Phoenix Mayor on fighting climate change: 'It’s my goal that Phoenix will lead the way'

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego (D) joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss how America’s hottest city is combatting climate change.

Video Transcript

- Well, on this Earth Day, nearly 500 mayors across 48 states are committing to moving aggressively on climate action and push forward with that goal to get to net zero by 2050. Among those leading the charge, the mayor of the hottest city in the US. Phoenix mayor Kate Gallego joins us for that conversation today. Mayor, it's great to have you on today. We should point out this is something that you were already moving on even prior to becoming mayor of Phoenix, but give me a sense of what it is that you have seen that really points to the urgency of action now.

KATE GALLEGO: We know that there's a huge challenge facing our planet, and that if cities don't participate, we're not going to be able to meet those ambitious goals that were announced today. It's my hope that Phoenix will lead the way and help come up with innovative solutions to the challenges that are facing our planet right now. We had a record summer this year and record temperatures going all the way into November in the city of Phoenix. That's at the same time where my fellow mayors, like in Houston, are seeing similarly extreme weather, but also on the other side.

- Yeah, and when we talk about the extreme weather piece of this, you know, a lot of coverage gets spent on storms, floods, wildfires. I don't know how many people might know that more Americans die from extreme heat than all of those combined. And obviously in Phoenix, as we're talking about the hottest city, I'm sure, you know, that's a pressing issue out there. But talking about maybe how the funds are changing the way that you're able to tackle this, we talk a lot about federal initiatives, but on the local level, what have you seen in maybe a changing of the understanding of the importance of climate change at the local level?

KATE GALLEGO: Our voters have overwhelmingly supported investment in climate activities and protecting our environment. We passed a general plan for the city, which is our vision for our entire city over the next decade, that said we would be the most sustainable desert city on the planet. So I have ambitious marching orders as mayor, but I think we are up for it. We're also home to the most innovative university in the country. And so we're coming up with solutions from our circular economy and improving recycling all the way to embedding solar in our built environment. We know this has to happen right now. Our voters also, in an election with more Republicans than Democrats, voted to tax ourselves at a higher level to invest in our transit system. So we have the support of our voters in moving forward.

- And Mayor, we've been watching this gathering, or virtual gathering over at the White House, a lot of countries talking about their emissions cuts in-- ahead of the UN climate change conference. But you know, the reality is a lot of this action has to be done on the local level. What specifically are you hoping comes out of this two-day meeting?

KATE GALLEGO: Well, I've been very impressed with the United States' new target. It's ambitious and it's short-term, so President Biden will have to deliver on it while he is in office. As co-chair of Climate Mayors, I can say that we have a great network of mayors who are ready to step up. And whether it's helping him deploy electric vehicles or his ambitious goals for our transportation-- transit system, light rail buses, we're there to partner.

- One of the targets that the president has said, at least in the infrastructure bill, is for the energy grid to be carbon-free by 2035. Number one, based on what you see on the ground there, how realistic is that assessment? And what does that ultimately mean for the oil and gas industry? I know you've got fracking in Arizona, as well. Certainly a lot of pushback from the industry saying this is going to amount to significant job losses.

KATE GALLEGO: It is amazing to see the innovation in renewable energy. Phoenix is a real capital of the solar energy sector, in particular. And if you look at the panels we are making today, they are dramatically more efficient than they were a decade ago. The innovation has been so impressive, American research and development really delivering on a cleaner grid. We're also seeing it become much easier to put solar on your own home, and maybe even collect it-- connect it with an electric vehicle in your grid.

So it's been impressive to see how just the research we are putting in has made these technologies much more effective. It'll obviously be different energy sources in different parts of our country. It's not particularly windy here, but we're glad for neighboring states that have that great resources. And the more we have a strong grid that can allow us to transmit energy across larger regions, the more resilient we'll be. So I really appreciate the investments in that electric grid.

- What's interesting, too, I mean, we're talking about kind of a global discussion here with this White House summit around climate change, but always, obviously, as any American knows, politics here are different once you dig into the state level, as well as Republicans and Democrats. And it's been interesting to kind of see the way that Arizona has been able to handle this pandemic, because your guys' cases have come down.

You've been pretty adamant about battling Governor Doug Ducey there, talking about the need for masks in Phoenix. Of course, also climate change is going to be one that requires a united front, but when you look back at maybe what you learned in the way that Phoenix has been battling with the state on COVID and the way that you pushed for masks there, I mean, what have you learned about the battle at those levels, and kind of what it's going to take for everyone to be on board and on the same page to solve this crisis?

KATE GALLEGO: I think with both COVID and climate change, it's important to talk about the science. I try to talk about where I'm getting my information and why I've decided that masks are important, for example. Even the Trump administration said that Phoenix's local mask requirement helped Arizona get out of this last summer when we were number one per capita in the world in COVID.

And it's the same with climate change. What data are we looking at, and what are the solutions? There are some areas, like deployment of solar energy, where it's incredibly bipartisan. Very bipartisan support for recycling. And then there are other policies where there are more divides. But hopefully, we can follow the data and also really take advantage of the fact that we have great companies here that are offering solutions and creating jobs.

- All right, Mayor Kate Gallego, the mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, appreciate you coming on here to chat with us today. Thanks again, and be well. Happy Earth Day.