The DeSantis administration made a boneheaded move by foregoing hundreds of millions of federal dollars intended to soften the impacts of climate change. The money could have improved roadways, mass transit and highway safety in this fast-growing state. It could have also better protected the transportation grid and incentivized business and other governments to make low-lying Florida more resilient to flooding and sea-level rise. Floridians lost again under a Republican governor pandering to the far right for his party’s presidential nomination.
Congress in 2021 provided $6.4 billion to states to curb tailpipe emissions in an effort to curb the damage from climate change. Florida was set to receive $320 million, the third most of any state, as the Tampa Bay Times’ Jack Prator and Max Chesnes reported recently. But after making initial plans for the money, the Florida Department of Transportation informed federal officials last month it would not participate. In a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, state DOT Secretary Jared Perdue complained the program was an example of government overreach that was “the continued politicization of our roadways,” echoing statements made by DeSantis who has said that climate change is “politicization of the weather.” Florida now stands alone as the only state to declare it would turn down the money, federal officials told the Times.
This decision is jarring for its ignorance, hypocrisy and nakedly political motivations.
The state Department of Transportation had envisioned using the money to add trucker parking at rest stops, which staff said could address a shortage statewide that kept drivers on the road longer, polluting along the way, as they searched for a place to stop. The more time truckers search for parking, the more they burn fossil fuels. The plan also considered spending money on things like electric buses and roundabouts, which would reduce climate-warming emissions from vehicles idling at traffic lights.
Rather than accepting the federal money, Perdue wrote in the letter that Florida would focus on building roads and bridges, “not reducing carbon emissions.” Is Florida the only state in America that cannot improve its transportation system while at the same time reducing heat-warming emissions? Indeed, the state messaged that it could do both when it released its carbon reduction plan for spending the federal money. And Florida’s DOT has supported mass transit and other car-centric alternatives for decades. So how is Washington suddenly politicizing the highways?
What’s more, the federal money could have been used for a broad range of transportation projects. Mass transit, pedestrian and bike trails, electronic tolling booths, energy-efficient street lights, even electrical upgrades at port facilities — these are just a few of the transportation projects eligible for funding.
Florida now stands alone as the only state to say it would turn down the money, and any mention of the plan has been wiped from the state’s website. Even Texas, whose Republican governor often tries to outshine DeSantis on conservative credentials, plans to take its share of $641 million, officials there told the Times.
“This is going to be so costly for Florida families and businesses in a growing, dynamic state where we need better transportation,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. Florida, she added, “looks foolish” to other lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are watching in amazement as the state sends back its share of tax dollars to Washington.
Florida ranks among the 15 states with the highest levels of diesel emissions, according to the state DOT. The department also said average commute times have grown in Florida by 11% over the last decade. Ali DySard, senior policy specialist at the Florida office of the Environmental Defense Fund, said transportation makes up half of the state’s pollution emissions. Rejecting this money was a dumb idea that only increases the risks that Florida faces, while shifting the monumental cost to adapt onto Florida families.
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