More than a dozen environmental and community-based organizations are calling on the new leaders of the Florida Legislature to create a special committee to address climate change, saying that the issue is the biggest threat to the state.
“As we speak, Floridians are suffering from horrific hurricane damage, unsafe water, skyrocketing property insurance rates, frequent flooding, and a vast array of other climate issues,” says Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters said in a press release issued last week. “Our families and our communities, most especially low-wealth families and Black, Latino, Indigenous, and other communities of color can no longer afford to wait for action.”
The groups sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo prior to the organizational session that took place last Tuesday, requesting that they create a Joint Select Committee on the Climate Crisis for the 2023-2024 legislative sessions. “Floridians cannot go another legislative session without a comprehensive plan to address this crisis and avoid further harm to our future as a state,” Moncrief said in the press release.
“Scientists and academics frequently cite Florida as one of the most vulnerable places on the planet to the impacts of climate change in the United States. This frequency is partly due to the threat that sea level rise poses to our more than 1,000 miles of coastline. However, climate change’s threat to Floridians extends far beyond coastal flooding alone,” the groups wrote in the letter.
The letter also shows the impact of climate change, such as increasingly intense drought and flood conditions, declining water quality, increasingly destructive storms, heat waves, irreversible bleaching of coral reefs, poor air quality and more.
However, when Renner and Passidomo were asked by members of the media last week if they intended to address issues associated with climate change in the upcoming legislative session, both responded by focusing only on resiliency efforts, praising building code upgrades that the state has imposed after Hurricane Andrew devastated parts of South Florida in 1992.
“When you look at the effects of Hurricane Ian – which by the way is a one in-500-year storm- the houses built after Andrew were fine. They got some water in the garages, but the houses all survived the flood and the wind and whatever,” said Passidomo.
“Florida is getting better and better at hurricanes,” added Renner. “And I promise you I have great confidence and optimism that our ability as people to innovate and to strengthen our resiliency will outstrip anything that climate change sends our way.”
To that end, Renner announced that he is establishing a new select committee on hurricane resiliency and recovery.
“The idea there will be to look at what we’re dealing with right now in the recovery effort but also to identify steps we can take…to make sure that we are fortified for the coming storms,” he said.
Among the improvements that Florida has imposed on new construction since Andrew include stronger roof-to-wall connections, more impact-resistant windows and better hurricane shutters.
Environmental groups, however, are asking for far more from the Legislature regarding climate change.
“Florida is in fact ‘doing things’ toward resiliency and sea level rise. In fact, we’re spending millions of dollars adapting to sea level rise,” says Kim Ross, executive director with ReThink Energy Florida. “That’s needed and a start. However, until we start also addressing the root cause of sea level rise, we’re throwing money into a hole.”
Ross says in an email to the Phoenix that state officials need to acknowledge there is an “upper limit” to the amount of sea level that is tolerable and then address that with policy aiming towards a clean energy future.
“Florida has already seen 1 foot of sea level rise since the 1970s, and another foot is baked in by around 2050,” Ross told the Phoenix. “Cities and counties around the state are preparing for 2 feet of sea level rise. With bold action now we can keep sea level rise to two feet. This is the reason I joined the call for a select committee on climate change.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation (HB 7053) earlier this year that created the first state plan to address sea level rise. It puts a Chief Resiliency Officer within the Executive Office of the Governor. It also mandates a ranking of projects submitted by local governments in the statewide Flood & Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan and requires the state’s Department of Transportation to produce a resilience plan for state highways.
Passidomo did mention electric cars in her remarks to reporters, but not in a positive light. She said she had generally been in favor of EV’s (which don’t directly emit greenhouse gas emissions), but is more skeptical after she learned that her neighbor’s home had burned down during Hurricane Ian because their electric car got wet and blew up.
“Before we start going down a path, I really want to look at what are the consequences of doing things – I had no idea that would happen,” she said.
Noting how a number of EV’s had caught on fire caused by saltwater storm surge from Ian, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said he was calling on electric vehicle manufacturers to work with the state on finding solutions to that situation.
Sweetwater House Republican David Borrero sponsored legislation in the 2022 session that would direct the Florida Public Service Commission to propose rules by the end of the year to establish “competitively neutral” standards for adding electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It died in committee.
Here is a list of climate change issues that the environmental groups want the Legislature to focus on by creating a select committee starting in 2023, according to the letter:
- Explore and propose policies for completely reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and opening our electricity markets to advance a steady transition to solar and other clean, renewable energy options and create a modern, efficient, and sustainable transportation infrastructure;
- Help Floridians lower their monthly electricity bill by finding ways to increase distributed solar and battery backup storage;
- Increase energy efficiency for homes, businesses, schools, and government facilities;
- Complement federal climate efforts, including relevant programs and funding related to the landmark Inflation Reduction Act;
- Foster the growing green technology industry with job training programs or other incentives;
- Protect and enhance the long-term sustainability of our natural carbon sinks (like mangrove forests, wetlands, and grasslands) that will help communities endure the effects of climate change;
- Explore the intersections of public health, labor, racism, housing, and climate change;
- Address resiliency plans, emergency management, building codes, property/rental insurance, and the economy as affected by climate change.
–Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix