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People who live in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area are slightly better than average when it comes to their carbon footprint.
A new report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, ranks metro Salt Lake City - an area which includes Ogden - 51st out of the nation's 100 largest cities when it comes to the chief culprit in climate change, carbon emissions. And, like those in many Western cities, Salt Lake City-Ogden area residents have footprints that appear to be shrinking.
The new rankings train a spotlight on cities, where residents often enjoy energy efficiencies in their homes and transportation that are not available to rural Americans. They suggest that there's a carbon-cutting value in high-density, compact development and transit, compared with sprawling neighborhoods where people depend heavily on their cars.
"Because two-thirds of us live in the nation's largest metropolitan areas and nearly three-quarters of economic activity takes place there, large metro areas account for most of the greenhouse gas emissions in this country," said Bruce Katz, director of the think tank's Metropolitan Policy Program.
"For that reason, metropolitan America will place a critical role in the nation's push to restrain its emissions. Fortunately, many metro areas offer major advantages for doing that."
With so much carbon - and carbon-reduction potential - concentrated in cities, federal policy makers would be wise to keep large cities in mind as they shape future laws on transportation and climate change, Brookings said.
Authors of the report noted Wednesday that there are many limitations of the data, which tries to represent the atmospheric pollution blamed for climate change.
One reason: The science of quantifying greenhouse gases is still being developed. In addition, the report only looked at residential emissions, which account for just half of all carbon emissions. Not included in the city-by-city tally are emissions from commercial buildings, industry, railroads and airplanes.
Even with its shortcomings, the report was welcomed in Salt Lake City, where leaders have wrestled for years with measuring greenhouse gas emissions. Vicki Bennett, Mayor Ralph Becker's sustainability director, says Brookings' analysis offers a starting point.
"It gives us a way of comparing ourselves with other cities," she said.
For years, Salt Lake City, like other climate-conscious cities, has been looking for a simple, standardized way to measure greenhouse gas emissions. The task has become increasingly important as government and business await national climate change regulation and/or carbon-trading markets.
Becker has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gases 20 percent from 2007 levels. A standardized system for measuring the city's carbon footprint is due this summer and will probably be based on a nationwide system being developed by the Climate Registry, a nonprofit partnership that includes most states, including Utah. Once that's done, city departments will be asked to set their own reduction goals.
"You can't improve if you don't know what you are starting with," Bennett added. "It helps us determine where we can make some improvements."
Brookings noted that Salt Lake City and other large cities have taken steps to address climate. And states are doing the same through such groups as the Western Climate Initiative, which Utah joined a year ago.
The 100 largest cities account for 56 percent of the nation's carbon dioxide pollution. Weather, the type of fuel used for heating and cooling, the development of rail transportation, the amount of urban sprawl and the cost of energy were all factors that played into the wide-ranging differences among the cities, the researchers said.
From 2000 to 2005, carbon dioxide from transportation, electricity use and residential heating in the largest metropolitan areas increased 7.5 percent. For the entire nation, it rose 9.1 percent. The average per capita footprint in those 100 cities rose at an annual rate of 1.1 percent a year, half the average yearly increase of 2.2 percent nationwide.
* THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.
* Salt Lake City ranks 51st among the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas in its per-person carbon footprint, the climate-change pollution people pump into the atmosphere from energy used at home and to fuel their cars and trucks.
* Per capita, city residents have cut their footprints by 3.88 percent between 2001 and 2005, while the footprint of the average American increased 2.2 percent and residents of other cities have increased their footprints by an average of 1.1 percent.
* The average Salt Lake City resident is responsible for 2.522 tons of carbon a year, slightly less than the national average of 2.6 tons and slightly more than the 2.24 tons emitted by residents of other large cities.
* The estimates do not include about half of an area's carbon emissions - the carbon generated by commercial buildings, industry and nonhighway transportation, such as railroads and airplanes.
* See the report at: www.blueprint
Source: The Brookings Institution, 2008