Two of the Tampa Bay area’s top political leaders are urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto a bill that would limit local government’s ability to use renewable energy in the fight against climate change.
Congressmember Kathy Castor and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman say HB919 protects the corporate interest of fossil fuel over the people of Florida.
The passage of the bill in Florida’s House and Senate comes on the heels of new federal climate data showing the Sunshine State is getting even sunnier.
“In winter Tampa temperature rose from 71 degrees to 73 degrees. And in spring it has increased from an 81 degrees to an 83 average,” Yoca Arditi Rocha, executive director of the CLEO Institute, a climate advocacy group, said. “Ladies and gentleman Florida is living in a climate emergency.”
She said those numbers are especially alarming in summer months where the average temperature has increased from 89 to almost 91 degrees. Those hotter summer months mean warmer waters in the Gulf of Mexico. That fuels hurricanes and lead to billions of dollars in climate-driven environmental disasters.
Treating the symptom and not the cause
The Republican-led Florida legislature did pass legislation that uses money from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan to enhance coastal resiliency and fight rising sea-levels. But Castor says that’s treating symptom and not the cause.
“We can’t simply invest in resilience. You have got to make dramatic steps in reducing carbon pollution. Florida has enormous potential when it comes to solar power,” Castor said. “We are the Sunshine State. But now I think folks are going to call us: ‘Oh, you’re the fracked gas state, not the Sunshine State.’ That would be a real shame.”
Since 2001, energy in Florida has gone from mostly reliant on coal to coming mostly from fracked gas. About 70 percent of it comes from fracked gas. Florida doesn’t have a commitment to renewable energy at the state level. Thirty-eight other states do. That has led local communities to incentivize clean energy to fight manmade climate change. Natural gas is one of the major causes of manmade climate change.
In St. Pete, Kriseman pushed the city to be a leader in clean energy. He’s pledged to move the city to 100 percent clean energy by 2035. But HB919 would limit the city’s ability to do so by preventing it – and other local governments – from regulating energy produced from fossil fuel sources.
“This is yet another bill coming from Tallahassee that hurts cities,” Kriseman said. “It is absolutely a barrier to our efforts at providing a cleaner and greener future for our city.”
Protecting fossil fuels
The two-page bill doesn’t offer much by way of direction and has been called overly vague and broad. According to the bill, cities, counties and other non-state level governments: “may not enact or enforce a resolution, ordinance, rule, code, policy, or take any action that restricts or prohibits or has the effect of restricting or prohibiting the types or fuel sources of energy production which may be used, delivered, converted, or supplied by the following entities to serve customers that such entities are authorized to serve.”
It defines those entities as natural gas and petroleum gas companies.
Kriseman said that removes the power of cities like St. Pete to incentivize its businesses and residents to switch to renewable energies and turn ambitious goals into implementable actions.
“We were looking at requiring new construction of housing and offices to include EV readiness and solar readiness,” he said. “And this legislation says we can’t do that.”
Closing the shades on the Sunshine State
The solar energy industry is a threat to fossil fuel-only companies. While renewable energy makes up less than 10 percent of Florida’s energy production, it’s been on the rise. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Florida’s solar capacity grew by 57 percent between 2019 and 2020. The solar industry is also a major job creator. It currently employs four times as many Americans as the coal industry with sustainable employment.
But HB919 could stop that progress in its tracks. Kriseman said it’s another example of Tallahassee giving preference to corporations over people.
“It should be predictable who’s behind this. Florida Petroleum Association, the Natural Gas Association, the National Utility Contractors Association,” Kriseman said. “All of those organizations have been given preference over the people of Florida and Florida’s environment.”
HB919 could also keep more federal relief money from Florida. Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan includes billions of dollars to support renewable energy jobs and infrastructure. Castor and Kriseman said HB919 could keep federal support for solar and other renewable energy sources from lighting the Sunshine State.