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Bruce Ritchie: Crist, Scott also got hot over environment, climate change during debate

The environment was front and center in Wednesday’s gubernatorial debate even if an electric fan received the most media attention.

By now you may know that former Gov. Charlie Crist was on stage for about five minutes at the start of a televised debate without Gov. Rick Scott. That’s because of a dispute over whether debate rules allowed Crist to have the fan on stage.

I know that a month from now, the impact of the election on the environment will be more important than who looked stupidest because of “fangate.”

The environment, climate change and solar energy each were the topic of debate questions. There is plenty for the fact-checkers to pore over in the coming week.

Who won? In a way, Scott did by having a response to Crist on each issue. But every question reminded voters of Scott’s budget cuts for land-buying and water districts and of his lack of leadership on renewable energy and climate change.

Early in the debate, Scott bashed Crist by saying he had had “sat on his hands” in dealing with a federal Everglades water quality lawsuit. Scott reminded voters that he reached a deal with federal agencies in 2012 on a 13-year cleanup plan.

“I got the environmentalists on board,” Scott said. “I got the ag community on board. And we had a record settlement.”

But Crist responded that the state, under his administration from 2007 to 2011, had acquired 26,000 acres for Everglades restoration.

“What happened (after Scott took office) is that he started the discharges that were coming out of Lake Okeechobee and polluting the Caloosahatchee River near Fort Myers and Cape Coral, as well as the St. Lucie River on the East Coast of Florida,” Crist said.

Sorry, Governor Crist, but that’s wrong.

Scott is not responsible for the discharges from Lake Okeechobee. That falls on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which released water in 2013 to maintain the safety of the Lake Okeechobee dike that prevents flooding of surrounding communities.

Likewise, Scott falsely blamed Crist for the 2006 law that allowed Duke Energy to charge for a new nuclear plant in Levy County that was never built.

“That’s not true,” Crist responded. “That was Jeb Bush.” PolitiFact rated Crist’s response as true.

On climate change, Scott said previously that he wasn’t convinced it was occurring. Earlier this year, he backed off that statement by simply saying, “I’m not a scientist.”

“But I believe it’s happening,” Crist countered during the debate on Wednesday. “And I believe we have an obligation to try to stop it.”

Scott responded that he prefers to focus on solutions to problems such as global warming.

“We’ve spent $350 million to deal with sea-level rise,” he said. “We spent $100 million to deal with protecting our coral reefs. We increased the funding by 45 percent for beach renourishment.”

Crist was lobbed a softball when asked whether Florida should be a leader on solar energy.

“We started doing that in my administration,” Crist said. “Unfortunately with Rick Scott’s administration, they are the friends of the utility industry. They are funding his very campaign.”

Scott said utility costs went up while Crist was governor but dropped after Scott took over. And he said they could go up again if Crist is elected.

“Now we are below the national average,” Scott said. “With regard to solar, we need to have an attitude that we want everything. But it’s got to be reliable. It’s got to be cost-effective.”

Bruce Ritchie is an independent journalist covering environment and growth management issues in Tallahassee. He also is editor of Floridaenvironments.com. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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