Salt Lake County takes next steps toward establishing new Office of Environmental Sustainability

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Michael Shea of HEAL Utah speaks after Gov. Gary R. Herbert, Sen. Curt Bramble and industry leaders formally announced the state's pathbreaking net metering agreement for residents with solar panels and discussed what the outcome means for Utah's energy future Wednesday, October 4, 2017.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson has named a manager to oversee the newly-created Office of Environmental Services, which she created earlier this year to focus on air quality and sustainability.

Michael Shea, currently a senior policy associate with the clean-air advocacy group HEAL Utah, was chosen to fill the role, in which he will “evaluate current environmental programs, develop and implement future programs and recommend new policies and initiatives,” Wilson said in a news release.

“Michael will also coordinate with county agencies and regional partners, bring stakeholders together to maximize impact and develop programs that encourage constituents to follow sustainability best practices,” she said.

The state has struggled in the past few years to meet federal limits for ozone, an airborne pollutant that is particularly harmful to children. And with a projected boom of 1.5 million new people in the state by 2050 — which means more people driving cars and creating emissions — that’s only expected to worsen.

In an effort to reduce emissions, the county has already worked to downsize its vehicle fleets and make them more energy efficient, Wilson said when she created the program.

She sees the next steps as investing in efficient buildings through installing, for example, more efficient heating and air conditioning systems, and partnering with outside organizations like UCAIR, a statewide clean air partnership, and the Department of Health.

Shea, reached for comment Friday afternoon, said he wasn’t able to go into specifics about what he wanted to accomplish, since he won’t start in the role until Sept. 3 but said he was optimistic about the opportunity to facilitate change in his new role.

“I’m really excited and I think there’s a lot of opportunity with Salt Lake County on the environmental front,” he said. "Stay tuned.”

The money for the new Office of Environmental Services came from funds left after some employees went to work with former mayor and now Congressman Ben McAdams. Wilson, who was appointed to her role in January after winning an election among county Democratic Party delegates, has said she hopes finance and efforts will grow in future budget cycles.