DeSantis (qui­etly) ac­knowl­edges threat sea-level rise poses to Florida

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Opinion -

Af­ter eight years of Gov. Rick Scott de­grad­ing sci­ence and dismissing cli­mate change, Gov. Ron DeSantis an­nounced Thurs­day he will ap­point a chief sci­ence of­fi­cer to deal with “cur­rent and emerg­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns most press­ing to Florid­i­ans.”

This wel­come turn­around came just two days af­ter DeSantis’ swear­ing-in, in an ex­ec­u­tive or­der that also calls for $2.5 bil­lion in Ever­glades restora­tion, cre­ates a task force on blue-green toxic al­gae and in­structs the South Florida Wa­ter Man­age­ment District to im­me­di­ately start the next phase of the reser­voir project south of Lake Okee­chobee.

In ad­di­tion to the chief sci­ence of­fi­cer’s re­mit to “co­or­di­nate and pri­or­i­tize sci­en­tific data, re­search, mon­i­tor­ing and anal­y­sis” on Florida’s en­vi­ron­ment, the or­der also cre­ates an Of­fice of En­vi­ron­men­tal Ac­count­abil­ity and Trans­parency charged with cor­ralling sci­en­tific re­search and data “to en­sure that all agency ac­tions are aligned with key en­vi­ron­men­tal pri­or­i­ties.”

This is whole new tone for a gover­nor’s of­fice that told Florid­i­ans, ba­si­cally, that we couldn’t af­ford to both cre­ate jobs and pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment. Scott cut mil­lions of dol­lars from wa­ter man­age­ment district bud­gets, which meant shed- ding sci­en­tists, en­gi­neers and other ex­perts; slashed more than 200 wa­ter-mon­i­tor­ing sta­tions; sharply re­duced polic­ing of pol­luters; rolled back growth­man­age­ment laws.

We hope that Thurs­day’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der is a step to­ward re­vers­ing that trend — and more.

In­deed, the or­der also cre­ated some­thing else that Thurs­day’s press re­lease does not men­tion. Far down the list of Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der 19-12 — in the 26th of 27 para­graphs — the gover­nor di­rects the state Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion (DEP) to:

“Cre­ate the Of­fice of Resilience and Coastal Pro­tec­tion to help pre­pare Florida’s coastal com­mu­ni­ties and habi­tats for im­pacts from sea level rise by pro­vid­ing fund­ing, tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance and co­or­di­na­tion among state, re­gional and lo­cal en­ti­ties.”

That’s right. “Cli­mate change,” that taboo phrase in the Scott ad­min­is­tra­tion, gets its own of­fice in the DeSantis ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Make no mis­take: This could be a huge ad­vance for the state of Florida as the ex­is­ten­tial threat of sealevel rise be­comes more and more ap­par­ent, no mat­ter your views on the un­der­ly­ing cause. Our col­lab­o­ra­tive ed­i­to­rial-page pro- ject, “The In­vad­ing Sea,” has been ar­gu­ing for months for ac­tion at the state level to bolster lo­cal­i­ties that are or­ga­niz­ing to make their re­gions pre­pared and re­silient for the higher wa­ters.

DeSantis did not talk about sealevel rise on the cam­paign trail, un­like his Demo­cratic op­po­nent An­drew Gil­lum. And when asked about cli­mate change, he ques­tioned whether it’s man­made, adding that, in any case, it’s a prob­lem be­yond the ca­pac­ity of state gov­ern­ment to tackle.

But the for­mer con­gress­man from north­east Florida has surely no­ticed the more se­ri­ous flood­ing that’s been oc­cur­ring in Jack­sonville, just as we in South Florida now see floods even on sunny days dur­ing king tides.

By ap­point­ing a sci­ence of­fi­cer and set­ting up an of­fice to en­sure that all agen­cies are on the same page on en­vi­ron­men­tal mat­ters, DeSantis has now set the ex­pec­ta­tion that he will heed what sci­ence has to say — and not par­rot the dodge used by Scott and other cli­mate de­niers, “Don’t ask me, I’m not a sci­en­tist.”

What sci­en­tists are pre­dict­ing is that the sea will rise 2 feet, and maybe more, in the next 40 years. At 3 feet, bar­rier is­lands and low-ly­ing com­mu­ni­ties will be largely un­in­hab­it­able. DeSantis is 40, the youngest Florida gover­nor in a cen­tury. We are talk­ing about enor­mous change — trau­matic change — oc­cur­ring within his life­time, and cer­tainly in the life­time of his two young chil­dren.

The new Of­fice of Resilience and Coastal Pro­tec­tion isn’t the only big news that DeSantis’ team seemed to bury on Thurs­day. The 27th and fi­nal para­graph of the ex­ec­u­tive or­der is for the DEP to “adamantly op­pose all off-shore oil and gas ac­tiv­i­ties off ev­ery coast in Florida and hy­draulic frac­tur­ing in Florida.”

This is an­other win for en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who felt that the voter-ap­proved Amend­ment 9 didn’t go far enough to pro­tect the state’s shores from po­ten­tial oil spills. It also puts a lid on any fur­ther leg­isla­tive ef­forts to ex­pand frack­ing in the Ever­glades.

DeSantis spoke at his in­au­gu­ral in the heroic wartime ca­dence of Win­ston Churchill as he pledged to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment (“We will fight toxic blue-green al­gae, we will fight dis­charges from Lake Okee­chobee, we will fight red tide, we will fight for our fish­er­men, we will fight for our beaches …”). Af­ter years of an ad­min­is­tra­tion em­brac­ing cli­mate de­niers, our state des­per­ately needs that same courage when it comes to pre­par­ing for the in­evitabil­ity of ris­ing seas and the threat it poses.

As DeSantis said in his speech, “Our eco­nomic po­ten­tial will be jeop­ar­dized if we do not solve the prob­lems af­flict­ing our en­vi­ron­ment and wa­ter re­sources.” Very true. But you can’t ask for more jeop­ardy than our low-ly­ing penin­sula go­ing un­der­wa­ter.

Be­cause, con­trary to what DeSantis said on the cam­paign trail, state gov­ern­ment can do quite a bit to di­min­ish cli­mate change and a loom­ing fu­ture of ever-more in­tense hur­ri­canes, flood­ing and coastal ero­sion. Un­der con­sci­en­tious lead­er­ship, the state could slash car­bon emis­sions and en­cour­age al­ter­nate en­ergy sources.

The most im­por­tant swing state in pol­i­tics could wield enor­mous in­flu­ence on na­tional pol­icy.

In just his first few days, DeSantis looks to be off to a bold, strong start on the en­vi­ron­ment. But on the topic of sea-level rise, the proof will be in the fol­lowthrough.

“The In­vad­ing Sea” is a col­lab­o­ra­tion of four South Florida me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions — the Mi­ami Her­ald, South Florida Sun Sen­tinel, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Pub­lic Me­dia.


Matt McClain The Washington Post

Brick­ell flood­ing was a prob­lem dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Irma.

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