Park City determined to aggressively combat climate change
Park City leaders last week pledged to pursue a wide-ranging environmental program, indicating they want to, potentially, reach a net-zero figure in carbon emissions in the city within a generation.
It was among the strongest environmental stands taken by City Hall. The municipal government already pursues a broad environmental program, but the move by Mayor Jack Thomas and the Park City Council last week appears to be especially bold. A net-zero figure would involve reducing the use of emissions-creating energies as well as some sort of offset for any emissions in Park City.
The elected officials opted for the most aggressive option of three presented by City Hall staffers. A staff report outlined the prospects of reaching the goal by 2050, but the elected officials desired a condensed timeline, perhaps by 2035.
The report, drafted by Ann Ober, who is a senior policy analyst at City Hall, and Matt Abbott, the environmental project manager, provides a detailed rundown of steps the municipal government could take to reach the goal. But the report also cautions that City Hall staffers are not sure the goal is reachable.
Some City Councilors at the Thursday meeting argued for a condensed timeline. Andy Beerman, a City Councilor who has long seen City Hall’s environmental programs as crucial, was especially interested in a condensed timeline. He argued against a timeline stretching to 2050, saying City Hall’s environmental program is a critical priority for the municipal government. Beerman said such a goal could inspire the community.
Others on the City Council also spoke in favor of the shorter timeline. Cindy Matsumoto, a City Councilor, supported the aggressive schedule. Tim Henney, another member of the City Council, spoke in favor of the condensed timeline. Another comment included Matsumoto saying Park City could someday set a goal to prohibit vehicles in Park City unless they are powered by electricity or another fuel source other than gasoline. City Councilor Liza Simpson, though, cautioned that Park City’s poor should not be left behind in favor of City Hall’s environmental programs.
The report submitted to the elected officials in anticipation of the meeting detailed three options of varying aggressiveness. The most aggressive option incorporates the steps of the two lesser ones as well as adding steps.
Some of the steps outlined in the report include:
"This is an aggressive goal and would require substantial efficiency upgrades, major infrastructure improvements, a Citywide transition to clean energy, and offsets," the report says. "Beyond City-led projects, this goal would require substantial stakeholder engagement and strong partnerships."
The report to the elected officials, however, acknowledges there are concerns with the most aggressive option. They include that there are "unknown and therefore potentially negative impacts to our economy." The report also says the option would be expensive and Park City likely would need to purchase renewable energy credits.
City Hall staffers intend to return with detailed timelines within the next two months.
People who spoke to the elected officials during the meeting were generally supportive of the efforts. They covered a range of topics, touching on the economy and the environment, among other topics.
Bryn Carey, an Old Town resident and a climate change activist, said pursuing an aggressive environmental program could lead to employment gains, reduce healthcare costs and prevent deaths associated with pollution. He also said the costs of an environmental program like the one described could be reduced over time as technology improves.
Other speakers argued for a condensed timeline from the 2050 target, said Park City could serve as a global model and said they support an aggressive schedule but cautioned City Hall not to address the sizes of houses in the efforts.
Becca Gerber, who was campaigning for a spot on the City Council at the time of the meeting, said Park City has an opportunity to show leadership in combating climate change.
"This is a big idea," Gerber said.
City Hall greatly expanded its environmental programs during the administration of former Mayor Dana Williams in the era after the 2002 Winter Olympics and has continued the work during the Thomas administration. Park City leaders argue that a changing climate could someday threaten the ski industry that drives the local economy. There would be devastating effects to the environment and economy of Park City if the planet warms, they contend.
A critic of a Park City workforce or otherwise affordable housing project in Old Town said he is considering an appeal of the Park City Planning Commission’s approval of the development.