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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

DeSantis signs law deleting climate change from Florida policy



Gov. Ron DeSantis, (R-Fla.) speaks at the Pray Vote Stand Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, in Washington on Sept. 15, 2023. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Coral Davenport


Florida’s state government will no longer be required to consider climate change when crafting energy policy under legislation signed earlier this week by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican.


The new law, which passed the Florida Legislature in March and takes effect on July 1, will also prohibit the construction of offshore wind turbines in state waters and will repeal state grant programs that encourage energy conservation and renewable energy.


The legislation also deletes requirements that state agencies use climate-friendly products and purchase fuel-efficient vehicles. And it prevents any municipality from restricting the type of fuel that can be used in an appliance, such as a gas stove.


The legislation, along with two other bills DeSantis signed Wednesday, “will keep windmills off our beaches, gas in our tanks, and China out of our state,” the governor wrote on the social media platform X. “We’re restoring sanity in our approach to energy and rejecting the agenda of the radical green zealots.”


Florida is one of the states most vulnerable to the costly and deadly impacts of climate change, which is largely driven by the burning of oil, gas and coal. Multiple scientific studies have shown that the increase of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has contributed to sea level rise and more flooding in the state’s coastal cities.


Last year was the hottest in Florida since 1895, and the waters off its coast heated to 90 degrees during the summer, bleaching corals and scorching marine life. Hurricane Idalia made landfall on Aug. 30 near Keaton Beach and caused an estimated $3.6 billion in damage. The year before, Hurricane Ian was blamed for more than 140 deaths and $109.5 billion in damage in Florida, becoming the costliest hurricane in state history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


Faced with growing losses from floods and increasingly extreme weather, major insurers are pulling out of the state. Florida homeowners are scrambling to find coverage and, when they do, are paying some of the highest insurance premiums in the country. Thousands have enrolled in the state’s high-risk insurance pool of last resort, a fund that DeSantis has said is “insolvent.” Instability in the insurance market threatens Florida real estate and, by extension, the state’s economy, experts say.


The governor has supported programs to make communities more resilient to extreme weather.


But DeSantis, who suspended his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in January, has attacked climate policies as part of a push in the broader partisan culture wars. In a presidential debate last fall, DeSantis promised that “on Day One, I’m taking all the Biden regulations, the Green New Deal, ripping it up and throwing it in the trash can where it belongs.”


Biden’s climate regulations are not the Green New Deal, a sweeping legislative package, promoted by progressives, that has not passed Congress.


Last year, DeSantis rejected $346 million that was available in federal funds to help Florida residents make their homes more energy-efficient, despite a request from the state Legislature that Florida accept the money.


Florida is largely powered by natural gas, which provided about 74% of the state’s total net electricity generation in 2022. Nuclear power supplied about 12%, and solar and coal provided the remainder, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Florida has no offshore wind industry.


Brooke Alexander-Goss, the clean energy organizing manager for the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club, said that DeSantis had “failed” his constituents by signing the bill.


“Allowing this bill to become law jeopardizes the health and safety of all Floridians, further proving that his top priority is to appease large corporations and fossil fuel companies,” she said. “We will pay more at the pump and for our insurance premiums, and we will certainly see increases in climate-related disasters and deaths.”


Michael B. Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, said that the deletion of climate change as a priority is largely a symbolic action that does not prohibit lawmakers from considering climate change in state energy policy.


“If they had a differently-minded governor in the future, the governor could still say, ‘I want to consider climate change,’” Gerrard said. “It’s not banned.”


But, he said, the symbolism could still have a political effect. “It’s a strong signaling device that could have an effect on private-sector actions, such as investment in clean-energy efforts in the state, and research in the universities,” Gerrard said. “Students and professors who care deeply about climate change are not going to be drawn to Florida, and climate research dollars could flow elsewhere.”

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