Florida to remove ‘climate change’ from state laws, sparking outcry from activists

genCLEO activist Samantha Kaddis speaks on the steps of the Old Florida Capitol.
genCLEO activist Samantha Kaddis speaks on the steps of the Old Florida Capitol.

The Florida House and Senate passed and sent a bill to the governor which would overhaul the state’s energy and environmental policy, leaving climate activists worried about the future of the state’s fight against climate change.

House Bill 1645 seeks to remove most mentions of “climate change” from state law and make sweeping changes to various energy policies.

If signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, it would delete eight instances of the phrase from existing law and repeal sections related to past climate change initiatives, such as a grant program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

It would also relax regulations on natural gas pipelines and limit local governments’ control over the location of natural gas storage facilities.

The bill has been fiercely opposed by climate activists like Bruce Strouble, executive director of Sustainable Future Inc., a Tallahassee organization focused on sustainability in the African American community. Strouble says the federal government must intervene if the state does not address climate change.

“We have to look to the federal government for intervention because Florida is not doing its constitutional mandate to keep citizens safe from the climate change, and that burden falls primarily on Black and Brown populations,” Strouble said.

Samantha Kaddis, a Leon County regional lead for the CLEO Institute, a climate advocacy organization, agrees that climate change disproportionately impacts marginalized communities and outdoor workers.

“A big [issue] that’s on everyone’s minds right now is extreme heat. We saw last summer there was an overwhelming amount of extreme heat advisories and warnings across the state, and marginalized communities who might not have access to air conditioning, or shelter or a roof over their head are going to be way more affected,” she said.

Florida law uses the phrase “climate change” to address possible solutions and routes to safeguarding the state against a climate crisis.

Section 601 of Chapter 377 of the Florida Statutes addresses the state’s legislative intent on energy resources.

According to the statutes, “The impacts of global climate change can be reduced through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In focusing the government’s policy and efforts to benefit and protect our state, its citizens and its resources, the Legislature believes that a single government entity with a specific focus on energy and climate change is both desirable and advantageous.”

HB 1645 would amend these passages and others to reflect general energy policies rather than specifically addressing climate change.

The bill is seen as a major loss for climate change initiatives in the state after passing both chambers with some opposition.

“It is the responsibility of the government to rein in larger entities, such as corporations, and their output of fossil fuels into our world,” said John Hackemer, a member of FSU’s Environmental Service Program (ESP). “I think that the Florida government should take more action on climate change as a scientific idea rather than the economic impacts such changes will bring.”

FSU’s Florida Climate Center suggests that long-term warming has been observed every season. Extreme heat days, with temperatures no less than 95°F, are expected to rise in the state.

“My personal opinion is that the government should take a stance against climate change, ideally at the local, state and federal levels. Striking the phrase ‘climate change’ from laws does not strike climate change from existing and impacting lives,” said Jamie Allen, a member of ESP.

Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies research found that 90% of Floridians believe climate change is happening, and 69% support state action to address its impacts.

“I grew up in the Tampa Bay area, and I have seen the impacts of climate change in the form of massive algal blooms, mass fish die-offs and coral bleaching,” said Allen. “These are all things the government should be addressing and helping to fix.”

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