipalities all around the world. I was at the United Nations conferences on climate change in both New Delhi and Buenos Aires and spoke to municipal leaders. And a lot of them have really taken heart as have a number of mayors around the country. We now have 200 mayors have signed a pledge to at least abide by the Kyoto Accord. Now I think the Kyoto Accord is way too modest in its reach, but it sets an important process. And I think what's most important about Kyoto is the idea of nations coming together, not nations going alone like President Bush has taken this country in so many different ways, both environmentally, in terms of the war, in terms of the economy, but all of us working together to try to meet these global challenges.

Brian Stempeck: One last question for you because we're running out of time. Any thoughts about personally running for Congress, doing it yourself, going back and giving it another shot?

Rocky Anderson: No. I would not win in Utah in a race for Congress. I realize that. I tried that once. I frankly think I've been able to accomplish a whole lot more as mayor than being one of the members of Congress. But we need far better national leadership. And frankly I'm not seeing it from much of the Democratic Party either. I think they've got to start talking the truth and standing up for principle. And if they'd do that they'd win more elections and they'd eventually the win the White House.

Brian Stempeck: Alright Mr. Mayor thanks a lot for being here today. We appreciate it.

Rocky Anderson: Thank you.

Brian Stempeck: I'm Brian Stempeck. This is OnPoint. Thanks for watching.

[End of Audio]



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