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Marco Rubio and Rick Scott rejected the Green New Deal but now acknowledge climate change. What’s their plan?

The public statements of these Florida Republicans offer few answers, despite the threats the state faces.
Rey Gonzalez, left, and Geovanni Rivera prepare to fish at the recently renovated Apollo Beach Nature Preserve in the shadow of the TECO Big Bend Station Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. The Senate on Tuesday voted against the Green New Deal, which sought to significantly reduce carbon emissions. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Published Mar. 26
Updated Mar. 26

Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott on Tuesday voted against the progressive climate change resolution known as the “Green New Deal.”

In reality, the legislation stood no chance. Republicans had no intention of supporting the plan and put it up for a vote to force Democrats to weigh in on a contentious proposal, especially the senators running for president. It ultimately failed without a single affirmative vote — there were 57 “nays” and 43 senators who caucus with Democrats voted “present.” That Rubio and Scott stood against it was even less surprising. They signaled their staunch opposition well in advance of the vote.

Yet, Rubio and Scott have also recently acknowledged that climate change is, in fact, happening. Climate change “is real and requires real solutions,” Scott said in an op-ed published last month. Rubio on Monday wrote in USA Today that the “Earth’s climate is changing.”

Such modest declarations would hardly be noteworthy from two elected officials representing the state most at risk to rising global temperatures — if not for the Florida Republicans’ documented history of denying the established scientific consensus on climate change. A decade ago, Rubio shrugged off the issue entirely, asserting: “I’m not a scientist. I’m not qualified to make that decision. There’s a significant scientific dispute about that.”

DORAL, FL - Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, both Florida Republicans, voted against the Green New Deal on Tuesday. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Scott as a candidate for governor in 2010 sided with those who thought it all a hoax and after he took office, he was accused by state employees of banning the term “climate change." Years later, Scott mimicked Rubio and told reporters, “I’m not a scientist” every time he was asked about the subject.

Despite their newfound recognition for this threat, the Green New Deal was a bridge too far for Rubio and Scott. The resolution calls for the United States to reach net-zero green house gas emissions in the next 10 years — a goal that even environmental advocates acknowledge would require drastic action. The plan is based on federal and international studies that say the world has about 12 years to significantly reduce carbon emissions to prevent the earth from warming to a level that could destabilize the planet.

But the Green New Deal would also would establish universal higher-education, health care and housing, which Rubio described as “a grab bag of their radical agenda to transform America into the kind of socialist utopia that only exists in fiction."

RELATED: Will the Tampa Bay area be under water in 100 years? Rising seas tell a frightening story

So if not the Green New Deal, then what would Rubio and Scott support to address the threats to Florida posed by climate change, like rising sea levels, warmer temperatures, more powerful storms and dying oceans? Neither senators’ office would say.

Their recent public statements offer few clues. Scott’s op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel devoted 860 words to bashing the Green New Deal as an economic killer and zero to alternative solutions.

“Republicans and Independents care about the environment,” Scott wrote. “We want clean air, we want clean water, and we feel obligated to be good stewards of this planet God has given us. But we do not worship the planet, we simply live on it."

Rubio, meanwhile, has suggested that the effects of climate change cannot be reversed through U.S. policy. “Reality check: America is not a planet, and countries like China would happily watch us jump over the cliff by destroying our economy with the Green New Deal,” he wrote this week.

LUIS SANTANA | Times Aerial drone photo of the neighborhood in Reddington Beach. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA the town of Reddington Beach would be entirely flooded with a two foot sea level rise. [Wednesday February 20, 2019] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]

Instead, Rubio said Congress should focus on hardening communities against rising sea levels. He specifically points to the South Atlantic Coastal Study, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report that will plan resiliency projects for the southeast. Such ideas are “not flashy,” Rubio contends, but represent more serious solutions.

Other Republicans in Congress appear more willing to acknowledge the threat of climate change and offer sweeping answers. Though opposed to the Green New Deal, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Congress cannot ignore what people in her home state are witnessing, including changes in wildlife migration patterns, invasive species, coastal erosion and an arctic that is "warming two to three times the rate of the rest of the world.”

“If we’re going to address this in a meaningful way, it must be bipartisan, it must be enduring,” Murkowski said Tuesday in a Senate floor speech.

Fellow Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Gaetz, too, has been outspoken, and recently tweeted “Climate change is real. Humans contribute.”

“It’s really not a radical statement," the Panhandle Republican said in a recent interview with Vice. “Climate change isn’t something people get to choose to believe or not, it’s happening.”

Gaetz is readying a counter proposal to the Democratic plan called the Green Real Deal, according to a draft published by Politico. It would reduce the country’s carbon footprint by funding alternative energy, investing in technology to capture and store carbon emissions, and changing regulatory hurdles to bring clean energy online.

The Tampa Bay Times asked Rubio and Scott if they would support any of Gaetz’s proposal. Neither responded.

Contact Steve Contorno at scontorno@tampabay.com. Follow @scontorno.

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