Elected officials from multiple levels of government gathered Monday at Bartlett Park to celebrate Earth Day in St. Petersburg, highlighting progressive policies passed at the city, county and federal level to combat climate change and make cities more resilient.
U.S. Congressman Charlie Crist was joined by County Commissioners Ken Welch and Janet Long, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and St. Petersburg City Council member Gina Driscoll.
St. Pete officials celebrated a handful of high profile climate victories accrued over the last five months, setting the city apart as a regional and national leader in environmental policy.
In December, St. Petersburg City Council passed an ordinance regulating single-use plastic straws city-wide and styrofoam on city rights-of-way. The ordinance’s formal transition period began January.
That same month, St. Petersburg was named the 20th city in the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge (ACCC), a designation that will bring $2.5 million in resources to the city, primarily directed toward building and transportation improvements.
In March, Kriseman was named to Apolitical’s Climate 100, a global list of leaders in climate policy.
And just last week, City Council unanimously approved the adoption of the Integrated Sustainability Action Plan (ISAP), a guiding document to reach the city’s lofty climate goals, which include the transition to 100 percent clean energy, stewardship, climate resiliency and equity.
“The Integrated Sustainability Action Plan will help us prioritize environmental stewardship in everything we do,” said Driscoll on Monday. “We’re going to do it in a way that is equitable, so that the sun can continue to shine on everyone.”
The event was hosted by Florida Conservation Voters and Tampa Bay Watch. Lindsay Cross, public lands advocate, kicked off the press conference with a note on the importance of conservation for Florida’s economy.
“We know that conserving water and land not only protects our drinking water supplies, and provides habitat for wildlife, but that it also fuels our economy and attracts more than a hundred million visitors to our state each year,” Cross explained.
“Creating parks and preserves is more than something that’s nice to do. It’s an economic driver and a reason why we continue to attract new jobs and talent to our region.”
Crist highlighted his climate policy work at the national level, including fighting expanded drilling off the coast of Florida and his work on the reauthorization and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, passed in February. Crist’s proposed Sunshine Forever Act would extend the Solar Tax Credit for 10 additional years, lower upfront costs and reduce barriers to alternative energy implementation.
County Commissioners Welch and Long touted Penny for Pinellas, a one percent sales tax implemented by referendum, for funding Pinellas County’s efforts to set aside more than 20,000 acres of parks and preserves; as well as Pinellas County’s regional climate compact, the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition. The coalition has now garnered signatures from every regional government in greater Tampa Bay, 27 different participants in all.
“This is a real paradise that we live in, and with that comes an enormous responsibility for all of us to protect it and ensure that it will be there for our children and grandkids,” said Long.
With all of the regional governments on board, the coalition will turn its sights to another important stakeholder. “The initiative for our Climate Compact this year, is to bring the business community to the table,” Long explained. “We now have more than three dozen major corporations and small businesses that have signed on to our climate compact, to provide them with the tools they need to build resilience for their own businesses and communities.”
“We are at a critical time as we face the realities of climate change and how it affects our quality of life here in St. Petersburg,” said Driscoll. “It’s time for bold action, and that is exactly what you’re seeing from us today.”