Michael Bloomberg gives St. Petersburg $2.5 million to combat climate change

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman (left) meets with Michael Bloomberg. Mitch Perry photo.

Former New York City mayor and potential 2020 presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg came to St. Petersburg on Thursday to give the city $2.5 million to support efforts to combat climate change.

Bloomberg and California Governor Jerry Brown announced in June 2017 that they were launching “America’s Pledge,” an initiative aimed at keeping the greenhouse gas emissions from states, businesses and U.S. cities consistent with the goals outlined the Paris climate agreement. They made that announcement on the same day that the Trump administration withdrew from the global pact, which nearly every other country in the world signed to commit to keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius in this century.

Earlier this year. Bloomberg Philanthropies announced its plan to challenge U.S. cities to solve climate problems with innovative solutions, and more than 320 cities applied. St. Petersburg is the 20th winner.

“We were looking for cities with ambitious goals but realistic plans for reaching them and strong mayoral leadership to get the job done,” said Bloomberg, who now serves as the United Nation’s special envoy on cities and climate change.

He made the announcement at a press conference with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

St. Petersburg became the first city in Florida to commit to a 100 percent clean energy portfolio in 2016 (though the city has not set a deadline  to achieve that). Since then, five other Florida cities have made similar commitments.

Kriseman said the funding will provide his administration with the resources to provide “real action” in the building and transportation sectors, which he said contributes to about 80 percent of carbon emissions released in the community.

Lee Cochran with Bloomberg Philanthropies says her organization will be providing “technical resources” to the city, including having climate advisors meet with local officials to review the city’s goals to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Bloomberg’s announcement came on the same day that the Democrats officially took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington. A coalition of new progressive members have been calling for a “Green New Deal” which calls for the complete end of fossil fuels within 10 years.

“I’m certainly in favor of eliminating fossil fuels,” Bloomberg said. “I think it’s unrealistic to think that we’re going to do it overnight.” He added that he was proud of the funding his foundation has provided to the Sierra Club for its “Beyond Coal” campaign, which  has worked to close more than half of coal-fired power plants in the U.S. over the past five years.

Neither Kriseman nor Bloomberg had much to say about the recently proposed bill to tax carbon emissions that’s sponsored by several Florida U.S. House members, including St. Pete Rep. Charlie Crist.

“I’m thrilled that he is interested in doing something about it,” Bloomberg said of Crist’s involvement in what could be considered a controversial issue, adding that when it comes to carbon taxes (which he supports), “the devil’s really in the details.”

The fact that the Manhattan-based billionaire –  who is contemplating a run for the Democratic nomination for president – came to the nation’s biggest presidential swing-state hovered over the visit, but Bloomberg made light of the subject when asked about it.

“It would be very expensive to give money to every city where I’m looking for votes,” he joked, adding that he’s still not certain if he will run, but such a decision isn’t imminent.

“We’ll worry about that down the road,” he said.

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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