Shielded by the media focus on President Joe Biden’s Earth Week announcements, the Florida Legislature fast-tracked bills this week to preempt local energy regulation in the Sunshine State. The suite of legislation represents the most aggressive move in the country to curtail the transition away from fossil fuels. From Texas to Indiana, Georgia to Kansas, legislatures have struck down the right of local communities to regulate their own energy affairs. But in Florida, the bills go much further.
Handwritten by oil and gas industry interests, SB 1128/HB 919, SB 856/HB 839 and SB 896/HB 539 will shortly head to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk for his signature or veto. In a legislative session like no other, dominated by the suppression of open, democratic oversight, Florida’s Legislature has prioritized a slew of extreme right-wing legislation this year — from criminalizing First Amendment rights to voiding constituent-driven efforts to move off fossil fuels.
The governor now has a choice: Will he block these fossil fuel industry-backed schemes to thwart local control, or will he side with the interests of the people?
Environmental voters helped Gov. DeSantis rise to political prominence; his 2019 campaign promise to ban fracking drew attention from voters united against the destructive practice. Yet since taking office he has failed to act on this pledge, or take any meaningful action against fossil fuel development in the state. Earlier this year Gov. DeSantis called for a $1 billion investment in climate resilience projects. While critically important to protect Florida’s communities from sea level rise, environmental voters know that true “resiliency” involves curtailing the use of fossil fuels before it’s too late. To uphold his commitments to environmental voters, the governor must veto the disastrous suite of preemption bills before him.
Meanwhile, the Florida Republican Party has raked in millions of dollars from dirty energy interests including Florida Power & Light, Duke and TECO. TECO alone employs a third of the lobbyists registered to SB 1128. It’s no surprise the party continues to carry water for the industry. The suite of energy preemption legislation moving to DeSantis’ desk are the most extreme of a batch of industry-written bills that have been introduced in 14 states this year.
Hamstringing local control on everything from EV (electric vehicle) charger station-siting to any local government action to restrict or prohibit sources of energy production, Florida’s bills also explicitly attack citizen-driven energy policies that have already taken effect in cities and on campuses around the state. Amendments introduced in recent weeks added specific language that would void any existing documents and policies preempted by the act, making them the most restrictive in the nation.
One bill in the suite aims to change the state’s definition of renewable energy to also include landfill gas and factory farm biogas. Using every opportunity to chip away at local control, late amendments to this bill would take away local governments abilities to decide if and where to site large scale solar projects. Such a law would expose frontline communities to exploitation from utility projects by out-of-state corporate actors that look for the cheapest land in the communities that have limited resources to resist.
In the face of impending climate disaster, 11 of Florida’s cities and five of our state university student governments have passed 100 percent clean energy resolutions. Tampa Bay cities like St. Petersburg, Dunedin, and Largo are on the forefront of fighting climate change, with renewable energy resolutions that respond to constituent demands to move off fossil fuels. Should the governor sign these bills, most of these policies will be completely void.
Where the state Legislature has not acted, local governments have stepped in. Gov. DeSantis knows the crisis Florida faces if we lock our state into more decades of fossil fuel industry profit-grubbing. Emptying local governments’ toolbox to act will only serve to solidify that future.
The fate of these preemption bills and indeed Florida’s renewable energy future now sit with the governor. What will it be? Polluters or people?
Brooke Errett is the Florida Senior Organizer with Food & Water Watch, mobilizing people to build solutions to pressing food, water and climate problems of our time. She can be reached at BErrett@FWWatch.Org.