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St. Pete activists worry environmental gains would regress under Rick Baker

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

(UPDATED)

Environmental activists would like to see several initiatives passed this year by the City Council because they fear they will not be addressed if Rick Baker becomes mayor in 2018.

The St. Petersburg Sustainability Council (SPSC) is a local non-profit that includes members of the Suncoast Sierra Club, which has previously endorsed incumbent Rick Kriseman for mayor. At a press conference at Maximo Park in South St. Pete, members said that the progress on  environmental issues that has taken place during Kriseman’s time in office could be in jeopardy if he is not re-elected.

“Former Mayor Baker continues to deny the human causes of climate change, although the science is clear,” said SPSC’s Cathy Harrelson. “Baker’s denial sparks grave concerns that he has the knowledge or commitment to lead the implementation of the Integrated Sustainability and Climate Resilience Plan developed under Mayor Kriseman’s direction.”

That plan was approved by the City Council last November. It’s considered a roadmap for the city to advance to using 100 percent renewable energy in the coming decades. It also incorporates a climate action plan, a resiliency plan and strategies for St. Petersburg to achieve a 5 STAR Community rating.

Baker has said that while it’s indisputable that the climate is changing, he’s uncertain of how much of that is due to the role humans play in global warming.

Harrelson didn’t completely let Kriseman off the hook, saying that as a lifelong environmentalist, “dumping treated sewage into Tampa Bay and local waterways is a bitter pill.” This is a reference to the more than 200 million gallons of discharges that have occurred under Kriseman’s watch.

Yet she said that those discharges were “inevitable” because previous mayors had “passed the buck” on  infrastructure improvement.

“During Baker’s eight years in office, raw sewage was dumped into surface waters over 400 times. So far, Kriseman’s numbers are around 100,” she charged.

Among the environmental measures that the Council or its subcommittees will be voting on later this summer: a vote on August 3 to fund a coordinator for the Solar Co-op initiative originally approved last fall; a vote on beginning the process of removing plastic bags in the city that will come before the Energy Natural Resources and Sustainability Committee on July 27; and the beginning of a tree planting program that will be funded by $500,000 received from BP settlement funds.

“The time to act is now, ” said Councilman Karl Nurse. “We have a City Council and a mayor that is more tuned into this than ever.”

“We have to make sure that we get as much of this locked in over the next 90 days because that’s what we’re certain of,” he said.”Beyond that we’re not certain, and my hope candidly is the more concrete things we get done will inspire people to move when we pass the baton.”

Rick Baker did respond to this story Thursday morning.

“The distortion from the Kriseman campaign is reaching desperation levels” said Baker. “I co-chaired the Governor’s Action Team on Energy and Climate Change and worked  to make St. Petersburg the first Green City in Florida – designated by the Florida Green Building Coalition. Rick Kriseman has no one to blame but himself for closing the Albert Whitted Treatment plant in 2015 which led to dumping millions of gallons of sewage into our Bay and neighborhoods.”

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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