Kathy Castor still upset over DeSantis veto that cost FL $350 million in energy funds

Tampa Democrat calls the governor ‘a disaster’ on clean energy

By: - August 4, 2023 4:24 pm
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Excessive heat fueled by climate change contributes to drought, wildfires, crop failures, and impaired human health. Getty Images

Tampa Bay area Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor remains livid that Gov. Ron DeSantis turned down $354 million for energy-efficient measures provided through federal legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden.

Among the $511 million in projects that DeSantis vetoed at the end of June was a $5 million line-item provided through the Inflation Reduction Act that would have allowed the state to train staff to administer federal funds totaling $354 million to address energy efficiency in the Sunshine State.

The effect, Castor says, was to deprive Florida of that $354 million.

Kathy Castor
Kathy Castor, official photo

“I call it a pickpocket,” she said in an interview on WMNF Radio in Tampa on Friday. “Pickpocketing Floridians, making the cost of living more expensive. We’re already paying higher property insurance than anywhere else in the country, higher electric bills. He has been a disaster for clean energy and environment in Florida.”

Environmentalists and climate change activists hailed the Biden administration after the passage of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, specifically for the $369 billion designated for all 50 states to deal with the climate crisis by expanding tax credits for clean energy and electric vehicles, boosting energy efficiency, and reducing air pollution at ports, among its many provisions.

Castor, who from 2019 to earlier this year chaired the first U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, said “the beauty” in the federal legislation was that it provided significant cost savings for consumers and local communities through rebates on purchasing electric appliances, weatherizing their homes, and providing tax credits for people to use rooftop solar.

According to Castor, DeSantis rejected funding that would have allocated $174 million in rebates for energy-efficiency, $173 million for rebates to purchase energy-efficient home appliances, and $7 million for a training program for electrical contractors.

But those funds won’t be coming to Florida now. Or ever.

“He has been the most dangerous and destructive governor when it comes to clean energy,” she said. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Teddy Roosevelt

DeSantis campaigned as a “Teddy Roosevelt-style Republican” in his bid for the governor’s mansion in 2018, but environmentalists have said that he has not come close to living up to that standard.

The governor has dismissed the danger of climate change even while investing in efforts to address flooding and sea-level rise. Last month he announced $300 million in state funding from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for 71 new resilience and adaptation projects. And he allocated $640 million in last year’s budget for local governments to deal with sea-level rise, storms, and flooding.

On another energy-related front, Castor announced this week that she is co-sponsoring federal legislation to prohibit utility companies from using ratepayer dollars to fund political activities. The bill comes a year after the Tampa Democrat called on the Department of Justice to investigate Florida Power & Light (FPL), the state’s largest utility, over its use of “dark money” in an attempt to sway elections in Florida.

The Orlando Sentinel reported in 2022 that FPL had given more than $10 million to a consulting firm that paid for ads promoting independent “ghost candidates” in three political races in 2020 to help Republicans win those races. One was in Miami-Dade County, where then-Democratic incumbent Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez lost his reelection bid to Republican Ileana Garcia by just 34 votes. The ballot included an independent candidate with the same last name – Alex Rodriguez – who was previously registered as a Republican.

“It was such dirty politics here in Florida for FPL to take money to fund ghost candidates,” Castor said Friday, referring to what happened to Javier Rodriguez. “His flaw, according to FPL, was promoting clean energy and to try to tackle the climate crisis, so they funded a candidate with a similar name to go on the ballot who siphoned off enough votes to defeat JJR,” she said, referring to the former Democrat’s nickname.

The Phoenix reached out to Florida Power & Light for comment but did not get an immediate response.

Similar proposals have been having success at the state level. In June, the Maine Legislature passed a bill prohibiting utilities from recovering contributions or gifts to political candidates, political parties, political or legislative committees, or any committee or organization working to influence referendum petitions or elections. Colorado and Connecticut have passed similar bills this year, according to the Energy and Policy Institute.

Castor has represented most of Hillsborough County in the House of Representatives for the past 17 years. She won her last election by 14 points over Republican James Judge. After redistricting last year, her district now includes much of St. Petersburg in Pinellas County as well.

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.