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'Pittsburgh not Paris' becomes call to action for Democrats and Republicans

Bob Bauder
| Friday, June 2, 2017, 10:30 a.m.
Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto
Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto
PIttsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto speaks to the press after President Trump said he was withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)
PIttsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto speaks to the press after President Trump said he was withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto can't force private companies to abide by his climate change initiatives, but the mayor says he doesn't have to.

Owners of nearly 500 buildings in the city, plus many other private enterprises have signed on to carbon reduction initiatives that mirror the Paris Climate Accord, according to the Downtown-based nonprofit Green Building Alliance.

"We're focused on government operations to be able to do it, but you have to understand we already have agreements with all the major Downtown office buildings, with our colleges and universities, with neighborhoods," the mayor said. "Wasted energy is costly, so these companies and property owners and building owners have realized they can create better efficiencies."

Peduto on Friday issued an executive order reiterating his commitment to reducing the city's carbon footprint a day after he blasted President Trump for mentioning Pittsburgh during a White House speech about his decision not to participate in the Paris Climate Accord.

In a speech about his decision, Trump said, "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris."

Peduto said he was personally offended by the president's comments, calling him misinformed. He said Pittsburgh is the "poster child" for how a city can rebuild its economy through high-tech, environmentally friendly initiatives.

Trump's Pittsburgh reference and Peduto's response have projected the mayor's office onto a global stage. The hype won't likely end soon. Trump's campaign announced that a "Pittsburgh not Paris" rally will be held in Washington on Saturday. The Fairfax County (Va.) Republican Committee is organizing the event and Trump is not expected to attend.

Peduto will be speaking at the "March for Truth: Pittsburgh Says Yes to Paris" event in Market Square on Saturday.

Peduto's office, since Thursday, has been overwhelmed with media interview requests and comments from people across the globe.

Kevin Acklin, Peduto's chief of staff, said the office has received hundreds of calls and emails, both pro and con. He said many of them, oddly, were from Texas residents.

Peduto has done interviews with CNN, the BBC and Al Jazeera.

"More emails and text messages and phone calls than we've ever received in the mayor's office on anything," Peduto said. "It's been bit overwhelming today."

In 2015, Peduto joined more than 500 other mayors from across the globe in signing on to the Paris Accord. The city, along with its private partners, have agreed to cut energy and water usage by 50 percent by 2030. Peduto has vowed to convert the city's vehicle fleet to fossil free fuel, achieve 100 percent renewable electricity consumption and divert 100 percent of materials from landfills.

The city's Home Rule Charter and state law prevent Peduto from forcing the same commitments on private enterprise, but many local companies since 2006 have done so voluntarily, according to Aurora Sharrard, executive director of the Green Building Alliance.

She said owners of 491 buildings in Downtown, Uptown, Oakland and the North Side are voluntarily following the city's lead. She said numerous other smaller businesses, colleges, universities and private sector entities have also committed to carbon reductions.

"The city of Pittsburgh has a long history over a decade of really looking at greenhouse gas emissions and what can be done not only in government, but also cascading out to private business," she said. "They're all voluntarily committed to those reductions."

Peduto's executive order

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, or @bobbauder.

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