Mayoral and Town Council candidates said changing the way people get around would be critical for reducing carbon emissions and slowing the effects of climate change in Jackson Hole.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the valley, the climate was top of mind.
The 2019 Jackson Hole Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions showed that emissions of planet-warming gases rose by about 17% between 2008 and 2018 in Teton County, outpacing population growth, which was about 10%.
Ground transportation and air travel produced the majority of emissions, about 64% and 17% respectively. That’s no surprise given the lines of cars that snake in and out of the valley from Sublette County and Idaho on a daily basis and, in the summer, the volume of traffic moving in and out of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.
The Jackson Town Council and Teton County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously in December to sign a pledge committing to working toward carbon neutrality by 2030, and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance asked Thursday what policies Town Council hopefuls would like to see implemented to meet that goal.
A majority of candidates pointed to the START bus system.
Vice Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson, running for mayor, championed the town and county’s decision to adopt a new START plan and its inclusion of micro transit in Jackson’s town limits.
“We have kind of been using a one size fits all with our START bus system,” she said. “I support the direction that the START board is going. ... It’ll be more user friendly.”
Former social studies teacher Jim Rooks, a council candidate, also supported the new plan.
Michael Kudar, a former Jackson planning commission vice chairman and Pinedale town councilor running as a write-in for mayor, called for an “investment in START.”
“Let’s get people in buses and out of cars,” he said.
Mayor Pete Muldoon and Realtor Devon Viehman, both council hopefuls, pointed to a different transportation problem that needed to be solved: commuting.
Just over 7,800 people make the daily commute into Teton County, leaving homes that are often 45 minutes or more away to travel over mountain passes and through steep canyons, eating up personal time and pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The community’s goal, enshrined in the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan, is to house 65% of the workforce in the county. But the percentage of workers that live here has been declining, according to the town and county’s annual indicator report.
In 2018 that number sat at about 56%.
Muldoon and Viehman both said housing more workers locally was crucial to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, but they differed in how to do so.
“The most impactful thing,” he said, would be “making sure that we develop northern South Park in a way that actually supports our goals, which would be dense and very affordable.”
Viehman argued for cutting the red tape.
“What we need to do is start approving these things,” she said. “We need to make decisions and act on them, which is what I’m ready to do. We need to fix our housing problem.”
Morton Levinson and Muldoon also wanted to apply a climate-forward lens to policy decisions, which the vice mayor said would require creating “climate change in all policies.”
“I would use that model to say, ‘OK, whatever policy we’re looking at, whether it’s zoning or transportation, or our wastewater treatment plant — how does it reflect back to our overall goals of reducing carbon emissions, and getting down to that net zero by 2030?’” she said.
Muldoon framed what was required a bit differently: as a town climate and sustainability department.
“We are making policy decisions on a daily basis that have large climate and carbon implications to them, and we’re not reviewing them on that basis,” he said. “You need a department to do that.”
Viehman and Rooks both called for incentivizing climate-friendly behavior.
The Realtor said encouraging green building practices would be key, and the former teacher said people should pay attention to the thermostat in the winter, including second-home owners.
“Let’s not waste so much money on lights and heating our homes,” he said. “We could look at second-home heating and just bring more awareness to the importance of certainly protecting those homes but, if no one’s occupying those homes, they don’t need to be at 70 degrees.”