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St. Pete City Council furthers talk on fossil fuel divestment

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Petersburg City Council members are considering divesting the city from fossil fuels. During a meeting Thursday, the eight-member board voted unanimously to refer to the Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee a divestment measure recommended by Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The measure would affect city pensions where investments are currently placed strategically to incur the most financial benefit. City Council approval of the issue would remove fossil fuel industries from those investments.

Kriseman pushed the issue as a way to encourage sustainability, specifically renewable energy. A few residents and community partners spoke during public comment in support of the measure.

“Years ago many of us thought that climate change would happen someday, but it turns out that someday is now,” said Mackenzie Avallone of the group Environment Florida. “That’s why our city needs to act swiftly and boldly.”

She explained the first step to curbing carbon emissions that lead to global warming is to making sure the city doesn’t remain a part of the problem implying that by continuing to place key investments in fossil fuels, the city is doing just that.

Though the vote to further the conversation was unanimous, new City Councilman Ed Montanari expressed concerns.

“I don’t think that it would be good policy for a city council to start directing investment policy,” Montanari said. “It gets to a level of micromanagement that we shouldn’t be doing.”

And whether or not the city even can do that isn’t clear. City Councilman Jim Kennedy asked whether the council had the jurisdiction to direct pension boards on investments. The answer from the city’s legal staff was simple: They just aren’t sure yet.

“We’re looking into that,” said city attorney Jackie Kovilaritch. “I can’t give you an answer on it.”

Again expressing reservations, Montanari defended the fossil fuel industry.

“They’re one of the biggest investors when it comes to renewable energy,” he said.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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