DeSantis purges clean energy, climate change considerations from Florida policy

DeSantis purges clean energy, climate change considerations from Florida policy

Photos: AP / Illustration: PW

Three bills recently signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have all the attributes of a present to the fossil fuel industry, missing only the gift wrap and a bow. Thanks to the new laws, signed on May 15 and set to take effect on June 1, the state government will no longer be required to consider climate change in its development of legislation.

The act of signing such laws is cast in an absurd light when one considers that in 2023 Florida endured its hottest year on record since 1895 and has seen entire homes washed away due to rising sea levels. The move was celebrated by DeSantis in head-scratchingly tone-deaf fashion in his comment on X (Twitter), where he remarked, “The legislation I signed today—HB 1645, HB 7071, and HB 1331—will keep windmills off our beaches, gas in our tanks, and China out of our state.”

The legislation does indeed eradicate offshore wind turbines, and disincentivizes the restriction or oversight of fossil fuel enterprises, including the aggressive expansion of natural gas in the state. It also allows for continued use of gas appliances—such as stoves—and thus deters a more ubiquitous switch to electric ones. The bills will also repeal state grant programs that advocate for energy conservation and renewable energy. They also remove requirements that state agencies use climate-safe products and fuel-efficient cars.

“This purposeful act of cognitive dissonance is proof that the governor and state legislature are not acting in the best interest of Floridians, but rather to protect profits for the fossil fuel industry,” said Yoca Arditi-Rocha, executive director of the Cleo Institute, a group that serves as a proponent for education on global warming. “It is extremely alarming that leaders have eliminated statutory language that recognized the dangers of climate pollution, the importance of energy efficiency, and realities of increasing extreme weather events due to a warming planet.”

In commentary that flies in the face of such a rational assessment, DeSantis would rather paint such critics as “radical green zealots,” according to his post on X. The governor, who suspended his presidential campaign in January and acquiesced to his rival Donald Trump, talked up the legislation as a common-sense approach to energy policy. He likened it to a restoration of sanity, but even big money doesn’t agree unanimously with this; major insurers have been pulling out of the state due to grappling with growing monetary losses from the floods and increasingly extreme weather that has been ravaging the state.

“I’ve been concerned for a long time that Florida has been embracing policies that are gonna kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” said licensed state geologist Dr. Robert Young. “The golden egg is those beautiful beaches, especially on the panhandle. Ignoring climate change in all of its different facets is just gonna make it so that we’re not really managing that resource the way it should be managed.”

Those rising ocean levels, he added, are no joke. “We’ve been measuring it for more than a century. This is not hypothetical. We measure it on tide gauges all around the country and the sea level has been rising more quickly lately than it did in the past. That coastal zone and that beach, that’s the economic resource for everybody in that community—not just an ocean front property owner, but if you own a mom-and-pop hotel that’s three blocks off the beach, or a restaurant….”

“It’s very much out of line with public opinion,” said Greg Knecht, director of the Nature Conservancy in Florida. The state, he commented, is suffering from a changing climate. “We’re seeing higher intensity hurricanes and sunny day flooding, higher temperatures earlier in the season. And we’re turning around and we’re saying, ‘Yeah, but climate change isn’t really real, and we don’t need to do anything about it.’ We have so much potential around renewable energy in Florida, so why not allow Florida to be a huge leader across the country in addressing climate?” For example, he added, “In Pensacola you have a GE plant that produces parts for wind energy. We want more economic development in Florida like that.”

DeSantis’s position, however, falls in line with his behavior on the whole when it comes to global warming and clean energy. In a presidential debate last fall, he claimed that “on Day 1” of a potential presidency, he would be “taking all the Biden regulations, the Green New Deal, and ripping it up and throwing it in the trash can where it belongs.” This is the same governor who last year rejected $346 million in federal funds to aid Floridians in making their homes more energy efficient, disregarding a request from the state legislature that he accept the money.

In the view of Brooke Alexander-Goss, clean energy organizing manager for the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club, the passage of this legislation marks a failure in the care of DeSantis’s constituents. “Allowing this bill to become law jeopardizes the health and safety of all Floridians,” she stated, “further proving that his top priority is to appease large corporations and fossil fuel companies. We will pay more at the pump and for our insurance premiums, and we will certainly see increases in climate-related disasters and deaths.”

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