By Dawn Shirreffs
Florida lawmakers have three big opportunities to change the trajectory of Florida’s future and mitigate the impacts of climate change on our state.
A vast majority of Floridians — 94 percent — agree that climate change is real. We are already paying higher electric bills from record heat waves and skyrocketing property insurance from stronger hurricanes and increased flooding.
In 2021 alone we were hit with more than 2,000 wildfires, and Red Tide lingered all summer from higher ocean temperatures hurting our health and our tourism economy. (Who can forget how bad the Red Tide fish kill got in Tampa Bay and along the Pinellas County gulf beaches last summer?)
Indeed, a recent report by Florida Taxwatch highlighted $175 billion in economic risk annually by 2050 from climate change in the sunshine state.
But what can state leaders do in the next several weeks of the 2022 session to change Florida’s future?
Electric vehicles. First, Florida should set bold but achievable goals for electric vehicles, especially charging infrastructure deployment for medium and heavy vehicles. Lawmakers can jumpstart this transition by removing barriers to electric vehicle expansion. For example, simple tweaks to the state’s procurement practices will allow total cost of vehicle ownership to guide fleet purchasing decisions which would save taxpayers money over time while reducing air pollution.
Resiliency. Second, legislators should solidify the Statewide Office of Resiliency under the governor’s office by providing this critical department with adequate resources and the requisite authority to direct resilience initiatives across Florida’s agencies, lead implementation of the state’s resilience strategy and leverage funding from the federal government and the private sector.
Rooftop solar. Third, lawmakers should reject any legislative proposals that would unfairly check the momentum of Florida’s burgeoning solar industry. Florida families and small businesses should be able to continue recovering their costs at the same rate as Florida’s utilities.
Demand for electricity is growing rapidly, and our over-reliance natural gas (75 percent) makes energy security and affordability vulnerable to global gas price volatility, cyber-attacks and natural disaster events. We should be looking for ways to ensure Florida cities, universities and other tax-exempt organizations can make critical investment in solar to save taxpayer dollars, reduce risk and increase our resilience after a storm.
During this session, Florida lawmakers have the opportunity to lead on climate and the economy with common sense solutions. In March, we will know if they have risen to the challenge. Let’s hope they do; our state and our families’ futures depend on it.
Dawn Shirreffs is the Florida director of the Environmental Defense Fund. Dawn works to bring nature-based solutions to the toughest climate challenges that Florida faces.