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Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb promises to fight for environmental justice

3News Meteorologist Jason Mikell recently sat down with Cleveland's Mayor to discusses his environmental agenda and his hopes for a greener Northeast Ohio.

CLEVELAND — On the campaign trail, Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb promised to fight for environmental justice.  

Now a few months into his first term, he tells 3News that his plans are well underway.  Bibb is building on what he calls a strong foundation set up by the previous administration.

Bibb recently sat down with 3News meteorologist Jason Mikell to discuss why the issue is close to his heart.

JASON MIKELL: Do you view climate as an important issue for the city of Cleveland?

MAYOR BIBB: Without a doubt. Cleveland, for decades has been at the Vanguard for, major national and global conversations about climate change and really what I believe climate justice. After our river caught on fire, it inspired the Clean Water Act. It inspired the creation of the EPA. And I believe a as a city, we have a special moral obligation, to lead the fight. And that's why during the transition, we embedded very clear tasks around climate justice and every job description in my cabinet. In the weeks and months ahead, I'll be hiring the first ever chief of sustainability and climate justice as part of my administration to ensure both internally inside city hall, but also externally we're creating the right conditions to advance sustainability and climate justice all around the city, in the region as well too.

JASON MIKELL: Is this is a personal issue for you regarding climate change?

MAYOR BIBB: Absolutely. I grew up in a poor black neighborhood in the Southeast side. We didn't have a lot of trees, growing up on my block. We had some good parks to go to, but they weren't well programmed. And in some cases they weren't really safe. We didn't have access to a good quality grocery store in my neighborhood. And I believe, when you look at this conversation globally about climate change, we must do a better job of talking about the disparate impact that climate issues have on black and brown communities. That's why the work we do at city hall is so important.

JASON MIKELL: Nearly a million dollars has been allocated for over 3000 trees to be planted here in Northeast Ohio. And specifically, that also includes Cleveland. How do you feel about tree planting?

MAYOR BIBB: Having access to a well thought out, planned tree canopy is not just a nice thing to have. I think it's a civil right. When I look at all the data, when it comes to air quality, when it comes to accessing good quality parks, we see in black and brown neighbors in this city, high asthma rates, high rates of low air quality. And these are the neighborhoods that don't have a lot of well planted trees. And so we must have a data driven approach in terms of where we invest in this million dollar investment, and I believe it will truly go a long way.

JASON MIKELL: Speaking of air quality. The city of Cleveland receives its power from coal. How do you look at that issue and are you making plans to curb it?

MAYOR BIBB: Yes. it's a major issue that I campaigned around. The fact that, Cleveland Public Power is getting its power a source from the third largest carbon emitter in the United States, which is undermining our ability as a country to achieve the Paris Climate goals. It's a major problem. And so we are working as we speak with our legal department to identify ways to potentially get out of this contract that really undermines our ability to really leverage Cleveland Public Power as an asset and a driver of the green economy in Cleveland and throughout Northeast Ohio. And it's critical that we can lead the way, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and going to solar and wind. And hydro, I think, is a key part of our city's economic future.

JASON MIKELL: You've done a lot of traveling, representing Cleveland on a national stage, on an international stage.  Do you have a goal of propelling Cleveland to be one of the most active cities when it comes to climate change?

MAYOR BIBB: Absolutely. Just last month I was appointed to be vice chair of the environment and resilience standing committee, with the US Conference of Mayors, and that body is responsible for really helping to lead the policy agenda for mayors across the country, around how we're going to move the nation to a more climate resilient future. And I want to make sure Cleveland is at the table leading and guiding those policy discussions.

JASON MIKELL: How do you propose doing that?

MAYOR BIBB: Well, looking at our backyard for innovations to really show the nation how to get it done, whether it be on new and dynamic ways to leverage Lake Erie for the water innovation economy, whether it be propelling more community, solar farms and communities of color. And then, if we can turn the page, at Cleveland Public Power and lead that towards a more renewable energy future, those are all three concrete examples of how Cleveland can lead the way for the country.

JASON MIKELL: Will this be a challenge in your opinion, for one of America's most industrial cities?

MAYOR BIBB: Well, you know, I think nationally you're seeing a different paradigm shift in the conversation. The current war, uh, between Russia and Ukraine is really elevating the geopolitical consequences of our reliance on fossil fuels. You saw the, the CEO of JP Morgan, Jamie Dimon call for a Marshall plan around our energy future. And I think, American cities and American mayors, will have to lead the way, given all the dysfunction we're seeing in Washington DC right now. So it's important that we, as cities find innovative ways to be more climate resilient, to really make sure we can kind of get this right in the future.

JASON MIKELL: Do you think the issue and your plans to tackle climate change is attainable in the next 10, 20, 30, 50 years? Is it something that we can see?

