Fla.’s governor pledges again to meet with climate scientists, unveils green plans

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Florida Gov. Rick Scott — under fire from both national environmentalists and his gubernatorial opponents — pledged millions in new environmental funding yesterday, spawning cheers from supporters along with a new wave of Democratic attacks about the governor’s climate change stance.

On a multi-city environmental tour with stops from Orlando to Miami, the Republican governor pledged $1 billion for Florida’s waters, including via a 10-year, $500 million plan for an alternative water supply in the state and $500 million over the same period for springs restoration, a water quality issue.

In his “Let’s Keep Florida Beautiful” plan, he vowed continued support to restore the Everglades, new crackdowns on polluters, creation of a position in the governor’s office to focus on moving water south and new funding for wastewater treatment in the Florida Keys, estuaries and the state park system.

A member of Scott’s campaign staff also told ClimateWire that the governor is still interested in speaking with climate scientists after receiving a letter from 10 state professors last month asking for a meeting on the issue. Scott’s likely Democratic opponent in the race, former Gov. Charlie Crist (D), met with climate scientists last month in a public event.

“We actually tried to schedule a meeting for today, but some of their folks were unavailable. So we’ll continue working on it,” said Scott spokesman Greg Blair about the climate scientists. In a separate statement, Scott further added about his new plan: “We’ve made record investments in Florida’s environment, but there’s more work to be done.”

However, Scott’s tour came on the heels of a report by The Miami Herald that billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer has officially founded a political committee to unseat Scott with $750,000 in initial funds, a report confirmed by a Federal Election Commission document.

Critic says climate change is missing

The Steyer-backed NextGen Climate also put out a press release critical of the governor’s tour yesterday, underscoring the pressure on Scott in a race largely viewed as a tossup by political analysts. “One glaring omission: Gov. Scott fails to mention the threat of climate change in his eight-page plan,” states the NextGen Climate release, adding that the plan “is too little, too late.”

NextGen Climate, along with other Scott critics, highlighted that the governor dismantled many of former Gov. Crist’s climate initiatives after coming into office in 2011, including a state climate commission. The state is considered to be one of the most vulnerable to sea-level rise, as its porous geology forbids sea wall and levee options that are often used to lessen storm surge.

Other environmentalists offered mixed reviews of the governor’s environment plan.

While the tour is “unprecedented” for a governor, it’s important to keep in mind that Scott needs the Legislature to pass most new funding, noted Frank Jackalone, Florida staff director of the Sierra Club. He said that it was unclear where some of the funding would come for springs restoration, noting that the governor has fought against stronger federal controls for water quality. The plan “doesn’t match the reality of this first term, which was weak on the environment,” he said.

He praised some of the governor’s work on the Everglades, such as supporting some stormwater treatment areas. The Scott administration also has faced sharp critics of his Everglades policy generally (Greenwire, Nov. 6, 2013).

A Rasmussen poll Friday showed Scott leading Crist by 1 percentage point. Charles Barrilleaux, a professor in the political science department at Florida State University, said there is “limited evidence” that public opinion on the environment is affecting the race so far. Echoing Jackalone, he said that it is very difficult to move things through the Republican-controlled Legislature, despite campaign pledges.

“Florida has a strong pro-business stance in most things, and the Legislature and governor have put business preferences — in a nod to the need for economic growth — ahead of the development of solar and other renewable resources,” he said.