Axios Salt Lake City

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Today's newsletter is 816 words, a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: Squeaky clean transportation

The air looks bad, but researchers give Salt Lake an "A" for effort. Photo: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Salt Lake is one of the nation's top metro areas for limiting pollution from transportation, according to a recent report. That's despite the Wasatch Front's notoriously poor air quality, especially during the winter.

Why it matters: Every puff of exhaust matters in an area where people with health problems are told to stay indoors and schools cancel recess to protect children from the air.

State of play: Salt Lake ranked 15th overall on a new index that scores the 100 biggest U.S. cities on a variety of measures for transportation-related emissions.

How it works: The Transportation Climate Impact Index, created by transit-analysis firm StreetLight Data, looks at overall vehicle miles traveled, fuel efficiency, electric vehicles, transit ridership, cycling, walking and truck miles traveled.

By the numbers: Salt Lake ranked 8th for mass transit ridership, 11th for pedestrian activity and 16th for electric vehicle market penetration and bicycle activity.

  • Our lowest rankings were for truck miles traveled (No. 59) and fuel economy (No. 42).

Yes, but: Ogden-Clearfield and Provo-Orem tied for dead last for mass transit ridership.

  • Utah Transit Authority manages public transportation for all three metro areas.

Zoom in: Although air quality in northern Utah is expected to worsen, transportation is far from the only factor.

  • Wildfire smoke is projected to be a huge contributor amid rising temperatures and drought.
  • That said, climate change is mostly a result of vehicle emissions.

Between the lines: The Wasatch Front will always be extra susceptible to poor air quality because the mountain ranges create a basin that traps pollution when high pressure systems linger between storms.

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2. 📱Quote du jour: Romney, Tiktok and Israel

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, before voting in favor of a TikTok ban on April 23. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Sen. Mitt Romney said support for a nationwide ban on TikTok is connected to the "overwhelming" volume of "mentions of Palestinians" on the popular platform.

Why it matters: By suggesting Congress is motivated by the pro-Palestinian viewpoint of content, Romney triggered backlash from free-speech advocates, who say the proposed ban would violate the First Amendment.

  • Supporters of the pending ban have tried to promote it as a national security measure to prevent misinformation and data collection by the Chinese-owned platform. It passed with wide majorities in the House and Senate before Biden signed it last month.

Driving the news: In a forum on Friday at the McCain Institute in Sedona, Arizona, Romney asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken why Israel and the U.S. have "been so ineffective at communicating" justifications for the war in Gaza, adding, "Typically the Israelis are good at PR."

  • "You have a social media ecosystem environment in which context, history, facts get lost, and the emotion — the impact of images — dominates," Blinken said.
  • Romney replied, "Some wonder why there was such overwhelming support for us to shut down potentially TikTok or other entities of that nature. If you look at the postings on TikTok and the number of mentions of Palestinians, relative to other social media sites — it's overwhelmingly so among TikTok broadcasts."

What they're saying: "I wonder if Romney realizes that his admission here is going to be used in legal filings to argue that the TikTok ban is a clear 1st Amendment violation and the 'national security' justification was a pretext," Nathan Robinson, former Guardian columnist and editor of the left-leaning magazine Current Affairs, posted on X.

What's next

3. Fry Sauce: An extra scoop of news

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

✍️ An online petition titled "Save Abravanel Hall" has garnered nearly 13,000 signatures as of yesterday afternoon. The suggestion that the performance venue could be torn down has been floated as the Smith Entertainment Group begins planning for an entertainment district. (The Salt Lake Tribune)

🚓 A&E's "60 Days In" announced it's filming in Spanish Fork. The reality show follows individuals who volunteer to be incarcerated, but it's done with the permission of the sheriff. (KUER)

💵 The Gunnison Valley Police Department agreed to pay $80,000 to former state Rep. Carl Wimmer who claimed he was passed over for the chief job because of religion. (Fox 13)

4. 🏆 We're No. 1! Again!

Salt Lake City skyline. Photo: Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Utah was named the best state in the country once again by U.S. News & World Report's annual rankings.

The big picture: Economic stability and high education levels pushed the state to the front of the pack.

Zoom in: Utah ranked among the top three states for education, economy and infrastructure.

  • In health care, the state received high marks for smoking rates, preventable hospital admissions, nursing home quality and adult dental visits.
  • Low debt at graduation and math and reading test scores boosted our education ranking.
  • Our unemployment score was the best in the nation, with a jobs market that has been strong for decades.
  • We ranked No. 1 for income equality and No. 2 for internet access, low poverty and economic opportunity.

Yes, but: Utah had the worst gender pay gap.

Zoom out: Joining us at the top of the list were New Hampshire, Nebraska, Minnesota and Idaho.

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🫘 Erin ate her first supper of beans last week, and it was so filling that she'll never again be unimpressed when someone uses the "hill of beans" metaphor.

😎 Kim is returning today!

This newsletter was edited by Ross Terrell and copy edited by Natasha Smith.