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Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker to serve on Obama climate task force

Published: Friday, Nov. 1 2013 3:37 p.m. MDT

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker speaks at the Homeless Veteran Stand Down 2013 at the Veterans Medical Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013. The White House announced that Becker is among those who will serve on a task force tackling "climate preparedness and resilience." Becker will advise the federal government on how to help local communities.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker will join mayors from Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Knoxville, Tenn., as well as several governors in a special appointment to advise President Barack Obama on climate preparedness, the White House announced Friday.

Becker will serve on the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience established to advise the administration on how the federal government can respond to the needs of communities nationwide that are dealing with the impacts of climate change.

"We will be focusing on what the federal government can do to support the work we are doing at the local level to deal with the effects that we are feeling from climate change," Becker said.

The 26-member task force is composed of state, local and tribal leaders from across the country who will use their own experiences on the ground in shaping response to climate fluctuations in their own communities.

Task force members will make recommendations to the administration based on lessons learned in their own communities, according to the White House.

The push for more "resilient" communities comes as communities across the nation are continuing to grapple with the widespread devastation of some of the most extreme weather-related events in modern history.

It's been a year since Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, causing in excess of $50 billion in damage and earning a spot in the record books as the second costliest hurricane since 1900. The super storm wiped out more than 300,000 housing units in New York and close to 350,000 in New Jersey.

Community planners and builders are now implementing new standards and requirements to make structures more storm resistant and preserving natural barriers to flooding such as marshes and wetlands are receiving renewed attention.

Yet it wasn't just coastal storms that ruined communities in 2012, which went down as the year of the worst drought in more than a half century, with about half of the contiguous United States struggling with persistent heat and withered crops.

The drought of 2012 helped fuel the costliest fire season the federal government has confronted yet. Expenses topped nearly $2 billion in a firefighting season that saw federal agencies running out of money to staff firefighters.

This year especially, Salt Lake City and other communities in Utah have had to be mindful of water supplies challenged by two years of abysmal snowpacks and early spring runoff.

Becker said it was his city's actions to protect its water supply that drew the attention of the White House, resulting in the phone call he received Thursday informing him of his selection.

"We have been very, very active in trying to anticipate and address changes in Salt Lake City and that has been recognized nationally," he said. "We are responsible in Salt Lake City for the water supply for most of the residents and businesses in the Salt Lake Valley. As we see changes that are occurring with warming conditions, with changes in vegetation and increased risk in terms of fire, we need to be active and respond."

Becker will join eight governors, 15 other leaders of cities or other local entities and two tribal representatives.

The White House said it anticipates the task force will meet four times from December through July of next year.

Members are to map out a list of recommendations to deliver to Obama within a year, and a final meeting of the task force will be held in early December at the White House.

On Friday, Obama signed an expansive executive order directing federal agencies to take a series of steps to make it easier for communities across the country to strengthen their response to climate change.

The executive order addresses a broad range of reforms, including "modernizing" federal funding programs with an eye to improving infrastructure and removing barriers that discourage "investment" in actions that build resilience.

Obama's executive order follows his June launch of a Climate Action Plan to cut carbon pollution.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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