Florida will develop a first-ever plan to address the growing threat of flooding and rising sea levels, to be overseen by a new statewide Office of Resilience, under legislation Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed into law.
The measure builds on legislation approved last year that earmarked millions of dollars for infrastructure projects and called on the state Department of Environmental Protection to compile flood data and sea level rise for vulnerability assessment, among others.
The new measure goes further, codifying into law the position currently held by Resilience Chief Wesley Brooks and placing the position within the governor’s executive office. It also specifies that the resilience plan, expected in 2023, must include a ranking of projects submitted by local governments and a narrative of how the plan was developed. The state Department of Transportation must also produce a resilience plan for Florida roads.
Together, the two measures represent the first time in about a decade that senior leaders in this particularly climate-prone state have taken ownership of virtually every aspect of the global problem. Previously, local governments and regional groups like the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Pact have shown leadership on issues such as flooding and rising sea levels, higher temperatures and more devastating hurricanes, said Beth Alvi, director of policy at Audubon Florida.
“Coordination is the name of the game … to effectively increase Florida’s resilience and to help ensure that the actions we take individually by cities and communities are additive rather than competitive,” she said. “Rather than just draining floodplains upstream, which could make flooding worse downstream, let’s look at this holistically. And that’s where the state and the DEP have a role, and Wes Brooks, our resilience manager.
But environmental groups point out that while DeSantis, a Republican, aims to bolster the peninsula state’s infrastructure against rising sea levels, he has failed to show much action on the causes of climate change. and to combat the state’s dependence on fossil fuels.
DeSantis, seen as a potential frontrunner for the GOP nomination in the 2024 presidential race, has worked to make the environment a priority of his administration, dedicating millions of dollars to the Everglades and other precious waterways and troubled state. But he has come under fire on Florida’s biggest environmental issue: climate change. The governor has described himself as “not a global warming person,” even though his own administration predicts that some $26 billion of residential properties statewide will face chronic flooding by 2045.
State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat running against DeSantis in this year’s gubernatorial race, offered goals earlier this spring for transitioning to cleaner energy sources, but It is unclear how effective these goals would be. His department does not have the power to enforce the targets. The utilities would have to submit progress reports to his department, which would review the reports and forward them to the Civil Service Commission.
The commission, which oversees utilities, has tended to accept their resistance to renewables and energy efficiency. The goals still need to go through a formal approval process. Fried, a Democrat, is running against DeSantis in the 2022 gubernatorial race.
Fried isn’t alone in pushing for more clean energy in Florida. State Representative Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, was among 30 representatives to sign an Earth Day letter calling on the governor to declare a state of climate emergency in Florida.
“The focus is on resilience, which is important, but nothing on actual mitigation or addressing our carbon production and human actions that are causing sea level rise,” Eskamani said, who sponsored legislation this spring that would have put the state on a path to 100% clean energy by mid-century. The measure was never heard by a committee.
“The reality is that we are going to spend money now to deal with the rising cost of sea level rise, but it will cost even more if we do nothing to address the cause of this problem,” says Eskamani.
Thomas Ruppert, coastal planning specialist for Florida Sea Grant, an education and research organization focused on coastal resources at the University of Florida, said this year’s and last year’s legislation represents a solution. in the short term, but could actually make Florida more vulnerable in the future as they make room for more development in flood-prone areas.
“The current approach is really focused on reducing vulnerability today and maybe for tomorrow,” he said. “But it can actually encourage a sense of security and new investment in areas that might not be very secure in the long run. So when an event occurs that exceeds the infrastructure design parameters, something larger than, say, the 100-year storm event, we realize that our vulnerability to that event may be even greater than if we hadn’t both…literally and figuratively dug ourselves into a hole.
This story was produced in partnership with Inside Climate News.
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