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With Bloomberg visit, St. Petersburg wins $2.5 million to fight climate change

Megan Holmes

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Michael Bloomberg and Mayor Rick Kriseman held a joint press conference Thursday morning. (All photos by Megan Holmes)

In a joint press conference Thursday morning, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York and United States Special Envoy for Climate Action, named St. Petersburg the 20th city to win the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge (ACCC).

With this designation, St. Petersburg will receive $2.5 million in resources from the $70 million program designed to foster competition and “get the juices flowing” in cities throughout the country to combat climate change.

The program came as part of the backlash against President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Bloomberg, Kriseman and hundreds of other mayors across the U.S. came together to declare that the U.S. is “still in” the fight against climate change and sea level rise.

The former New York City mayor emphasized the role of cities in combating climate change. “Mayors really can’t ignore the risks that we face from climate change,” said Bloomberg, “because their constituents are already feeling the affects and they really expect city hall to take some action.

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

Former mayor of New York and United States Special Envoy for Climate Action Michael Bloomberg addresses a crowd at Albert Whitted Park in St. Petersburg.

Bloomberg made a call for applications from 100 of the largest U.S. cities in June 2018 to find innovative ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

“We are still in,” declared Kriseman at Thursday’s event, which took place at Albert Whitted Park. “A city leading the way in taking action to address climate change and working toward clean energy goals in one of the areas in the nation’s most vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise.”

St. Petersburg stands alongside other winning cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Cincinnati. Bloomberg also announced that due to the high quality of applications, five more cities would receive resources, increasing the winners to 25. “We were looking for cities not only with ambitious goals,” said Bloomberg, “but also with realistic plans for reaching them and strong mayoral leadership to get the job done.”

Alongside St. Petersburg’s bold goals, including increasing access to solar for low income individuals, Bloomberg cited Kriseman’s re-election in 2017 and his 2016 commitment to 100 percent renewable energy (the first mayor in Florida to do so) as factors in St. Pete’s selection.

The resources from the Bloomberg Foundation will go towards the implementation of the City of St. Petersburg’s Integrated Sustainability Action Plan (ISAP), which is currently being finalized.

The resources from the ACCC will primarily be directed toward building and transportation improvements. Some of the major priorities of the plan include:

Buildings

  • Reducing energy usage in city buildings: The city has committed to extensive projects to retrofit existing buildings and cut emissions utilizing renewable energy technologies like solar power and biosolid fuel.
  • Serving as a resource to private industry: The city aims to be a beacon of best practices and a technical trove of knowledge for private builders and contractors to pull from. The city also plans to engage the private sector in a challenge program to reduce energy consumption.
  • Scale solar: The city will work to support and expand the the Florida Sun Solar Co-op’s current work to help St. Pete residents “demystify” solar power. The city will also seek to make solar power more affordable for all citizens by diversifying funding sources through programs like the Solar and Energy Loan Fund and Duke Energy’s first community solar project.

Transportation

  • Electric Vehicles: After deploying the city’s first electric bus this year, St. Petersburg will provide an education and incentive program for electric vehicles directed at private citizens, city employees and major employers. The goal is to increase electric vehicle sales by 10 percent.
  • Energy Efficient Public Transit: The city’s first BRT project will seek to reduce travel times, increase ridership and incentivize using public transportation. Complete streets projects will improve bicycle transportation and create safer pedestrian trails and streets.

Kriseman also recalled how far the city has come during the five years of his tenure as mayor. “I’m embarrassed to share this with Mayor Bloomberg, that five years ago this month, we didn’t even have curbside recycling here in St. Petersburg,” he said.

“Our wastewater infrastructure couldn’t handle rising groundwater, or the inflow and infiltration from heavy rainfalls. Our seawalls were crumbling and there was no Office of Sustainability, no clean energy road map and no greenhouse gas inventory. Little thought had been given to our changing climate.

“Today this is no longer the case, we are in the final stages of finishing our first-ever Integrated Sustainability Action Plan (ISAP). And we are now doing everything we can – as fast as we can – to prepare St. Petersburg for the future and to protect future generations.”

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