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Michael Bloomberg Awards St. Petersburg $2.5M To Tackle Climate Change

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Mayor Rick Kriseman Facebook page
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

St. Petersburg is one of 25 cities getting money to go green from philanthropist and rumored presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg.

The $70 million Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge charged 100 cities to come up with plans to tackle many of the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement. The challenge was issued in light of President Trump's decision to eventually pull the U.S. out of that global effort.

Winners are accepted into a two-year program that involves receiving $2.5 million and resources to help implement their proposals.

“We were looking for cities not only with ambitious goals, but also with realistic plans for reaching them and strong mayoral leadership to get the job done," Bloomberg said at a press conference with Mayor Rick Kriseman in downtown St. Petersburg Thursday morning.

Bloomberg served three terms as mayor of New York City. He said Americans count on their local governments to address the issues they care about.

"Mayors really can’t ignore the risks we face from climate change because their constituents are already feeling the effects, and they really do expect City Hall to take some action,” he said.

“When someone's child is suffering from asthma because of dirty air or their house floods because of a hurricane, they don't call their member of Congress, they call their mayor."

The U.S. cannot formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement until November 2020, but Trump’s announcement that he intends to withdraw if still in office has spurred hundreds of government leaders to commit to sticking with its goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Kriseman was one of them. At the waterfront press conference at Albert Whitted Park, the St. Pete Mayor reflected on how much has changed since he first took office in 2014.

”Five years ago this month, we didn’t even have curbside recycling here in St. Petersburg,” he said. “Our waste-water infrastructure couldn’t handle rising groundwater or the inflow and infiltration from heavy rainfalls."

"Our sea walls were crumbling, there was no office of sustainability, no Clean Energy Roadmap and no greenhouse gas inventory. Little thought had been given to our changing climate but today, this is no longer the case.”

Despite the progress made to address issues related to climate change, St. Petersburg under the Kriseman administration has been far from pollution-free.

The Tampa Bay Times recently reportedthe city was fined $25,000 by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for 18 sewage spills between October and December of 2018.

While most of the discharges were small, they still violated the city’s 2017 consent order with the state for dumping about 1 billion gallons of sewage into Tampa and Boca Ciega Bays, city streets and the Florida Aquifer over the past few years.  

The city is taking stepsto improve the way it handles these discharges. Among other efforts to make the Sunshine City cleaner include St. Petersburg’s first ever Integrated Sustainability Action Plan.

Kriseman says the city is in the final stages of completing the plan, which was announced in 2016. It will outline how the city hopes to become the first in Florida to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.

"This American Cities Climate Challenge Award will provide our city the resources to deliver real action in the building and transportation sectors, our two biggest sectors contributing to greenhouse gas emissions in our community," Kriseman said. 

St. Petersburg plans to use the money for efforts like cutting down energy use in city facilities, scaling up existing solar co-op programs and expanding solar energy in low-income areas.

On the transportation side, the city wants to increase sales of electric vehicles in the area by 10 percent through education and incentives. It also wants to provide more low-carbon transportation options, like Bus Rapid Transit corridors and bike paths.

Bloomberg Philanthropies was originally going to award 20 winners but decided to expand to 25 due to the large number of impressive proposals.

The additional five cities have yet to be announced. Some other winners already announced include Atlanta, Charlotte and Philadelphia. You can view the full list here.

Copyright 2019 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.