Salt Lake City, Utah Adapts to Improve Air Quality Through Smart Growth

Salt Lake City, Utah Adapts to Improve Air Quality Through Smart Growth

Equity & Justice

The negative health impacts of air pollution disproportionately harm Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American populations. A research study published in the online journal of Science Advances found that racial minority communities systematically face a higher level of exposure than average to particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5), or particles no larger than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. This air pollutant can become embedded in humans’ lungs and is responsible for up to 200,000 premature deaths in the US each year. The study also found that people of color are disproportionately exposed to pollution from all sources—across all emission sectors, geographic areas, and demographics.  

Additionally, people of color face elevated exposure to benzene, a toxic air pollutant linked to cancer. This is due to the historic placement of oil and gas refineries near communities of color. According to  the Environmental Integrity Project’s analysis, people of color make up 60 percent of those who live within three miles of the refineries that reported harmful benzene levels, even though they make up less than 40 percent of the total U.S. population.  

Project Summary

In 2014, Salt Lake City was designated a Climate Action Champion Community for their leadership in reducing emissions and increasing climate resilience and adaptation to air quality concerns from climate change. The Sustainable Salt Lake Plan 2015 articulates the city’s broad and ambitious agenda to protect its resources, enhance its assets and establish a path towards greater community resilience. The plan set goals to improve air quality, protect community health and reduce particulate matter and ozone pollution, which are both projected to be exacerbated by climate change. The City adopted specific transportation measures to decrease miles traveled, reduce vehicle idling and promote alternatives. These clean air strategies reduce current air pollution that is expected to be exacerbated by climate change.

While continuing to address air quality issues, Salt Lake City formulated a vulnerability assessment and adaptation plan. The Salt Lake City climate response plan, called Climate Positive 2040, includes a climate vulnerability assessment, a greenhouse gas mitigation plan and an adaptation plan. This comprehensive approach to climate adaptation builds off of previous adaptation efforts to better help the city anticipate, plan and prepare to take action to protect residents from future public health and air quality concerns.

Salt Lake City's GREENbike bike share program
How did they do it?
ActionApplicable Resources

Salt Lake City identified air quality as a critical vulnerability

  • Salt Lake City identified air quality as an immediate problem, and one that is likely to be exacerbated by climate change.
  • Salt Lake increased city department’s adaptive capacity through training staff in a Climate Leaders program to better understand how climate change will affect their department’s mission.
  • Salt Lake City created a Climate Dashboard to track progress and provide up-to-date information on accomplishments to the public.
  • Salt Lake City is currently completing their vulnerability assessment of climate impacts to every city department.
  • To develop its pending Climate Response Plan, Salt Lake City convened an internal (city government) steering committee to assess risks and vulnerabilities and received input from all city departments.
  • Designed for local government officials, the Community-Based Climate Adaptation Handout describes the impacts of climate change on governmental services, provides adaptation strategies, and includes examples of community-based adaptation actions.

Salt Lake City prioritized adaptation actions that provide co-benefits

  • Salt Lake City knew even before completing an adaptation plan that reducing vehicle emissions, upgrading municipal fleets, and encouraging comprehensive regional transportation programs would both reduce the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and benefit public health by reducing air pollution that will be exacerbated due to a changing climate.
  • Salt Lake City has also participated in mitigation measures through an EPA funded program called Climate Showcase Communities.
  • EPA's Smart Growth Program provides smart growth resources to help small towns and rural communities achieve their goals for growth and development while maintaining their rural character.

Project Resources

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