Legislation will help Florida prepare for rising sea levels, but not address the underlying cause

Florida will draw up the first plans to address the increasing threat of flooding and sea level rise, in a bid to be overseen by the newly established Office of Statewide Resilience, under a bill Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed into law.

The move builds on legislation approved last year that sets aside millions of dollars for infrastructure projects and asks the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to collect flood and sea-level rise data for vulnerability assessments, among other things.

This new step goes a step further, codifying into law the position currently held by Chief Resilience Officer Wesley Brooks and placing the position within the Governor’s Executive Office. It also specifies that the resilience plan, which is due in 2023, should include a project rating submitted by the local government and a narrative of how the plan was developed. The state Department of Transportation must also create a resilience plan for Florida highways.

Together, the two actions represent the first time in about a decade that the top leaders of this climate-change-vulnerable nation are taking over almost every aspect of a global problem. Previously, local governments and regional groups such as the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact have shown the most leadership on issues such as flooding and sea level rise, warmer temperatures, and more destructive storms, 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,” he said. “Instead of only draining flood-prone areas upstream, which could exacerbate flooding downstream, let’s look at it comprehensively. And that’s where the state and the DEP come into play, and Wes Brooks, our resilience officer.”

But environmental groups point out that even as DeSantis, a Republican, aims to strengthen infrastructure in this peninsula state from rising sea levels, he has failed to show much action about what is causing climate change and addressing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

DeSantis, considered a potential frontrunner for the Republican nomination in the 2024 presidential election, has sought to make the environment a priority for his administration, putting millions of dollars into the Everglades and the state’s other prized and troubled waterways. But he has faced criticism over Florida’s biggest environmental problem: climate change. The governor has described himself as “not a global warming man,” even as his own administration estimates some $26 billion of statewide residential properties will face chronic flooding by 2045.

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat who is running against DeSantis in this year’s gubernatorial election, proposed a goal earlier this spring for a transition to cleaner energy sources, but it’s unclear how effective the goal will be. His department does not have the authority to enforce the objectives. The utility must submit a progress report to its department, which will review the report and provide it to the Public Service Commission.

The Commission, which oversees utilities, tends to accept their rejection of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Destinations are still facing a formal approval process. Fried, a Democrat, is running against DeSantis in the 2022 gubernatorial election.

Fried is not alone in pushing for more clean energy in Florida. Anna Eskamani State Representative D-Orlando was among 30 representatives who signed an Earth Day letter asking the governor to declare a climate emergency in Florida.

“There is an emphasis on resilience, which is important, but none on actual mitigation or helping to combat our carbon production and the human actions that cause sea level rise,” said Eskamani, who is sponsoring legislation this spring that will put the state on the path to 100 percent clean energy by mid-century. The act never got a committee hearing.

“The reality is that we are going to spend money now to tackle the rising costs of sea level rise, but it will be even more expensive if we don’t do anything to address the causes of this problem,” Eskamani said.

Thomas Ruppert, coastal planning specialist for the Florida Sea Grant, a coastal resources-focused education and research organization at the University of Florida, said that together this year’s and last year’s legislation is a short-term improvement but could actually make Florida more comfortable. vulnerable in the future, as they pave the way for more development in flood prone areas.

“The current approach is really focused on reducing vulnerability today and perhaps tomorrow,” he said. “But this can actually encourage a sense of security and further investment in areas that may not, in the long term, be very safe. So when an event comes along that exceeds the infrastructure design parameters, something bigger than, say, a 100 year hurricane event, we realize that our vulnerability to that event may be even greater than if we didn’t… literally and figuratively dig ourselves into it. into the hole.”

This story was produced in partnership with Inside Climate News.

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