Column: Florida should be a leader in building a clean energy economy

Florida is more vulnerable than other states to significant economic damages, lost wages, mortality from extreme temperatures and coastal property damage.
In September, Gov. Ron DeSantis, back left, toured Everglades marshes to get a better understanding of the restoration efforts. [Miami Herald photo by Patrick Farrell]
In September, Gov. Ron DeSantis, back left, toured Everglades marshes to get a better understanding of the restoration efforts. [Miami Herald photo by Patrick Farrell]
Published February 25

Congratulations to Gov. Ron DeSantis on a productive first month in office. I am pleased he is creating an Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection and appointing a chief science officer. I encourage him to go further and tackle the most critical challenge of our lifetime: the climate crisis. Together, we can work to build a clean energy economy that creates good-paying jobs and reduces the escalating costs on Floridians.

The U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment released last year detailed impending impacts of climate change across the country and noted the grave implications for Florida. Two weeks ago, the nonpartisan Brookings Institution singled out Florida as the state most at risk to economic harm from the changing climate. Florida is more vulnerable than other states to significant economic damages, lost wages, mortality from extreme temperatures and coastal property damage. Increasing temperatures also are responsible for other economic and health impacts, from asthma and heat stroke to water-borne illness. These costs are well known to Florida families and businesses, but for too long Florida political leaders have ignored the dire threat to our state. We cannot afford to do so any longer. We must work together to address the crisis and transition the “Sunshine State” to a clean energy future.

As a first step, Florida should set meaningful goals for renewable power generation and energy efficiency. While most other states have set targets for renewable energy and efficiency, Florida has not. Florida is far behind other states and the investor-owned electric utilities (IOUs) have been roadblocks to progress for decades. The parent companies of Florida Power and Light, Duke Energy and Tampa Electric are producing enormous amounts of renewable electricity in other states and Canada, and they should be required to make similar advances here. The most economically competitive states in America will be grounded in clean energy. Florida should be among them.

Local governments and businesses across Florida are using innovative and proactive methods to expand renewable energy usage and decrease our reliance on oil and gas, but they need a partner at the state level. When U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist served as Florida’s governor, he created a team on energy and climate and directed it to formulate a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Crist and the Legislature together set goals to reduce emissions, mandate more energy-efficient building codes, and push the state toward more renewable energy sources. The Florida Public Service Commission also increased energy efficiency goals and established a solar energy rebate program before gutting the regulations in 2014. Florida is naturally positioned to make the greatest gains in clean energy. But we need clear and strong state leadership to make the transition.

An integral next step would elevate modern and efficient transportation options through investments in transit, electric vehicles and thoughtful land-use policies. Florida’s growing population requires modern options for traveling around our large state. Citizens are hungry for leaders to provide greater choice to serve our workforce and tourist economy. We can do better. But the state must take an active role in linking growing communities, revising building codes and protecting its public infrastructure in concert with local communities. The governor’s new resiliency office could play a thoughtful role in establishing the state-of-the-art policies of the future. As your federal partners, we are determined to pass a transportation and infrastructure package to move Florida forward to lower harmful emissions and create good-paying jobs.

Finally, Florida should be a leader in building the clean energy economy. More than half a million jobs were created globally in the renewable energy sector in 2017 alone, with wind and solar jobs outpacing those in coal. More Americans work in clean energy jobs than fossil fuel jobs by a margin of 3 to 1. Not only does the renewable energy sector provide more jobs, it provides better pay. Jobs in clean energy, such as installing solar energy projects and manufacturing energy efficient equipment, pay more on average than the national median. Our public schools, community colleges, universities and labor organizations already are educating and training the modern clean energy workforce. Businesses are clamoring for cost-saving, clean energy and green building choices, and Florida needs to launch this endeavor now.

I encourage the governor to be bold in establishing Florida’s clean energy future and moving the Sunshine State away from polluting fossil fuels and their exorbitant costs. Florida should be a national leader in building the clean energy economy and we at the federal level are poised to help.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, chairs the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

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