TALLAHASSEE — Climate change has received little attention in the Florida Legislature in recent years, but on Tuesday a state Senate committee unanimously advanced legislation that would require the state to start planning for sea-level rise.
The bill (SB 78) mandates that any coastal construction project that receives state funds get a “sea level impact projection” study before commencing. The idea is to ensure infrastructure projects are built to withstand the impacts of sea level rise.
Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, the Miami Democrat sponsoring the bill, worked to move past the politically charged debate over reducing carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, and frame the issue in economic terms.
As a low-lying peninsula, Florida is especially susceptible to rising seas.
Rodriguez implied that the state’s economy could be hurt by increased insurance and lending costs if those markets believe Florida is a risky bet because sea level rise is not being taken into account.
“I think when we’re talking about climate change and sea level rise, it’s often looked at as an environmental issue; in this context, it’s also an economic issue,” Rodriguez said. “We are being watched as a state — reinsurers, credit markets — and we need to show that we’re leading and looking forward, and that is the primary motivation for trying to require this planning when we’re talking about coastal building.”
Florida once was a leader on climate change issues under former GOP Gov. Charlie Crist, who is now in Congress as a Democrat. Former Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration was accused of prohibiting state employees from even using the term climate change.
The state’s new governor, Ron DeSantis, has questioned whether Florida has a role in regulating carbon emissions, but has been out front on the issue of sea level rise, issuing an executive order that established the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection within the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The DeSantis administration said the new office will “help prepare Florida’s coastal communities and habitats for impacts from sea level rise.”
Those concerned about climate change are hoping the new governor eventually will support a more robust approach to tackling the issue.
Rodriguez, who wears black rain boots in the capital with #ActOnClimate written on them in big white letters to spark awareness of climate change, also has filed legislation that would give state officials until January 2021 to come up with a “unified statewide plan to generate 100 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2050.”
But even Rodriguez’s sea-level rise bill is probably a long shot, though his hometown already is experiencing more severe flooding problems and coastal communities across Florida are asking for help with the issue. The bill has three more committee stops in the Senate and has not received any hearings in the House.
On Tuesday, though, the legislation garnered a 5-0 vote in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and support from three Republican lawmakers in the GOP-controlled chamber, which could be a small step toward putting climate back on the agenda in Tallahassee.