IDEAS For Us | June 3, 2016

“Political Climate Change” by Hudson Lowe

Title: Political Climate Change
Author: Hudson Lowe

All Americans can agree that Florida is a bucket list destination for those who seek beautiful sunsets and white sand beaches. From housing the Everglades, 1,350 miles of beaches, the Keys, and the only coral reef in the continental United States, our 90 million annual visitor count isn’t very shocking. But this beauty comes with a price. Florida is quickly feeling the effects of climate change, and the politicians have been ignoring calls for action. With urban sprawl, destruction of the everglades, extinction of native species, diminishing water tables, immense waste buildup, and sea level rise, it has reached the point where Florida lawmakers are struggling to address an impending threat to the state’s security and livelihood. Red tape in Tallahassee as well as lobbying efforts on behalf of the state’s energy monopoly has resulted in a climate-legislation-freeze.

sea-level- rise-miami- dade

Florida is covered with billboards and license plates that flaunt the state’s serene environment; it is indeed “The Sunshine State.” Florida is ranked 3rd in rooftop solar potential. However, the state ranked 14th in installed solar capacity. Solar is fighting an uphill battle in Florida. In about half of the United States, private companies can install panels for free and sell the power to the home or business owner at a rate lower than local utilities. With there being no up-front payment for solar power, consumers in other states are able to easily pay for the system over time. Florida laws prevent this from happening within the state, which makes solar undesirable for consumers.

Laws regarding energy that competes with current utility companies are often hard to change in the current political climate. Florida’s largest utility companies invest copious sums of money into the hands of politicians to fend off competition from rooftop solar power. Analysis of campaign records shows that utility companies have invested an annual amount of over 12 million dollars into the campaigns of state lawmakers; this is evident in political efforts. Any state lawmaker or lobbyist that has attempted to expand the rooftop solar industry has been ostracized and seen their proposals go nowhere. A few had no choice but to leave office.

The reason why lawmakers have been so aggressively attacked for defending the expansion of rooftop solar energy is not as far fetched as the energy monopoly would have you to believe. There is a famous saying “where there is smoke, there is fire.” The Public Service Commission allows utility companies in Florida to buy excess solar power at the lowest rates in the country. Utility companies in states like California, Texas, and even New York all purchas excess solar at a higher markup than Florida companies. For the past eight years Florida Power and Lightning (FPL) as well as other Florida power companies have profited from higher rates and lower competition. In 2014, FPL was granted permission by the Public Service Commision to invest 200 million dollars worth of their capital into entering the fracking industry in Oklahoma. This is not the first time FPL has focused purely on profit. In May 2016 a study confirmed that a FPL nuclear power plant was leaking into the public waters of Biscayne Bay in Miami. Instead of offering Floridians lower rates or better services, utilities are instead proving that they are just looking to make a dollar at the expense of the environment for generations to come.

Regulatory laws and influence from utilities aren’t the only obstacles for climate action. Governor Rick Scott has unofficially banned the use of phrases such as “Climate Change” and “Global Warming”. While Scott has denied this his claims are hard to believe. Many government employees have spoken out, anonymously, expressing fear of losing their jobs or funding for projects if they violate Scott’s unspoken rule. An employee at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was even placed on a temporary leave-of-absence for speaking out on climate change. Governor Scott has created a sense of fear surrounding the idea of protecting our environment, and it has environmentalists in a panic.

With these restrictions engulfing the political environment of Florida, the work on climate action is being left in the hands of grassroot efforts. Non-profit organizations are mobilizing around the state to work on tasks such as stopping urban sprawl from damaging the Everglades, prevent overuse of our aquifer, increase tree canopies, prevent saltwater intrusion, and increasing the use of solar.

Not too far on the horizon, there is hope for state politics. As election cycles continue, a continuously growing Senatenumber of pro-solar representatives are entering office, slowly becoming the majority. Republicans and Democrats alike are starting joint efforts in addressing climate change, and advancing solar. There are currently amendments on the Florida ballot that will make solar more accessible and affordable for consumers. Rebates are being created for those who purchase solar for their homes and businesses. It is our job to increase this momentum, and make our voices heard.

With this in mind, we as citizens must participate in the democratic process of The United States. We need to elect those who will do good for Florida’s environment, and who will take heed to the voices of the people. President Obama famously said “We are the first generation to see the effects of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it.” For us Floridians, our coastal cities are at risk from sea level rise. The Everglades is at risk from urban sprawl, runoff, and saltwater intrusion. Our air is at risk from air pollution due to the excess of people, cars, and power plants. It’s time to work together as politicians and citizens to protect Florida from the imminent threat that is climate change.