As sea levels rise, DeSantis signs bill deleting climate change mentions from Florida state law

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As Florida copes with rising seas and record temperatures, lawmakers are going to exceptional lengths to delete many mentions of climate change from state laws in a new bill that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law on Wednesday, according to his official X account.

The wide-ranging law makes several changes to the state’s energy policy – in some cases deleting entire sections of state law that talk about the importance of cutting planet-warming pollution. The bill would also give preferential treatment to natural gas and ban offshore wind energy, even though there are no wind farms planned off Florida’s coast.

The bill deletes the phrase ‘climate’ eight times – often in reference to reducing the impacts of global climate change through its energy policy or directing state agencies to buy ‘climate friendly’ products when they are cost-effective and available. The bill also gets rid of a requirement that state-purchased vehicles should be fuel efficient.

“Florida rejects the designs of the left to weaken our energy grid, pursue a radical climate agenda, and promote foreign adversaries,” DeSantis said in a post on X, posting a graphic that said the law would protect the state from “green zealots.”

“What Florida is really doing is saying we’re going to deemphasize any policies that would help mitigate climate change,” said Emily Hammond, a professor of law at George Washington University.

It’s certainly not the first time Republican politicians have deleted the phrase ‘climate change’ – erasing the phrase from government websites was a commonplace activity during the Trump administration. But experts said few other states have passed bills to move away from clean energy and erase climate mentions from their laws.

“It goes further than any other state has gone in repealing its existing climate laws,” Michael Gerrard, founder of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, told CNN.

Last year was the hottest year on record for Florida, breaking yet another heat record in the state. South Florida in particular observed scorching heat index temperatures that reached as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Sea levels have risen as much as eight inches higher than they were in 1950, already leading to increased flooding from storms and tides alike.

“Florida is one of the most vulnerable states in the country,” Gerrard said. “All of South Florida is at great peril from sea level rise. They should be the last state to stand in the way of fighting climate change.”

Even as Florida politicians are erasing mentions of climate change from their laws, they are also increasingly focused on helping a storm and flood-prone state withstand climate impacts.

DeSantis and state lawmakers have poured over $1.1 billion into increasing community resilience to flooding and storms, according to a 2023 news release from the governor’s office. In 2019, DeSantis appointed the state’s first chief resilience officer Julia Nesheiwat – who explicitly referenced climate change and sea level rise as a “significant challenge” to the state. (Nesheiwat has since left her post and replaced by the state’s current chief resilience officer Wesley Brooks).

Florida has also accepted millions of dollars in federal funding to help reconstruct a state highway in Miami Beach – elevating the pavement and installing new pump stations to help clear the road of water during flooding events.

When it comes to other federal climate and clean energy funding, however, the state hasn’t been eager to accept. DeSantis vetoed over $29 million dollars in federal energy rebates and energy efficiency grants from the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Florida was one of five states that declined to compete for $4.6 billion in federal climate grants, although numerous Florida metropolitan areas including Jacksonville, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Tampa have raised their hands for the funding instead.

Hammond and Gerrard said this approach from Florida politicians to fund programs dealing with climate impacts without acknowledging its root cause isn’t surprising. Hammond called focusing on adapting to climate change and hardening infrastructure without attribute it to a warming planet “consistent to the conservative approach.”

“They don’t want to acknowledge that climate change is happening; they acknowledge they have flooding,” Gerrard said. “If it’s about moving away from fossil fuels, they don’t like it.”

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