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Florida could remove the majority of mentions of climate change from state law

A bill backed by the speaker of the Florida House would also make wide-ranging changes to state energy policies.
 
An aerial drone photo shows the neighborhoods in Redington Beach. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the town of Redington Beach would be entirely flooded with a 2-foot sea-level rise.
An aerial drone photo shows the neighborhoods in Redington Beach. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the town of Redington Beach would be entirely flooded with a 2-foot sea-level rise. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Feb. 9|Updated Feb. 9

A bill advancing through the Florida Legislature with the backing of the House speaker would delete the majority of references to climate change in state law.

House Bill 1645 would enact wide-ranging changes to Florida’s energy policy, something Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, has said is needed to ensure state residents’ power is reliable and affordable.

In the process, the bill would delete eight times the phrase “climate change” is mentioned in current law (compared to seven instances where it would be left untouched). Sometimes, the phrase is deleted from sentences that are otherwise left mostly intact. In other cases, the bill would repeal entire sections of law that mention climate change, such as a grant program that helps local governments and school districts reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The bill would also reduce certain regulations on natural gas pipelines, preempt local governments’ control over the location of natural gas storage facilities and make it so state agencies and local governments no longer have to consider fuel efficiency when buying vehicles, among other changes.

One of the sections of state law that would be most dramatically altered by the bill describes Florida’s mission for how it approaches energy.

“The Legislature finds that … the impacts of global climate change can be reduced through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” the existing law reads, in part. “The Legislature further finds that the state is positioned at the front line against potential impacts of global climate change.”

The bill would replace those sentences with a shorter statement of purpose, focusing on “an adequate, reliable, and cost-effective supply of energy for the state in a manner that promotes the health and welfare of the public and economic growth.”

“It does send a statement that even though we are seeing the impacts of climate change increasing every year in the state — more people being impacted by stronger hurricanes, we’re seeing sea-level rise, we’re seeing hotter summers — that we don’t think that is something we should be thinking about in Florida,” said Bradley Marshall, a Tallahassee senior attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law group.

The bill passed the House Appropriations committee Thursday, though some members from both parties voted against it. That’s more resistance than the bill met previously, after getting a bipartisan unanimous vote in its prior committee stop.

Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, voted against the bill because one portion would limit utility companies’ ability to sell electricity to people who charge electric vehicles at home, he said. Fine owns two electric cars.

“This is going to be the way of the future. These cars are going to become more and more popular over time, particularly as they become less expensive,” Fine said during Thursday’s committee meeting. “We can’t set ourselves up to cripple an industry that is coming down the road — and for the record, is generally run by American companies.”

The sponsor, Rep. Bobby Payne, R-Palatka, said the bill would soon be amended, though he did not specify which parts could change.

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He added he has a “difference in opinion” with Fine on the future of electric vehicles. Payne also said the U.S. has spent billions on “a climate change initiative and ideology that is unfitting for our country” without significant results.

“Our country would not be where it is today without fossil fuels,” he said during the committee.

Renner, the House speaker, took a different approach when asked about the bill’s many deletions of climate change references Thursday. He emphasized state leaders’ efforts to protect Florida from flooding and sea-level rise, consequences of climate change that Republican leaders have recently started to address through new laws and infrastructure spending. Environmental critics, however, say the state’s leaders are focused on symptoms without tackling — or speaking openly — about the human causes of climate change.

“Sea-level rise” is mentioned many more times in Florida law than “climate change,” which House Bill 1645 would not change.

“We have to be — not agnostic, but we have to take the world as we find it. And so if the climate’s changing, if that’s going to have negative consequences, we put aside a bunch of money for flooding and resilience,” Renner said. “I don’t think you should interpret anything we’re doing about maybe an obsolete program or whatnot as a lack of commitment to anything that’s happening in the environment. To the contrary … we’re not backing away one bit from a resilient state and taking whatever the climate sends us.”

Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau staff writer Romy Ellenbogen contributed to this report.