Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Florida Politics
  4. /
  5. The Buzz

Florida’s new resilience officer doesn’t shy away from saying ‘climate change’

Julia Nesheiwat also says new restrictions on development will be needed to cope with rising sea levels
From left: Thomas Frazer, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Julia Nesheiwat, Ph.D., Chief Resilience Officer, Executive Office of the Governor, and Noah Valenstein, Secretary, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, attend the Resilient Florida: Planning, Policy and Practice workshop on Thursday, August 8, 2019, at the University of South Florida in Tampa. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times
Published Aug. 8
Updated Aug. 9

TAMPA — For the first time ever, Florida has a chief resilience officer to oversee the state’s efforts to cope with climate change — and in her first extended interview, she wasn’t shy about using the term “climate change.”

Consider that a major advance in Florida. During Rick Scott’s tenure as governor from 2011 through 2018, stories circulated among state employees that uttering “climate change” would be met with a swift rebuke, although Scott himself denied it. In an interview Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recently named resilience officer, Julia Nesheiwat, was asked if she hesitated to use the term.

“Not at all,” she said. “It’s here. It’s real.”

But she didn’t want to discuss the past politics that made the subject so verboten in the previous administration: “I want to stay away from the politics and get things done for the state of Florida.”

She also said new limits will likely be necessary on building homes, businesses and infrastructure in flood-prone areas.

“There will need to be restrictions, absolutely,” Nesheiwat said.

But deciding what changes are necessary will involve state officials collaborating with local governments, homeowners and businesses affected by the decisions, she said. She also said she wanted to work closely with the Florida Department of Transportation on the placement of new roads and bridges.

She wouldn’t endorse ending new development along the state’s vulnerable coastline, and Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein contended that the state already has good regulations on wetlands destruction and stormwater runoff.

Nesheiwat and Valenstein acknowledged that the costs of coping with higher storm surges, continued saltwater intrusion into drinking water and other ramifications of rising sea levels will be high. But Nesheiwat said she was optimistic that there was grant money for needed pumps and other technology that could alleviate the burden on Florida taxpayers.

“I think the funding is out there — it’s just a matter of harnessing it,” she said.

The challenges facing Florida will require something more than “a quick Band-aid fix,” she said. As a first step, she wants to pull together an assessment of all the current efforts by local governments and other agencies to cope with climate change, then decide what new might be needed.

A 2014 national climate assessment said Florida is squarely in the cross-hairs of climate change, with Tampa Bay, Miami and Apalachicola judged as among the most vulnerable places in the nation to climate change. Florida and other Southeastern states, it said, are “especially vulnerable to sea level rise, extreme heat events and decreased water availability.” That means “large numbers of cities, roads, railways, ports, airports, oil and gas facilities and water supplies are at low elevations and potentially vulnerable.”

But while Scott was governor, the state itself did little to plan for such looming threats, in spite of the fact that Scott himself owns a waterfront home that would be susceptible to rising seas. A trio of scientists met with Scott to convince him climate change was real and the state should take action, but nothing came of it.

DeSantis has been reluctant to talk about “climate change,” too, perhaps because of his close ties with President Donald Trump, who pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accords even though its carbon-cutting goals are voluntary.

But when DeSantis named Nesheiwat — a Lake County native who had been a deputy special envoy for hostage affairs at the State Department — as the state’s chief resilience officer, a news release from his office said her job would be “preparing Florida for the environmental, physical and economic impacts of sea level rise."

RELATED STORY: DeSantis taps Florida’s first ever climate change czar

(EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story misspelled Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein’s name.)

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, speaks during a Senate special session concerning Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' dismissal of Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, Wednesday Oct. 23, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    Sen. Annette Taddeo was one of several Democrats across the country who fell victim to the hacks.
  2. The New York Times newspaper on the shelf at the Citrus County Library Lakes Region at 1511 Druid Rd. on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019 in Inverness. The Citrus County Commison was looking to eliminate the cost of the New York Times digital subscriptions because they say it is "Fake News." A former Mets GM has stepped up and wants to donate money to the Citrus County Libraries to cover the cost of the subscriptions. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    After Citrus commissioners voted down the digital subscription, library leaders say they cannot accept thousands of dollars from GoFundMe pages.
  3. President Donald Trump is greeted by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., looks on, after Trump’s arrival on Air Force One at Miami International Airport in April 2018. PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS | AP
    Despite rumors, Rubio said he intends to complete his current term, which runs until January 2023.
  4. Lev Parnas leaves his arraignment with his wife, Svetlana Parnas, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 in New York. He and Igor Fruman are charged with conspiracy to make illegal contributions to political committees supporting President Donald Trump and other Republicans. Prosecutors say the pair wanted to use the donations to lobby U.S. politicians to oust the country's ambassador to Ukraine. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) MARK LENNIHAN  |  AP
    Ballard Partners, a powerhouse firm founded in Tallahassee by Republican lobbyist and Trump confidant Brian Ballard, was subpoenaed along with a South Florida businessman and a fundraiser.
  5. Should we stop changing our clocks twice a year? CHARLES KRUPA  |  AP
    The Republican senator, along with Sen. Rick Scott, introduced the Sunshine Protection Act earlier this year.
  6. Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez. Gov. Ron DeSantis is in the background. [Wilfredo Lee | Associated Press] ASSOCIATED  PRESS
    Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez said the mission was productive and companies are already following up on connections they made during their three days in the country.
  7. Marco Rubio
    Rubio’s bill, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, would sanction Chinese officials involved in undermining ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and put the quasi city-state’s special...
  8. Democratic presidential candidates from left, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., former technology executive Andrew Yang and investor Tom Steyer participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) JOHN BAZEMORE  |  AP
    Seventeen candidates remain in the race, but only 10 Democrats qualified to make it on stage in Atlanta for the fifth Democratic debate.
  9. Gov. Ron DeSantis and Barbara Lagoa, who is the first Hispanic nominated by President Donald Trump to be confirmed for a U.S. Court of Appeals vacancy out of 48 judges. Miami Herald
    “Trump’s already had five appointees to the court, it’s already a much more conservative court than before and it might be the second most conservative court in the country,” said one law professor.
  10. Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party's Liberty and Justice Celebration, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) NATI HARNIK  |  AP
    The latest Democratic debate, hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post, will take place amid impeachment hearings in Washington.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement