Gov. Rick Scott turned Florida into a national laughingstock last week with reports that his administration had barred any official mention of "climate change." Raising the funny meter on late-night TV is one thing. It's another to live and work in a flat, low-lying coastal state where the chief executive is in such denial about the real-life impacts of rising sea levels, worsening air pollution and damage to water and fisheries from man-made carbon emissions. Scott is sticking his head in the sand instead of working to protect it, and it's time he was honest and proactive in addressing these threats.
In a series of reports last week, the Florida Center for Investigate Reporting detailed how the Department of Environmental Protection had been ordered not to use terms "climate change" or "global warming" in any official communications, according to public records and former DEP employees and consultants. A former agency attorney said the message was communicated to staff by superiors after Scott took office in 2011.
A consultant on a Miami coral reef restoration project said DEP employees were so "skittish" about the unwritten rule that "they wouldn't even talk about it." One former DEP employee in Miami said she was instructed last year that "sea level rise was to be referred to as 'nuisance flooding.' " The policy reportedly filtered through other agencies, from the departments of health to transportation, whose areas of responsibility are also affected by pollutants, water levels and other climate-related impacts. That doesn't happen by accident.
Scott had an opportunity to clear the air last week, but as usual he dodged the question and issued a blanket denial that any such order exists. As if on script, every agency questioned from the governor's office on down issued almost a verbatim statement: "There's no policy on this." One day, this administration will quit insulting the intelligence of Floridians and recognize that robotic repeating of the same generic statement does not make it true.
These agencies don't need a policy when the governor made clear early on, as he said in 2011: "I've not been convinced that there's any made-made climate change." It was an irresponsible statement that signaled to every branch of government under Scott's autocratic management that "climate change" was not to be mentioned, much less acted upon.
This mentality has spawned a recklessness in the Legislature that goes hand-in-hand with the governor's thinking. Beyond slashing the water management districts and fast-tracking the permitting process, lawmakers are moving this year to block the state's cooperation in developing new clean-air rules proposed by the Obama administration. The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, defended the action Thursday in a committee hearing, declaring: "CO2 is not — in my opinion — is not a pollutant."
This denial of basic science doesn't help a coastal state struggling to provide water, control flooding and preserve its natural resources. And it doesn't help the governor as he jets across the country asking the nation's corporate leaders to move and invest here. The tone flows from the top, and the governor needs to acknowledge that climate change is real, that humans are behind the major impacts and that the state has an obligation to foster an honest dialogue on the solutions.