MAYOR BIBB: Pretty soon we're going to be introducing and I hope passing legislation around complete and green streets to ensure that we have climate resilient transit policies on our development projects across the city. We are working very quickly, uh, around making sure we have a true plan to modernize Cleveland Public Power. We talked earlier about planting more trees, particularly in communities of color, and in the future, I want to work with my cabinet and community leaders to create a separate parks department, so we can ensure that we have well programmed, safe, quality parks in every neighborhood across our city. And so will we change the climate overnight? Absolutely not, but I think, we can lay a strong foundation for Cleveland's future, so we can be a more resilient city that embraces climate justice.

JASON MIKELL: Do you think the issue was made harder by the previous administration?

MAYOR BIBB: I believe that the prior administration laid a strong foundation for me to build on as mayor.

JASON MIKELL: In what way?

MAYOR BIBB: Well, you look at all the great planning around the Cleveland sustainability conference that has been going on for over a decade. We have a current department around sustainability right now as well. And so we are taking those assets and building the next vision around those key assets.

JASON MIKELL: Some of your campaign initiatives included items such as the consent decree, police reform, crime. Where does climate change fit into that?

MAYOR BIBB: It’s not a siloed thing. When you grow up in a neighborhood that doesn't have access to a good quality park, that doesn't have access to a good quality grocery store that doesn't have access to high quality public transit. Then, you feel like opportunity is locked out and it's not within your reach. And that kind of lack of hope in many ways, leads to crime. And so I truly believe that climate change and climate justice are foundational issues that build strong communities that create strong people. So every issue around climate change is interconnected to everything that we do to improve the built environment across our city.

JASON MIKELL: You know, Cleveland is a city of vast backgrounds. Vast religions, cultures, languages, socioeconomic status. Is there something that everyday Americans can do within the city of Cleveland, regardless of their background, regardless of their socioeconomic status to help out?

MAYOR BIBB: Plants more trees, get involved in your neighborhood, hold your elected officials accountable around advancing climate justice and climate resiliency policies and issues. And I think really having hard, honest conversations about climate change are a key part of what every citizen can do to advance the issue moving forward.

JASON MIKELL: You speak of holding elected officials accountable. There's been a video circulating or reports being circulated that trash collection and recycle collection are kind of intermingled put the same landfill. And, you know, the everyday person would question, what am I doing? Why am I [even bothering] to recycle?

MAYOR BIBB: It’s unacceptable. As you know, it's a problem that we inherited when we took office on January 3rd. We are working around the clock as we speak right now to bring back curbside recycling. Later this spring, early summer, we'll be bringing back the opt in recycling program to lay the foundation to ensure we can have a robust recycling effort in the city of Cleveland, but we have a long way to go. And education is a big part of making sure that we can truly recycle in our city.

Watch the entire interview below:

 JASON MIKELL: You're hovering around the first 100 days, congratulations. Where does the city currently stand on climate change in, in attacking this issue?

MAYOR BIBB: I believe we are laying a strong foundation to really be a national thought leader on climate change issues and climate justice. And I'm looking forward to continuing the hard work ahead.

JASON MIKELL: Of course, we all know the benefits of recycling. Of course, we all know the benefits of making these changes in our everyday lives. Some of which we have control of, some which we do not have control of. Your Instagram account, posted that over 100 million in public and private funds have been advocated for lead removal, and it also says it is our most urgent issue. Why?

MAYOR BIBB: You know, when I was knocking on doors, talking to voters last year, I met at a community activist Yvonka Hall, and she said that the lead crisis in Cleveland is public enemy number one. It took me a while to figure out what that meant. But what she was saying was, if you grow up in a home that has been poisoned by lead, and if you're a child, you're more likely to have cognitive brain disabilities and there's so many downward consequences that occur. And so if we don't make sure that we can eradicate lead paint in this city, then everything we talk about from recycling to Cleveland Public Power doesn't mean anything. We gotta get the basics, right? That's why, within weeks after taking office, wen announced we were going to leverage 17 million of the American Rescue Plan dollars to support, an effort to raise over a hundred million to fully fund the Lead Safe Coalition lead endowment. We also hired a senior level lead strategist in my administration. That's focused on breaking down silos across every department to make sure that city hall is a key thought partner with our community organizations to eradicate lead. So we're using every level lever we have inside city hall to eradicate this crisis. And it must be eradicated in the near future.

JASON MIKELL: Your administration also lists increasing frequency of public transit, expanding routes, prioritizing public parks, green spaces, and having smart parking meters set up to provide free or highly subsidized transit for low income riders on your website. Where does the city currently stand on this?

MAYOR BIBB: We are in the process right now evaluating a vendor that will allow us to finally have smart parking meters in this city where you don't have to use quarters and nickels and dimes to pay for parking. I think residents and visitors would truly appreciate that. And then we're having really good conversations with RTA about, more coordination between the city and RTA to make sure we have equitable public transit all across the community.

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