Avoiding words ‘climate change,’ DeSantis says global-warming concerns involve ‘left-wing stuff’

As utility rates rise, environmentalists fire back that clean energy is not a partisan issue

By: - December 7, 2021 6:13 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks in Oldsmar, flanked (from left) by DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton, Chief Resilience Officer Wes Brooks, and state Rep. Chris Latvala. Credit: Governor’s Facebook page.

At an event Tuesday in Pinellas County about defending cities from sea levels rising around Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis answered a reporter’s question about climate change by talking about “left-wing stuff” and people posing as environmental advocates in order to “smuggle in their ideology.”

DeSantis did not answer the reporter’s question about what his administration is doing, if anything, to fight the causes of climate change, which is making sea levels rise, among other things.  Neither DeSantis nor two environmental advisers at his side at the event uttered the words “climate change.”

“What I’ve found is, people when they start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways. We’re not doing any left-wing stuff,” DeSantis said, prompting cheering among some at the event.

“Be very careful of people trying to smuggle in their ideology. They say they support our coastline, or they say they support, you know, some, you know, difference, our water, environment. And maybe they do, but they’re also trying to do a lot of other things,” DeSantis said, without elaborating on the alleged “other things.”

He then shifted to gasoline prices, saying Florida must focus on “affordable energy.”

An environmentalist who has worked full-time for years promoting clean energy as both affordable for consumers and a solution to climate change was disappointed in DeSantis’ remarks, noting they came on the same day that the Florida Public Service Commission approved millions in rate hikes for electricity and natural-gas customers as requested by the state’s investor-owned utility companies.

“Every day, clean-energy advocates are working to try to make energy more affordable,” said Susan Glickman, director of Florida Clinicians for Climate Action. “Affordable energy? What’s affordable about a 20 percent rate increase? Whether you’re left wing or right wing, your electric bill is about to increase.”

“Florida’s big power companies all just got billions in rate increases approved by regulators appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis,” Glickman explained. “On top of that, they just charged billions more for the increasing costs for the damaging methane gas they burn. Just this morning, the Florida Public Service Commission voted to charge Florida Power & Light customers an additional $810 million on top of the $302 million they passed on in April for spiking gas methane gas prices. On the other hand, electric vehicles save money. Energy efficiency and solar saves money. Plus, we see health benefits from improved air and water quality.”

Another environmentalist who advocates for clean energy to help households save money and to reduce carbon emissions fouling Earth’s atmosphere said the impacts of climate change, including sea-level rise and inland flooding, will not affect people based on their party affiliations.

“Implementing clean energy, improving energy affordability and preventing worsening impacts of climate change are not left or right issues. They are issues of quality of life, survival, economy and community wellbeing,” said Emily Gorman, director of Sierra Club Florida. “Voters across the political spectrum agree that climate change is caused by humans and is a top priority for government action.

“If the governor is serious about responding to global warming, no solution should be off the table and no stakeholder should be excluded from the conversation,” Gorman said.

The event in Oldsmar was hosted to spotlight DeSantis’ announcement that, stated variously, $270 million for 76 projects (or $276 million for 70 projects) is pledged in state grants for local projects to protect cities and infrastructure from worsening sea-level rise and inland flooding. DeSantis said the funding, under the auspices of the Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan, is proposed across three years in his yet-unpublished budget recommendations.

DeSantis’ newly nominated secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, Shawn Hamilton, and his newly appointed chief resilience officer, Dr. Wes Brooks, also offered remarks, none of which included the phrase “climate change.”

Brooks, making his press debut at the event, said nothing about the causes of sea-level rise but regaled DeSantis for supporting state funding for projects to armor the state against its increasingly destructive consequences. Brooks worked into his statement two of DeSantis’ budget slogans: “bold vision” and “Florida leads.”

“Florida’s fortunate to have a governor who not only recognizes the importance of protecting our communities across the state from the impacts of sea-level rise and damaging storm and flooding events, but one who has taken tangible steps to address these impacts,” Brooks said. “Gov. DeSantis has already committed unprecedented investments to promote a more resilient Florida. Projects included in this Statewide Flooding and Sea-Level Rise Resilience Plan provide concrete opportunities to begin building a brighter future for all of our inland and coastal communities. I look forward to continuing to enhance our coordination across state, regional and local entities to further the governor’s bold vision to ensure that Florida leads on resilience.”

Brooks was appointed in November. His predecessor, Julia Nesheiwat, left nearly two years ago after serving in the post for six months.

Brooks was director of federal affairs in the state Department of Environmental Protection and was an aide to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.