Revitalised Pittsburgh rails at being Trump's reason for climate pact exit

PITTSBURGH • As the people of Pittsburgh hustled to work, almost everyone had heard the news: to their alarm, US President Donald Trump had highlighted their revitalised Rust Belt city as he walked out of a global climate pact.

"I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris," Mr Trump declared in the Rose Garden as he announced the United States was backing out of the Paris Agreement because it did not put "America first".

That raised hackles in this Pennsylvania city, a one-time industrial juggernaut that has retooled itself into a new-technology capital - and in many respects is showing the US a viable pathway to going green.

"He's speaking (as if) that agreement would stifle heavy manufacturing and production and mining, but that's not what we do anymore. We haven't done that in my lifetime," 36-year-old banker David Sandy, born and raised in Pittsburgh, said near the US Steel Tower downtown. "I don't even know a steel worker."

Pittsburgh, with about 300,000 residents, is framed by majestic steel bridges that cross the two broad rivers intersecting in the city centre.

While steel and industry were once its lifeblood, banks, healthcare companies and research centres now employ its inhabitants, who often ride light rail or pedal bike-share bicycles to work.

Many residents tell the same story: in mid-century Pittsburgh, pollution from steel mills was so overwhelming that it turned white shirts dark.

THE WRONG IMAGE

He's speaking (as if) that agreement would stifle heavy manufacturing and production and mining, but that's not what we do anymore. We haven't done that in my lifetime... I don't even know a steel worker.

BANKER DAVID SANDY, born and raised in Pittsburgh, about President Donald Trump citing the one-time industrial juggernaut, which has retooled itself into a new- technology capital, in his Paris pact exit.

"It used to be dirty as heck," recalled Mr Daniel Fore, 55, a corporate attorney. "They were good jobs, but the pollution was horrible. Now it's a beautiful city."

The messy industrial hub began shedding residents in the 1970s as steel processing and car manufacturing jobs dried up.

But Pittsburgh embraced industry diversification, designed and beautified riverfront parks and borrowed funding for capital improvements.

Carnegie Mellon University opened a robotics lab in 1979. Carmakers are building research partnerships, and corporate innovators such as Google, Uber and Tesla are developing the technologies of tomorrow in the city.

On the fifth floor of the imposing City-County Building, Mayor Bill Peduto said he did a double take when he heard Mr Trump's speech. "I just walked into my chief of staff's office... and I just said, 'Pittsburgh?' " Mr Peduto said the day after Mr Trump's reference delivered a shot of notoriety to his city.

The incredulous mayor fired off a widely read tweet assuring the public that "we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement" regardless of Mr Trump's decision. "I guess that was a tweet that was heard around the world," he said.

Mr Peduto said he believes Mr Trump was likely imagining "Pittsburgh maybe 40 years ago, Pittsburgh when it was still a global centre for steel production and manufacturing. But that era ended in the 1970s".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 04, 2017, with the headline 'Revitalised Pittsburgh rails at being Trump's reason for climate pact exit'. Print Edition | Subscribe