Dawn Shirreffs: Florida takes strides on climate change, but more can be done

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These are important first steps, but they are only first steps.

In recent months, Florida began taking important strides to face climate change.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a new Resiliency Florida program in January that he said would “tackle the challenges posed by flooding, intensifying storm events and sea level rise.” In addition, Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls proclaimed that “Florida remains particularly vulnerable to the risk of flooding caused by sea level rise” and successfully guided an important resiliency bill through the legislature.

As Florida director of the Environmental Defense Fund, I welcome these words and actions, as do the 94% of Floridians who agree that climate change is real.

However, I also recognize that much more needs to be done. Substantive policy changes at local, state and regional levels are needed to protect Florida’s families, economy and environment.

Action in Tallahassee

During Florida’s 60-day Legislative Session, policymakers took important steps to safeguard Florida from lost property tax revenue from flooding linked to sea level rise — revenue that is sorely needed to fund schools, police departments and other services. Senate Bill 1954 requires Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection to complete a comprehensive statewide flood vulnerability and sea level rise assessment and to develop an annual Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan for submission to the Governor and Legislature.

DeSantis’ “Resilient Florida” program will set aside $1 billion in revenues from the state documentary stamp tax over the next four years to finance bonds for projects addressing the consequences of climate change. These will have statewide benefits but especially in Florida’s west coast, where chronic flooding is occurring more than 26 times per year.

Lee and Manatee counties could lose $22 million each in property tax revenue due to chronic flooding by 2045.

With our state currently standing at No. 2 in the nation for electric vehicle (EV) sales, Floridians stand ready to utilize EV’s in the fight against climate change; more than 43% of residents polled indicated their intent to purchase an EV.

Thankfully, the Florida legislature voted against a new tax on electric vehicles that would slow adoption and Florida’s Department of Transportation is advancing a master plan to help us catch up with other states’ EV charging infrastructure in ways that help with hurricane evacuation and focus on equity and rural communities.

Such positive news on combating climate change impacts is worth celebrating. Yet, much work remains to be done to protect residents from rising electric costs and to safeguard Florida’s energy security.

As things heat up from global warming, paying for air conditioning will become more challenging for Florida families, who already pay 13% more than the national average for electricity.

Without action on climate, they can expect to see increases of more than 5% annually, or $1.2 billion every year on their electric bills, according to a 2017 study with extra-large impacts to low-income families. At a minimum, Florida should enhance opportunities for residents of all income levels to invest in energy efficiency measures that will decrease their electric bills, while also reducing climate pollution.

We are hopeful that following the Legislature’s ill-conceived preemption of local governments to make energy choices for their communities state leaders will take a comprehensive look at how to diversify Florida’s energy choices rather than leaving these important decisions to the sole discretion of private utilities.

Help from Congress?

We are encouraged by Sen. Marco Rubio’s leadership on introducing the Growing Climate Solutions Act. Rubio noted the legislation will assist “farmers, ranchers, and foresters how to navigate around the barriers to entry.” Taking such action will help restore ecosystems and improve water quality, said Sen. Rubio.

The Florida delegation is also coming together on a bipartisan basis to condemn activities that threaten to degrade Florida’s environment. Reps. Vern Buchanan and Kathy Castor co-sponsored legislation to permanently ban offshore drilling along Florida’s coastline and the U.S. Senate approved a bipartisan measure to limit oil and gas methane pollution.

These are important first steps, but they are only first steps. We must take further action — both in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. — to mitigate climate change.

Our team looks forward to working with policymakers in both capitols to do just that so my children and grandchildren can continue to call Florida home.


Dawn Shirreffs is the Florida director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Guest Author


  • John

    May 4, 2021 at 11:14 pm

    As a native with a stiltsville home built in 1966. The average tide has not changed. We have king tides when the moon is right and yes they cause flooding to poorly designed areas. It is not sea level rise. We are actually going into a solar low and temps globally will be dropping. Nothing any human can do. Communists use the al gore agenda. All hogwash. Another tax scheme and dopey elected defuses go along with it.

    • Bill

      May 5, 2021 at 2:50 pm

      Would you consider the insurance industry or the military to be ‘reality-based?’ Here’s part of a recent article recapping the military’s assessment of how the emerging human-caused climate crisis will affect Florida bases:

      “A Department of Defense report was authorized by Congress in 2019 in an effort to look at the number of military bases threatened by climate change in Florida. According to the report, eight bases there face threats including extreme weather, heat, drought, recurrent flooding and sea level rise.

      “Florida’s coastal bases may experience 10 times the amount of floods that occur today by 2050. Trends show these bases will deal with a four-fold increase in hot days by 2050, with some areas experiencing 76 to 116 more days with heat over 100 degrees.”

      Get ready for MUCH higher air conditioning bills, buddy… and to think all this was just from greenhouse gas pollution from our burning of the fossil fuels coal, natural gas and petroleum. That’s most of it, right there, and we KNOW how to clean up our act. The question is, will the ignorant blockers continue to stop us from acting like the wise elders we must finally become. First step: Turn off Fox “News.”

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