Will the state’s biggest city be small-thinking or visionary on the climate?

April 8, 2023 7:00 am
Sioux Falls as seen from Falls Park, on the Big Sioux River. (Seth Tupper/South Dakota Searchlight)

Sioux Falls as seen from Falls Park, on the Big Sioux River. (Seth Tupper/South Dakota Searchlight)

Have Sioux Falls voters elected leaders with narrow minds and small thinking, or visionaries with strategic plans and goals for a better Sioux Falls?  

In February, Mayor Paul TenHaken announced that the detailed, carefully considered, and widely vetted city Sustainability Plan with clear goals and objective measures was being replaced by a framework of phony platitudes, guaranteeing no measurable success or progress. This occurred before the “real deal” plan could be considered and voted on by the city council. Now the question is whether city council members will meekly acquiesce.  

The initial draft Sustainability Plan, rebuffed by the city council in March 2022, underwent revisions with input from major players including businesses, electric and gas utilities, the homebuilding industry, affordable housing, municipal government, environmental organizations, the health care sector, education and academia. The updated Sustainability Plan was approved by a 30-member Sustainability Steering Committee in December. This plan has six major focus areas: natural systems, transportation and land use, energy and buildings, materials management and waste, a sustainable economy, and community vitality and sustainable living.  

Rapid City seeks climate funding after state turns it down; Sioux Falls undecided

Now Sioux Falls (and also Rapid City) has the opportunity to access up to $1 million to fund many of the Sustainability Plan initiatives through money available from Climate Pollution Reduction Grants. Because Gov. Kristi Noem declined to apply for $3 million available to the state, those funds are available to the most populous metropolitan areas in South Dakota. These cities can access the funds if they act by April 28 to request grant money for planning and implementation measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful air pollution. The cities then have until May 31 to submit plans to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The EPA grant plan has two stages: planning and implementation. The grant money could be used to further develop Sioux Falls’ existing Sustainability Plan as well as fund implementation measures. Many areas of the Sioux Falls Sustainability Plan dovetail closely with eligible activities included in the EPA grant program.

Activities in the transportation area include utilizing sustainable biofuels in fleet vehicles, implementing street intersection design to improve efficiencies and reduce vehicle idling, developing an electric vehicle readiness plan, and implementing recommendations to increase electric vehicle adoption and charging infrastructure.

Activities in the materials management and waste area include increasing food waste reduction and diversion from the landfill through education, community composting and industrial scale food waste diversion, which will also reduce methane production.

Activities in the area of energy and buildings include utilizing the 2018 (or newer) energy code for new municipal construction and significant renovations, increasing clean energy that powers city facilities, and educating and facilitating homeowners, building owners and others to take advantage of rebate opportunities from the Inflation Reduction Act.

So, back to the city council: The council is elected to serve the people of Sioux Falls, not to submit to the will of a seemingly short-sighted mayor. Given that our council members’ salaries are paid by city taxpayers, yes, we do expect more. We expect the city council to carefully study and consider all the proposals in the December 2022 updated Sustainability Plan. We expect them to make Sioux Falls a leader in addressing factors that impact climate change, and to create a city of excellence in policies and practices that contribute to a livable planet for us and future generations. 

We expect the mayor to work toward measurable progress to help save the planet, and therefore help save us and future generations. A grant application for Climate Pollution Reduction funds would demonstrate good faith action in this regard.

Is Mayor TenHaken a small thinker or a visionary? Only time will tell.  




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Julia Natvig
Julia Natvig

Julia Natvig has bachelor's degrees in biology and nursing, along with a master's in health education, and has taken two graduate courses in toxicology: target organ toxicology and environmental toxicology. She worked for more than 30 years in occupational health nursing before retiring. She participates in several local organizations, including Common Grounds Indivisible of SD, SoDak 350 and Dakota Rural Action.