The Phoenix Flyer

U.S. Rep. Castor calls on DeSantis to veto ‘dirty energy’ bill that blocks local efforts to slow climate change

By: - May 27, 2021 2:50 pm

Climate-induced weather disasters include record wildfires in the West, record-setting heat waves and droughts, and aggressive hurricanes. Here, smoke plumes and hurricane clouds are visible at once. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Florida cities that want to cut ties with oil and gas and convert to clean energy will not be able to do so if Gov. Ron DeSantis signs House Bill 919 into law.

Florida Congresswoman Kathy Castor, chair of the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and others are pressing DeSantis to veto the bill, which was approved by the Legislature over Democratic dissent.

HB 919 prohibits local governing boards from “enacting or enforcing a resolution, ordinance, rule, code, or policy, or take any other action that restricts or prohibits” companies from providing customers with power from fuel sources such as natural gas (methane gas), certain propane gas and electricity derived from oil.

Proponents say it protects oil and gas companies from communities that want to phase them out in order to address climate change.

In a May 25 letter to DeSantis, Castor says HB 919 ignores the wishes of Florida voters who want locally to get rid of “dirty energy sources like fracked gas” and replace them with solar power, energy-efficient buildings, and electric vehicles.

Congresswoman Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat, chairs the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Credit: U.S. House of Representatives

Castor wrote that conversion to clean energy in order to slow climate change is good for Floridians and for the state’s vital agriculture and tourism industries, which are degraded by drought, extreme heat, flooding and more frequent hurricanes.

“There is no time to waste. Our planet is dangerously warming due to the burning of fossil fuels,” Castor wrote. “Climate change is increasing costs and exacting a toll on Florida families and businesses. Flooding, more intense hurricanes and prolonged days of extreme heat are growing in frequency in Florida.”

She cited St. Petersburg, Orlando and Tampa – her own home town – among the Florida communities working to convert locally over time to clean, renewable energy.

HB 919 would stop them by requiring that they continue to let oil and gas companies do business in their areas. Those carbon-based fuels are blamed for greenhouse emissions causing the climate to change in dangerous ways.

Joining Castor and Kriseman in calling for a veto of HB 919 are Florida Conservation Voters and the Miami-based CLEO Institute, a nonprofit focused on climate education, engagement and advocacy.

HB 919 was sponsored by Republicans Sen. Travis Hutson, who represents a stretch of the northeast coast, and Rep. Josie Tomkow of Osceola and Polk counties.

They and their allies argued during legislative session that all parts of Florida should have a diverse mix of energy sources and that local governments should not be allowed to exclude gas and oil, which dominate the sector.

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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.