Florida is about to erase climate change from most of its laws

In Florida, the effects of climate change are hard to ignore, no matter your politics. It’s the hottest state — Miami spent a record 46 days above a heat index of 100 degrees last summer — and many homes and businesses are clustered along beachfront areas threatened by rising seas and hurricanes. The Republican-led legislature has responded with more than $640 million for resilience projects to adapt to coastal threats. 

But the same politicians don’t seem ready to acknowledge the root cause of these problems. A bill awaiting signature from Governor Ron DeSantis, who dropped out of the Republican presidential race in January, would ban offshore wind energy, relax regulations on natural gas pipelines, and delete the majority of mentions of climate change from existing state laws. 

“Florida is on the front lines of the warming climate crisis, and the fact that we’re going to erase that sends the wrong message,” said Yoca Arditi-Rocha, the executive director of the CLEO Institute, a climate education and advocacy nonprofit in Florida. “It sends the message, at least to me and to a good majority of Floridians, that this is not a priority for the state.”

As climate change has been swept into the country’s culture wars, it’s created a particularly sticky situation in Florida. Republicans associate “climate change” with Democrats — and see it as a pretext for pushing a progressive agenda — so they generally try to distance themselves from the issue. When a reporter asked DeSantis what he was doing to address the climate crisis in 2021, DeSantis dodged the question, replying, “We’re not doing any left-wing stuff.” In practice, this approach has consisted of trying to manage the effects of climate change while ignoring what’s behind them.

The bill, sponsored by state Representative Bobby Payne, a Republican from Palatka in north-central Florida, would strike eight references to climate change in current state laws, leaving just seven references untouched, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Some of the bill’s proposed language tweaks are minor, but others repeal whole sections of laws.

For example, it would eliminate a “green government grant” program that helps cities and school districts cut their carbon emissions. A 2008 policy stating that Florida is at the front lines of climate change and can reduce those impacts by cutting emissions would be replaced with a new goal: providing “an adequate, reliable, and cost-effective supply of energy for the state in a manner that promotes the health and welfare of the public and economic growth.”

Photo of a flooded street with bikers and palms in the background
Water floods part of a street that runs near the Strait of Florida during the seasonal king tides in October 2019 in Key West, Florida. Researchers say the Florida Keys will see increased flooding as sea levels continue to rise. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Florida politicians have a history of attempting to silence conversations about the fossil fuel emissions driving sea level rise, heavier floods, and worsening toxic algae blooms. When Rick Scott was the Republican governor of the state between 2011 and 2019, state officials were ordered to avoid using the phrases “climate change” or “global warming” in communications, emails, and reports, according to the Miami Herald

It foreshadowed what would happen at the federal level after President Donald Trump took office in 2017. The phrase “climate change” started disappearing from the websites of federal environmental agencies, with the term’s use going down 38 percent between 2016 and 2020. “Sorry, but this web page is not available for viewing right now,” the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate change site said during Trump’s term



Red states have demonstrated that politicians don’t necessarily need to acknowledge climate change to adapt to it, but Florida appears poised to take the strategy to the extreme, expunging climate goals from state laws while focusing more and more money on addressing its effects. In 2019, DeSantis appointed Florida’s first “chief resilience officer,” Julia Nesheiwat, tasked with preparing Florida for rising sea levels. Last year, he awarded the Florida Department of Environmental Protection more than $28 million to conduct and update flooding vulnerability studies for every county in Florida.

“Why would you address the symptoms and not the cause?” Arditi-Rocha said. “Fundamentally, I think it’s political maneuvering that enables them [Republicans] to continue to set themselves apart from the opposite party.” 

She’s concerned that the bill will increase the state’s dependence on natural gas. The fossil fuel provides three-quarters of Florida’s electricity, leaving residents subject to volatile prices and energy insecurity, according to a recent Environmental Defense Fund report. As Florida isn’t a particularly windy state, she sees the proposed ban on offshore wind energy as mostly symbolic. “I think it’s more of a political kind of tactic to distinguish themselves.” Solar power is already a thriving industry that’s taking off in Florida — it’s called the Sunshine State for a reason.

Greg Knecht, the executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida, thinks that the removal of climate-related language from state laws could discourage green industries from coming to the state. (And he’s not ready to give up on wind power.) “I just think it puts us at a disadvantage to other states,” Knecht said. Prospective cleantech investors might see it as a signal that they’re not welcome. 

The bill is also out of step with what most Floridians want, Knecht said. According to a recent survey from Florida Atlantic University, 90 percent of the state’s residents accept that climate change is happening. “When you talk to the citizens of Florida, the majority of them recognize that the climate is changing and want something to be done above and beyond just trying to build our way out of it.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Florida is about to erase climate change from most of its laws on Mar 25, 2024.