By JUDY FAHYS
Salt Lake Tribune
July 18, 2005
At a Utah conference called the Sundance Summit last week, 46 of them gathered for three days to swap ideas about tackling global warming. In doing so, they turned a cold shoulder on Washington, where Congress, the White House and the federal courts have driven environmental policy for decades.
Washington has dawdled on controlling greenhouse gases, the chemical stew of car exhaust, power plant emissions and other human factors blamed for the disruption of Earth's climate.
Meanwhile, mayors are stuck confronting climate change in their backyards.
Local leaders in the Southeast worry about predictions that global warming will bring more and more severe hurricanes than Hugo, Andrew and Charley. Those in the West fear the probability of more and more intense droughts.
Scientists trace trends like these to world climate systems thrown out of balance by more than a century of heavy fossil fuel burning.
Cambridge, Mass., Mayor Michael Sullivan called the Sundance Summit "the only place things are going to happen" on global warming.
"The reality is," he said, "this (at the local level) is where the action takes place."
Sullivan's city suffered a severe winter this year. The city's old, narrow streets bore 86 inches of snow, more than double the average. Then spring melt swamped its aging storm drains.
Washington, meanwhile, has stayed aloof.
The Bush administration rejected the Kyoto Protocol, the 141-nation global warming treaty, as too costly even though the United States emits about one-fourth of the world's greenhouse gases. It also discussed, then scrapped, a proposal to start a carbon-trading program, a market-based option to reduce the combustion emissions blamed for global warming.
Washington also has turned up its nose at energy conservation tools, such as toughening fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles. At the same time, it has shown little interest in alternative fuels that might ease U.S. dependence on fossil fuels. Of the $800 billion the federal government spends on energy programs each year, $5 billion goes to research and development - only $1 billion of it for alternative fuels.
"Really, most of the work is going to be up to us," said Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Patrick McCrory. "We can't depend on the federal government, nor should we."
McCrory was one of the few avowed Republicans at the Sundance conference. Yet he insisted he was among friends.
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, a Democrat and summit co-sponsor, said the hand-picked mayors group was brought to Salt Lake City and the Sundance Resort to solve problems and not to play politics.
Robert Redford, an actor, filmmaker and longtime global warming activist, said climate change was nonpartisan, neither conservative nor liberal, but a global problem.
"This should not be treated like a political football," said Redford. Americans "want solutions, they don't want bickering. Doing nothing is just not an option."
Mayors already have rolled up their sleeves.
At the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting last month, more than 300 mayors agreed to meet or exceed the Kyoto Protocol standards in their communities. The resolution received more support than any other in the organization's history, said Judy Sheahan, environment director for the 1,100-mayor group.
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