Two years in the making, Tampa officials unveiled a 156-page Climate Action and Equity Plan Friday, becoming the latest local government in Florida to lay out a path toward renewable energy transition and bolstered resilience to the ongoing effects of climate change.
City staff worked with scientists, energy modelers and partnered with CLEO Institute, a Miami-based nonprofit focused on climate education and community engagement. The organization set up a West Tampa office and gathered input from residents.
The plan outlines 143 initiatives across 10 categories: energy, water and wastewater, stormwater, transportation and land use, waste management, housing and development, community, habitat and environment, food and governance.
It arrives on the heels of announcements from two federal agencies that will, for the first time, allow local and state governments and nonprofit organizations to access clean energy tax credits included in the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in August.
The plan builds on a growing body of recommendations coordinated through Whit Remer, Tampa’s Sustainability and Resilience Officer. Remer recently spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about the plan — and what comes next.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
The plan is guided by three goals: reduce carbon emissions, build climate-ready infrastructure and support “all people along the way.” How did that three-pronged approach come to be?
There’s something in this plan for everyone. For the folks that are very interested in carbon emissions, they’ll be happy to know we are driving toward a clean and low carbon economy. We’re doing that by starting with municipal operations because our community-wide reach is limited by state preexemption laws. We have plenty of work here to do at the city level. We use a lot of energy. We pay about $24 million in electric bills and release 98,000 metric tons of carbon each year. The city itself wants to lead by example.
For climate-ready infrastructure, we also build a lot. We build a lot of pipes. We have a lot of industrial facilities. Making sure that infrastructure that provides critical quality of life service to our residents is shored up and ready to be in operation as efficiently as possible is vital. And climate-ready infrastructure principles can be applied across all different structures, including in the private sector. Our building codes are already reflective of climate change, whether it be elevated housing that’s required from FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program, or those strong building codes that require impact-resistant windows.
Finally, and probably most importantly, the idea of taking care of everyone along the way. We live in a vulnerable, coastal city. There are folks that are going to be better prepared than others for climate change — whether that’s because they can afford insurance, or because they have critical emergency reserves. We know there are also people living with lower means that the city has a responsibility to plan for.
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What is the significance of the city’s partnership with the CLEO Institute?
When most cities put together plans or projects, there’s often a part at the end for public engagement or community outreach. Across the country, we’ve seen that a group will develop a plan and then say to the community: “Does this look right?”
Rather than putting some money in the budget to have a public relations firm to do this work at the end and check a box, we entered into a contract with the CLEO Institute, separate from the contract that we had with the planning, architecture and engineering firm that helped us write the plan. We wanted them to work side-by-side. It was a check and balance system, making sure that CLEO — who had the tools to reach these vulnerable populations, elderly citizens, communities that come from lower income households who are reliant on public transit or are living in older housing stock — was deeply involved. CLEO put in place an ambassador program with listening sessions to help tailor the plan to community needs.
How are Tampa residents going to feel the first impacts of the Climate Action and Equity Plan in their day-to-day lives?
Climate change, for a lot of people, is really difficult, right? We’re talking about odorless, clear gas that you can’t see or touch or smell that is dramatically changing the way our world and our ecosystems function — but doing so sometimes at a very slow rate, with incredibly impactful consequences. I get that climate change is not the first thing most people wake up and think about.
But the city is out in people’s neighborhoods every day building infrastructure and providing services through departments like Solid Waste and Parks and Rec. My hope is that folks will start seeing that there are more trees in their neighborhoods, that there are more options to have bike lanes, that we’re changing our zoning commercial codes to allow, for example, a bodega closer to your house so you don’t always have to get in a car and drive to a big box store. Those things might not seem like they have an immediate climate change impact, but they have very, very big implications.
Can Tampa’s efforts be successful if other local governments don’t act similarly? Would you like to see Hillsborough County follow suit with a similar plan?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on transportation. About 45% of carbon emissions in the Tampa community come from transportation, from tailpipes. It’s an essential sector we must pay attention to. The other half comes from electricity that’s produced by TECO, so they are a big part of the equation. They are doing a lot of good work and we support efforts of carbon neutrality and ultimately 100% renewable energy.
On the transportation side, we are seeing a pretty massive shift in the types of cars we drive. But ultimately, EV penetration is less than 5% of the Tampa market right now. Electric vehicles and micro-mobility and shorter commute options are critical to getting Tampa across the finish line. I think that’s really true for the county, too. Across the county, you’ve got more rural areas, probably longer commute times and you’ve got more spread out infrastructure. So the county definitely has its challenges cut out for it as well, but I’m hopeful that they can look to Tampa and see that we took a laser focus on what we can do and pointed out where we’re restricted. We’ve got a lot of work cut out for us. I think the county probably feels the same way.
A lot of work is going on. The City of Tampa’s mobility plan is going to come out in July. That will double down on our climate plan and our resilience plan. We’re also starting a vulnerability assessment that’s funded by the state which will help us have a clearer picture of our critical assets that are at risk from climate change and help us make really, really important decisions on retrofitting and fortifying critical infrastructure. The Climate Action and Equity Plan is just the first step, laying out the framework of what we’re going to do. Now the hard work begins.