ORLANDO, Fla.—Florida will craft a first-ever plan for addressing the growing threat of flooding and sea level rise, in an effort to be overseen by a newly established Statewide Office of Resilience, under legislation Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law recently.
This measure builds on legislation that was passed last year and set aside millions of dollars to fund infrastructure projects. It also calls for the state Department of Environmental Protection, among others, to compile flood and water level rise data for a vulnerability assessment.
The new measure further codifies the current position of Chief Resilience Officer Wesley Brooks into law and places the position within Executive Office for the Governor. It also states that the resilience plan must include a ranking of local projects and a narrative about how it was developed. The state Department of Transportation also must produce a resilience plan for Florida’s roadways.
These two measures together represent the first time in a decade that the top leaders of this climate-change-prone state have taken responsibility for virtually all aspects of the global problem. Beth Alvi (director of policy at Audubon Florida) said that previously, local governments and regional organizations like the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact had shown the most leadership issues like flooding and sea-level rise, hotter temperatures, and more damaging hurricanes.
“Coordination is the name of the game … to effectively increase Florida’s resiliency and to help ensure that actions that we’re taking individually by cities and communities are additive rather than competitive,” she said. “Rather than just draining flood-prone areas upstream, which could aggravate flooding downstream, let’s look at it comprehensively. And that’s where the state and DEP have a role, and Wes Brooks, our resiliency officer.”
But the environmental groups point out that even as DeSantis, a Republican, aims to strengthen infrastructure in this peninsula state against sea level rise, he has failed to show much action on what is causing climate change and address the state’s reliance on fossil fuels.
DeSantis, considered a potential front-runner for the GOP nomination in the 2024 presidential race, has strived to make the environment a priority of his administration, putting millions of dollars toward the Everglades and the state’s other treasured and troubled waterways. But he has faced criticism on Florida’s biggest environmental problem: climate change. The governor has described himself as “not a global warming person,” even as his own administration predicts some $26 billion in residential property statewide will face chronic flooding by 2045.
State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat running against DeSantis in this year’s governor’s race, proposed goals earlier this spring for transitioning toward cleaner energy sources, but it is unclear how effective the goals would be. Her department lacks authority to enforce these goals. Utilities would be required to submit progress reports. This would be reviewed by her department and sent to the Public Service Commission.
Keep Environmental Journalism Alive
ICN provides award winning climate coverage without charge or advertising. To continue, we rely on donations from readers like yourself.
The commission overseeing utilities has tended to accept their resistance towards renewable energy and energy efficiency. The formal approval process for these goals is still underway.
Fried is not the only one who is pushing for more clean electricity in Florida. Anna Eskamani (D.Orlando), a state representative, was one of 30 to sign a letter on Earth Day urging the governor declare a climate emergency in Florida.
“There is an emphasis on resilience, which is important, but nothing on actual mitigation or helping to combat our carbon production and the human actions that are causing sea level rise,” said Eskamani, who sponsored legislation this spring that would have put the state on a path toward 100 percent clean energy by midcentury. The measure was not presented to the committee.
“The reality is that we’re going to be spending money now to deal with the rising cost of sea level rise, but it’s going to be even more expensive if we don’t do anything to deal with the cause of this problem,” Eskamani said.
Thomas Ruppert, coastal planning specialist for Florida Sea Grant, an education and research organization focused on coastal resources at the University of Florida, said that together this year’s and last year’s legislation represent a short-term fix but actually could make Florida more vulnerable in the future, as they make way for more development in flood-prone areas.
“The current approach focuses really on reducing vulnerability today and maybe for tomorrow,” he said. “But this can actually encourage a sense of safety and further investment in areas that may not, over the longer-term, be very safe. So then when an event comes that exceeds the design parameters of the infrastructure, something bigger than, say, the 100-year storm event, we realize that our vulnerability to that event may be even greater than had we not both … literally and figuratively dug ourselves into a hole.”
Source: Inside Climate News