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Thursday, July 07, 2022

State legislators should act now to change Florida’s climate future

Jan. 11 marked the beginning of the 2022 Legislative Session, providing Florida lawmakers with three big opportunities to change the trajectory of Florida’s future and mitigate the impacts of climate change on our state. 

Here in Gainesville, we trust the science, and it tells us climate change is real. Roughly 92% of Floridians agree — they know climate change is real, too. That’s because we’re paying higher electric bills from record heat waves and skyrocketing insurance from stronger hurricanes and increased flooding

In 2021 alone, we were hit with thousands of wildfires, and red tide lingered all summer from higher ocean temperatures hurting our health and our tourism economy. A recent report by Florida Taxwatch highlighted $175 billion in economic risk annually by 2050 from climate change here in the sunshine state.

But what can state leaders do in the coming weeks to change Florida’s future?

First, Florida should set bold but achievable goals for electric vehicles, especially charging infrastructure deployment for medium and heavy vehicles. Lawmakers can jumpstart this transition by removing barriers to electric vehicle expansion. 

For example, simple tweaks to the state’s procurement practices will allow the total cost of vehicle ownership to guide fleet purchasing decisions. This would save taxpayers money over time while reducing air pollution. 

Second, legislators should solidify the Statewide Office of Resiliency under the Governor’s Office by providing this critical department with adequate resources and the requisite authority to direct resilience initiatives across Florida’s agencies, lead implementation of the state’s resilience strategy and leverage funding from the federal government and the private sector.

Third, lawmakers should reject any legislative proposals that would unfairly check the momentum of Florida’s burgeoning solar industry. Florida universities, families and small businesses should be able to continue recovering their costs at the same rate as Florida’s utilities. 

Demand for electricity is growing rapidly. Our over-reliance on natural gas (75% according to the US Energy Information Administration) makes energy security and affordability vulnerable to global gas price volatility, cyberattacks and natural disaster events. We should be looking for ways to ensure our cities, universities and other tax-exempt organizations can make critical investment in solar to save taxpayer dollars, reduce risk and increase our resilience after a storm.

Florida lawmakers, before the end of session on March 11, have a real opportunity to lead on climate and the economy with common sense solutions. In just a few short weeks, we will know if they have risen to the challenge. Let’s hope they do; our state and our futures depend on it. 

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

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