Florida Leg­is­la­ture must fund ris­ing-seas task force

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION -

Talk is cheap, and time is run­ning out for Florida to get on with the dif­fi­cult and ex­pen­sive task of pro­tect­ing its ci­ti­zens from ris­ing seas along its 1,197-mile coast­line. So, it’s wel­come news that law­mak­ers are get­ting be­hind Gov. Ron DeSan­tis’ pledge to pre­pare Florida for the en­vi­ron­men­tal, phys­i­cal and eco­nomic im­pacts of sea-level rise.

DeSan­tis took the first step in Au­gust with the ap­point­ment of Ju­lia Neshei­wat as Florida’s chief re­silience of­fi­cer.

The Lake County na­tive re­ports di­rectly to the gov­er­nor and ap­pears well qual­i­fied to quar­ter­back his en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion ef­forts. Her ap­point­ment was a huge and wel­come par­a­digm shift af­ter eight years of DeSan­tis’ pre­de­ces­sor, Rick Scott, whose ef­forts to deal with cli­mate change con­sisted of pre­tend­ing it doesn’t ex­ist.

Now, the Leg­is­la­ture ap­pears poised to give Neshei­wat a team that can de­liver des­per­ately needed re­siliency re­sults. SPB 7016 and HB 1073 put flesh on the bones and money in the bank for a Statewide Sea-Level Rise Task Force within a Gov­er­nor’s Statewide Of­fice of Re­siliency.

As it con­sid­ers th­ese bills, the Leg­is­la­ture will be play­ing catch-up with pub­lic opin­ion. More than two-thirds of Florid­i­ans say that govern­ment must do more to ad­dress the im­pacts of cli­mate change, and nearly half are will­ing to pony up $10 a month to make the state’s in­fra­struc­ture more re­silient.

On­go­ing re­port­ing for The In­vad­ing Sea has as­sem­bled an ocean of ev­i­dence that Florid­i­ans clearly un­der­stand that they can­not main­tain their way of life — in­deed, their very lives — with­out a sus­tained and fo­cused ef­fort by state govern­ment to get us on the road to re­silience. Prop­erly funded and staffed, the pro­posed Of­fice of Re­siliency of­fers hope for a co­her­ent statewide strat­egy to make our homes, busi­nesses, streets, high­ways and sew­ers able to re­sist the ris­ing seas.

The Se­nate and House bills un­der con­sid­er­a­tion cre­ate a lot of seats at the task force ta­ble, the ma­jor­ity un­der DeSan­tis’ di­rect con­trol. Both pro­pos­als man­date that the task force be chaired by his chief re­silience of­fi­cer, with the vice chair po­si­tion oc­cu­pied by the state’s chief sci­ence of­fi­cer of the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion (DEP), one of the many agen­cies that la­bored in si­lence and im­po­tence un­der Scott’s cli­mate-change gag or­der.

Other task force mem­bers will come from the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion; Emer­gency Man­age­ment; Fish and Wildlife; and Eco­nomic Op­por­tu­nity, all un­der DeSan­tis’ di­rect con­trol. The Se­nate pres­i­dent, House speaker, and com­mis­sioner of agri­cul­ture each will ap­point one per­son to the task force. It is es­sen­tial that each of the ap­pointees has the high­est level of sub­ject mat­ter ex­per­tise and the time nec­es­sary to give this work the fo­cus and at­ten­tion ap­pro­pri­ate to ad­dress­ing an ex­is­ten­tial threat.

Un­der the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion, the task force is re­quired to “de­velop of­fi­cial sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion nec­es­sary to make rec­om­men­da­tions on con­sen­sus base­line pro­jec­tions of the ex­pected rise in sea level.” Thank­fully, the Task Force will not be re­quired to in­vent the wheel.

Cli­mate sci­en­tists and schol­ars with ex­per­tise in ar­chi­tec­ture, agri­cul­ture, trans­porta­tion, land use plan­ning, sup­ply chain man­age­ment, evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­ogy and other discipline­s rel­e­vant to help­ing a stressed-out pop­u­la­tion find its way through times of unimag­in­able change, have been de­vel­op­ing this kind of in­for­ma­tion for decades, of­ten in pub­lic agen­cies and uni­ver­si­ties.

Skep­tics can be for­given for won­der­ing how se­ri­ous DeSan­tis is about tak­ing mean­ing­ful ac­tion to meet the threat posed by ris­ing seas.

His DEP claims to have “no grounds to deny” oil drilling per­mits in the Apalachico­la River basin, and he has made no ef­fort to use the tools at a gov­er­nor’s dis­posal to de­rail a drilling op­er­a­tion in the Ever­glades near Mi­ra­mar. Aside from the se­ri­ous threat that drilling poses to our clean wa­ter sup­ply, Florida can and must be a leader in the fight against the in­dus­tries that have cre­ated the re­silience cri­sis we face.

Speak­ing at a con­fer­ence in Tampa, Neshei­wat said Florida needs to grow jobs in the field of clean en­ergy and “ask our­selves re­ally dif­fi­cult ques­tions about whether our cur­rent model of growth is in­deed sus­tain­able.”

Plainly, it is not.

The good news is that we have solid sci­ence, and there are achiev­able paths to the re­siliency Florida re­quires. What we have not had is a gov­er­nor stead­fastly in­vested in making the Leg­is­la­ture take the is­sue se­ri­ously.

SPB 7016 and com­pan­ion bill HB 1073 sug­gest that we may at last be ready to get on with the work we must do in the 21st cen­tury if Florida fam­i­lies and busi­nesses are to sur­vive and thrive in the 22nd cen­tury. To this end, DeSan­tis must be loud, clear and con­sis­tent in his sup­port. When it comes to Florida’s in­vad­ing sea, this is no time for mixed mes­sages. “The In­vad­ing Sea” is the opin­ion arm of the Florida Cli­mate Re­port­ing Net­work, a col­lab­o­ra­tive of news or­ga­ni­za­tions across the state fo­cus­ing on the threats posed by the warm­ing cli­mate.

DOU­GLAS R. CLIF­FORD

The ap­point­ment of Ju­lia Neshei­wat, cen­ter, as chief re­silience of­fi­cer may be only the be­gin­ning of Gov. Ron DeSan­tis’ en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­forts.

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