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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Climate activists protest but candidates for PSC ignore the issue



Scientists hoping to draw attention to Gov. Rick Scott's disregard for climate change and rising seas staged a press conference next door to a meeting of the Public Service Commission Nominating Council at the Miami International Airport Hotel Thursday.

But before they could even start, state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-West Palm Beach, who chairs the council, announced, "I support climate change," as he walked by University of Miami climate scientist Harold Wanless and South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard.

Abruzzo later walked into the press conference to urge Wanless and Stoddard to apply for a position on the advisory board that oversees Florida utilities, including Florida Power & Light, and noted that none of candidates for the regulatory board addressed climate change in their presentations.

"I'm a firm believer in global warming," Abruzzo said. "Renewables are important to me, especially solar power, because we're the Sunshine State."

Wanless and Stoddard have frequently criticized Scott for ignoring the dangers of climate change. They used the meeting of the nominating council to underscore what they say is a "cozy relationship" between the regulators and the utilities that have fought against increasing Florida's energy conservation mandates and wean Florida's energy market off fossil fuels. 

The council was scheduled to interview 16 candidates for two vacancies on the five-member PSC and present Gov. Rick Scott with a list of three candidates for each post. The legislatively-dominated nominating council has a history of picking candidates that are endorsed and backed by the state's largest utilities -- which are among the largest contributors to legislative campaigns and non-profit causes promoted by legislators.

Among the candidates is PSC Commissioner Julie Immanuel Brown, who was among those interviewed on Thursday. A second position was opened when Commissioner Eduardo Balbis decided not to seek a second term. 

Last week, Wanless was one of five climate scientists who made a presentation to Scott urging the governor to more aggressively plan for problems likely to occur from rising seas.

"Since he has been governor he has done much to dismantle all the climate change efforts that the previous governor had put in place. One of my biggest concerns is that he is entirely focused on nuclear and gas energy," Wanless said.

As he described a predicted two-foot rise in sea level by 2048, laughter could be heard coming from the neighboring PSC council meeting.

"Communities should be planning for this," Wanless continued, ignoring the laughter. "Governors should be planning with insurance companies."

As the two professors ended their presentation, Abruzzo arrived again during a break in the PSC meeting and said none of the nominees addressed climate change in their presentations.

"You're right next door, but the applicants have not made some of your core values part of their discussion," he said. "If you have problems with the PSC, just try to get some applicants."

When asked if the nominating council questioned the applicants about climate issues, Abruzzo said, "They got an opportunity to make a pitch. I haven't seen strong presentations although it has been brought up."

[Last modified: Friday, August 29, 2014 4:23pm]


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