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PolitiFact Florida On Andrew Gillum's Carbon Claims; St. Petersburg Borrowing

Oct 20, 2017

Now that the election season is in full swing, the claims are coming fast and furious from political aspirants.

We look at a claim from Tallahassee mayor and candidate for governor Andrew Gillum that carbon emissions in his town nosedived during his time in office; and whether St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman dipped into reserves to pay for water and sewer projects.

For months on his campaign website, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum took responsibility for shaving Tallahassee’s carbon footprint in his short time as mayor.

"Under his leadership, Tallahassee reduced its carbon intensity by roughly 40 percent," a post on the environmental issues page said.

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling on how true that claim is:

City of Tallahassee officials collect data on carbon intensity, which is the amount of carbon (in terms of weight) emitted per unit of energy consumed.

The city, which provides electric service to residents, keeps track of how much electricity is produced and monitors what’s "coming out of the smokestacks" at power plants to figure out the carbon intensity each year, said John Powell, Tallahassee environmental services and facilities director. Under federal law, the city is required to report its findings on an annual basis.

Data from the city includes the amount of carbon measured in tons and the net electric load. The net electric load, or the NEL, is the amount of energy produced plus the energy purchased off the grid and minus what the city sells to the grid for use outside of their system.

The data shows that the carbon intensity has dropped around 40 percent since 1990. The decline has not been consistent, but has decreased overall.

"We’ve implemented more efficient utilities and switched to cleaner fuels over the last two and half decades," Powell said. "We really have seen reduction in carbon intensity over that time."

Susan Glickman, the Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a nonprofit advocate for sustainable energy policy, said there are other factors that could lead to a reduction in carbon emissions.

For example, jobs in the coal industry have been declining since 1985. Because of this, a lot of utilities use more natural gas than coal, which is cleaner and cheaper. In addition, despite population gains, energy demand has gone down as appliances have become more efficient. The 2008 recession led to less energy being used.

Gillum’s campaign changed the original claim on the website rather than defend it.

"You brought it to our attention and we wanted to make sure it was accurate, so we made the change when you reached out," said campaign spokesman Geoff Burgan said. "We’re trying to get people the accurate information they need."

The updated post includes more nuance about the decrease in carbon intensity from initiatives Gillum has enacted as mayor since 2014.

"Over the last two decades,Tallahassee has reduced its carbon emission intensity by 40 percent, and under his leadership, has reduced the carbon footprint of electricity users in the city by 20 percent. The Mayor has worked both as Mayor and City Commissioner to implement and improve programs like free residential and commercial audits, low interest energy loans, and community outreach programs, as well (as) breaking ground on the new 120 acre solar farm that will triple the City’s solar energy capacity."

In reality, the cut has taken place over the course of two decades and has dropped for a variety of reasons outside of Gillum’s control.

We rate the statement False.

In our next ruling, the race for mayor of St. Petersburg has been generating some unusual heat. It pits two Ricks - current Mayor Rick Kriseman versus former Mayor Rick Baker.

During a recent forum, Baker said the mayor tapped into emergency reserves this year to balance the city’s budget. That's despite the city having record revenues.

Kriseman responded by saying that if he did reach for reserves, it would be because of damage sustained by Hurricane Irma.

To which Baker retorted, "Mr. Kriseman must be able to read the future, because he went into the emergency reserves before Irma ever hit."

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling on that claim:


Basically, we found that the city has tapped into reserves. The city has plans to repay the loans.

In May, the city council approved the transfer of $7.6 million to the Water Resources Capital Projects Fund to expedite infrastructure upgrades, which included projects to increase capacity at the water reclamation facilities.

Half of the $7.6 million ($3.8 million) was taken out of the city’s economic stability fund — one of several types of reserve funds, and one specifically meant to cushion city coffers against economic downturns and natural disasters.

The other half came from a different pot of money: the Water Resources department’s operating fund. The fund had an unappropriated balance, which, by definition, is not technically a reserve. (The Water Resources Department manages the city’s sewage and almost like an independent business.)

So in this case, the city would issue bonds and sell them to investors. The city will pay back the the investors who bought one of those bonds in chunks. So the city is replenishing the money with more borrowed money.

Kriseman’s team considers this "paying back" the loan, but that’s not how everyone in the city sees it.

The city plans to issue bonds to repay the loan, but there’s no saying when that will happen. Furthermore, bonds are just borrowed money.

We rate this claim True.