As the Florida Legislature returned to Tallahassee this week after an eight-month hiatus, the head of an environmental organization called on GOP leaders to create a committee on climate change, saying it has an “urgent responsibility” to do so.

What You Need To Know

  • Florida Conservation Voters leader writes lawmakers

  • Sprowls, Simpson agree sea level rise is a serious problem

  • Session starts up in March

  • More Politics headlines

“A committee would be able to actually dig into what is happening as a result of climate change, and that would then better inform legislators about what possible solutions there may be,” says Aliki Moncrief, executive director with Florida Conservation Voters. “So a committee could also explore things like: why is it that we only have two percent of our energy in Florida being generated by the sun. Where are the obstacles? How can we get past those? What are those legal changes that we need to make?”

Moncrief directed her letter to House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson, the two GOP leaders who will be control of the Legislature for the next two years. 

Both lawmakers acknowledged at the 2021 Organization Session in Tallahassee this week that sea level rise is a serious problem. They said the solution was to bring the same type of long-range planning to environmental programs as it does with its transportation work plan.

“We need to stop fixating on land purchases as the sole measure of conservation and embrace the spectrum of priorities from beach renourishment, to septic tank conversion, to flood mitigation,” Sprowls said, receiving a large ovation from the Florida House.  

Moncrief says she was “blindsided” to hear Sprowls criticism of land acquisition programs, defending programs like Florida Forever and its 2014 constitutional amendment successor, the 2014 Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, which called for setting aside billions of taxpayer dollars to purchase environmentally sensitive lands.

“Protecting living shorelines is one of the really important and actually long term less expensive ways to protect our communities and to make sure that we are buffering from flooding, we are buffering from intensification of storms,” she says, adding that rural and forest lands also provide carbon sequestration. “It helps farmers. It helps ranchers. It helps us maintain agricultural areas in the state while at the same time protecting our state from climate change.”

Moncrief notes that while Tallahassee hasn’t done much legislatively to address climate change, local communities have picked up the slack in recent years as concerns about a warming planet have increased. Eleven cities in Florida have now committed to meeting a goal of going completely to a clean, renewable energy goal by a certain year, and there are also organizations such as the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition that have cropped up to address climate issues.

After a so-called “lost decade” under former Gov. Rick Scott, Ron DeSantis energized environmentalists in Florida when he announced that he was selecting Julia Nesheiwat to serve as the state’s first Chief Resilience Officer early in his tenure. However, Nesheiwat left that job in February to go to work for the Trump administration. DeSantis never replaced her, instead moving that office’s responsibilities over to Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein.

Moncrief says that decision “isn’t a way to signal that you’re really committed to acting on climate.”

The Legislature did pass a climate bill legislation this year. Miami Democratic Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez’s sponsored bill will require state-financed buildings on the coast to take sea level rise into account before starting construction. 

Moncrief isn’t very optimistic about too many other climate related bills getting through in the 2021 session, though she does believe there could be legislation to support the electric vehicle market. 

The session starts up in March.