On its face, it’s the type of economic development opportunity that a coastal port city would work hard to capture: a $542 million liquid natural gas production plant that will fuel ships and export the fuel to the Caribbean.
And work hard Jacksonville has, since 2013 with Eagle LNG Partners of Houston to bring the plant to the banks of the St. Johns River on the city’s Northside. After six years, the final step is expected shortly – a City Council vote to approve a $23 million tax rebate for Eagle LNG.
There’s no doubt that the incentive package will be approved, and construction of the plant will begin this summer.
But should these incentives be approved? No, they should not. The days of unquestioned government subsidies for the fossil fuel industry need to end. Over the life of this plant, Eagle LNG stands to make a healthy profit. It doesn’t need Jacksonville taxpayers to help it make more money.
What the City of Jacksonville should be doing is finding $23 million to make its highly vulnerable river and coastal waterfront more resilient. We have 1,100 miles of river waterfront and 22 miles of beaches here.
The city should buy out homeowners threatened by flooding from storms and high tides; subsidize the installation of solar panels for homes and businesses and build charging stations for electric vehicles.
Is Jacksonville doing those things? No, it is not.
Meanwhile, we receive consistent reminders of the coming danger. Case in point, the Jan. 13 segment of 60 Minutes featuring Princeton University geoscientist Michael Oppenheimer, who listed Jacksonville as one of several coastal Southeastern cities, along with Miami and Key West, that will experience severe flooding every year by the year 2050.
“Let me repeat that,” Oppenheimer told the 60 Minutes audience. “An event that used to cause severe flooding once a century, we’re going to get that same water level once a year.”
We are a politically conservative region – talk of climate change caused by burning fossil fuels has been scoffed at by public officials for decades. Denial and inaction have been our collective strategy. That also needs to end. We can stay conservative, and get smart on the climate emergency.
Here’s the thing: the rising waters are not affected by our politics. They are rising and will continue to do so throughout our lifetimes. All the economic development projects we bring to our city will mean nothing until we act on this fundamental truth.
John Burr has more than 30 years experience as an editor and reporter in Northeast Florida, and is a member of the Jacksonville chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.