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Mayor Mendenhall: Improving Salt Lake City’s Air Quality

Erin Mendenhall ran her mayoral campaign on a variety of issues, however, fighting to improve Salt Lake City’s air-quality is where Mendenhall began her public career. In 2009, Mendenhall co-founded “Breathe Utah,” a non-profit that works to clean Utah’s air through “education, collaboration, and policy.” While Breathe Utah places emphasis on educating K-12 students about air-quality science, the non-profit has also made some important advances within the Utah State Legislature. According to her campaign website, Mayor Mendenhall worked with Ben McAdams to improve legislation regarding air-quality, along with expansions to the state’s core curriculum to include air-quality science. This experience and success as an air-quality advocate was one of, if not the primary platform on which Mendenhall ran her mayoral campaign. This article will break down the main parts of Mayor Mendenhall’s policy commitments to improve Salt Lake City’s air quality.

Improve Air Quality for Salt Lake City Families

“Get 100 percent renewable energy from Rocky Mountain Power ahead of schedule”

In 2019 Salt Lake City’s previous Mayor, Jackie Biskupski, along with the City Council was able to secure a five-year franchise agreement with Rocky Mountain Power. This agreement goes hand-in-hand with the “Clean Energy Cooperation Statement” put out by Salt Lake City and Rocky Mountain Power. The Clean Energy Cooperation Statement puts forth a commitment to work towards a series of goals, namely a “transition to net-100% renewable energy for communitywide electricity supply by 2032.”

Mayor Mendenhall’s policy commitment articulates a necessity to reach net-100% renewable energy far earlier than 2032. The Mayor’s policy explains that she will achieve an expedited process employing “aggressive negotiation and strategic planning with Rocky Mountain Power.” Mendenhall was on the City Council that helped negotiate the current franchise agreement between the city and Rocky Mountain Power, which does increase her credibility; however, this specific policy commitment seems to lack a tangible plan. Salt Lake City residents should certainly keep an eye on this specific proposal.

“Plant 1,000 trees each year on the West Side to take pollution out of the air”

During her inaugural address to the city, the Mayor spoke proudly of her commitment to plant 1,000 trees on the West Side each year. Mendenhall emphasizes the importance of planting more trees on the West Side for two reasons. First, there is a massive tree disparity between the East and West Sides of Salt Lake City already. This difference can be easily discerned from views of most hikes upon Salt Lake City’s bench (or if you are not a big hiker you can see it on Google Maps). Trees absorb large amounts of pollution from the air and create oxygen; thus, the West Side is hit hardest during the yearly inversions due to the areas lack of foliage. The second reason trees will be more important to the West Side is that the proposed Inland Port will also be west of I-15. Although Mayor Mendenhall has pledged to protect Salt Lake City from the Inland Port, there are signs that she has backed down. In a recent interview with Fox 13 Salt Lake City, Mendenhall conceded that an environmentally friendly inland port has not been built “anywhere in the world.” Although the Inland Port will have to adhere to Utah’s “stringent” Clean Air Act, the West Side will undoubtedly suffer a major blow to its air-quality.

Mayor Mendenhall will “pursue local, national, and non-profit grants” to pay for the 1,000 trees per year, along with the labor required to plant them. According to the Mayor’s policy commitment, the 4,000 trees planted by the end of her first four years will:

  • “Take 40,000 pounds of pollution of the air each year;
  • Generate more than 1 million pounds of new oxygen each year;
  • Save approximately $172,000 in combined annual heating and cooling costs; and
  • Have the combined cooling effect of 40,000 room-sized air conditioners chilling our neighborhoods.”

“Expand public transit options for city residents”

Greenhouse gasses are a major proponent of the yearly inversions facing Salt Lake City, which makes public transit a valuable tool in the fight for improving air quality. As Salt Lake City grows, both in population and size, public transit will also play a major role in dealing with increased population density. It is also worth noting that the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee stated that if they make a bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics, Salt Lake City would be the host city; therefore, an expanded and enhanced transit system would improve Salt Lake City’s chance to host the world again.

Mendenhall’s plan to expand public transit options touches on three things: First, the Mayor will look to expand bus routes, upgrade bus stops, and “start moving Salt Lake City toward an all-electric bus fleet.” Second, an emphasis will be placed on cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure ventures, “including greater investment in our urban trails that connect our urban neighborhoods and business districts.” Third, further regulating rental bike and scooter operation to enhance pedestrian safety on sidewalks. The goal of Mayor Mendenhall’s public transit plan is to make leaving one’s car at home more convenient and affordable. Not only would this plan help Salt Lake City’s air quality, but it would also improve the daily lives of citizens.

If you would like to read more about Mayor Mendenhall’s plan to improve Salt Lake City’s air quality, click here.

Junior at the University of Utah
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