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Two months after Utah joined West Virginia and 22 other states in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, Salt Lake City has taken the opposite side, joining a motion to participate in the case as a "friend of the court" to support the plan.
Salt Lake City is among around 19,000 U.S. municipalities signing on to the motion, which holds that climate change poses a grave threat to the cities' residents and their local economies.
In the motion, the cities argue that the Clean Power Plan is necessary to prevent increased air pollution, longer droughts, more frequent and severe storms, degraded ecosystems and a potential loss of human life.
"Cities are on the front line of the work to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change," outgoing Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said in a statement provided by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. "While there is much we can do, and are doing, at the municipal level, we need federal actions like the Clean Power Plan to help move us away from fossil fuel consumption related to energy generation."
In a statement, a spokesman for Gov. Gary Herbert said the state plans to move forward with its legal action against the EPA, noting that "the governor must represent the interests of all 29 counties and 243 municipalities in the state, not just the wishes of Utah's capital city."
Meanwhile, the Utah Division of Air Quality will move ahead with developing an implementation plan as required by the Clean Power Plan. Bryce Bird, the division's director, said at a conference earlier this year that the state should have its initial implementation plan finished by September 2016 to give Utah plenty of time to meet the Clean Power Plan's 2020 compliance deadline, in the event that the states' legal action fails to stop the plan before that date.
Climate advocate and former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson criticized Utah's continued participation in legal action against the Clean Power Plan.
"The state should not be fighting this law," he said. "The state of Utah has been abysmal in failing to recognize human-caused climate change and the devastating effect it's going to have, not only on the inhabitants of the world in general, but almost every aspect, including economics in the state of Utah."
As one of the state's few Democratic strongholds, Salt Lake City is often at odds with the state's GOP leadership, but Anderson did not believe the city's motion was related to any political rivalry, instead attributing the oppositional standpoints on this issue to "the utter ignorance and incompetence" of the state Legislature.