In Florida, when business speaks, the Legislature listens. And when business is under threat, the state’s Republican leadership can catapult itself into action, for example, passing the Clean Waterways Act to rein in toxic blue-green algae, which ravaged Florida waters in recent years.
Algae blooms, deadly to wildlife, were toxic to revenue-generating tourism and recreation, too. Gov. Ron DeSantis made reducing nutrients entering the state’s waterways and groundwater a priority. Give some credit for the success to the Southwest Florida Alliance of Chambers, made up of hundreds of businesses in the region that made clean water their singular mission.
Now, Florida businesses are taking the lead in adapting their strategies to address — and survive — sea-level rise and a changing climate. They know that climate change is bad for business. And they not only are taking the lead, they are taking responsibility to be part of the solution. Florida legislators have failed to do either until recently, and even then, they barely took a baby step.
“The bar is so low for what counts as action because we’ve had inaction, hostility or optics from Tallahassee,” former state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez told the Miami Herald Editorial Board. “Legislative leaders can talk about future proposals that deal with the impact of climate in vague terms — and it’s seen as Florida finally taking action by a lot a people.” But lawmakers who might foolishly dismiss environmentalists’ concerns need to listen to business, take those concerns seriously and address them with sound, practical and forward-looking policies.
And “The Invading Sea” is going to make it easy for them to get up to speed. Monday, our network of news outlets around the state will kick off “The Business of Climate Change,” a weekly series of interviews with Florida business leaders discussing the challenges of rising seas, how they are confronting the issue — and who needs to sign on as partners in the battle. That means you, foot-dragging state lawmakers.
Each piece, posted at theinvadingsea.com, will include a written question-and-answer interview, plus a recorded video chat. First up: Philip Stoddard, former mayor of South Miami and a professor of biological sciences at Florida International University in Miami, will discuss the innovative idea of “climate restoration bonds.”
According to restorationbonds.org: “Developers and subsequent property buyers can post a surety bond or pay into a restoration fund that will cover the clean-up and site restoration costs. Spread over time, the costs are low and affordable, but the money will be there when needed, even if the owner walks away or declares bankruptcy.”
It’s an idea worth exploring, especially because taxpayers are not on the hook for those clean-up costs. Make no mistake: The changing climate already costs Floridians. In some cases, they are voluntarily paying for seawalls and street pumps. But it also means the possibility of higher taxes to drill new wellfields because saltwater intrusion has damaged existing ones; coral reefs are dying as oceans absorb more than a quarter of greenhouse-gas emissions, making waters too acidic. It’s a threat to tourism, on which so many Florida communities rely.
The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that homes in Florida most at risk from rising seas by 2045 contribute almost $350 million in property taxes. Those at risk by 2100 contribute $5 billion. The majority are in South Florida or the Tampa Bay area.
Former Sen. Rodriguez was the Legislature’s most vocal, and accomplished, champion of confronting changing climate. “The impact for business, the economic piece, is obvious, looking at taxes, tax base, the state’s bond rating, infrastructure and where and how you make long-term investment,” Rodriguez said. But when it comes to protecting Florida’s economic prowess and its businesses, Rodriguez says, “The state hasn’t yet shown it has a commitment.”
This year, Rodriguez cobbled together a bipartisan coalition to pass his Senate Bill 178, forward-looking legislation that says when state funds are being spent on a proposed development in a coastal zone, there must first be a sea-level impact analysis so that taxpayers know just how much value they are getting — or not getting — for construction along the threatened coasts. SB 178, now law, is a planning tool, not one of enforcement.
“Senate Bill 178 says we are already spending money, let’s know what we’re doing when we spend it,” Rodriguez said. But even though, as the former senator acknowledges, the law can’t derail a project, it was like pulling teeth to push through even that measure of scrutiny.
“The primary challenges to dealing with climate right now are all political,” he said. “It’s not like we don’t know what we should be doing. With COVID, we are building the plane as we fly it. That’s not the case with climate change.”
Unfortunately, Rodriguez lost his bid for reelection when a “phantom” candidate with the same last name siphoned off votes he likely would have received. The sabotage not only cost him the Senate seat, it cost climate-concerned Floridians a champion. Florida businesses, small and large, stand ready to step into the breach and raise their voices. Florida lawmakers would be wise to listen.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state. It is supported by a grant from the Environmental Defense Fund.