Another Prominent Florida Republican Pushes Lawmakers To Plan For Climate Change

Oct 18, 2019

This beach in Fort Lauderdale may look very different in the coming year due to sea level rise. More Florida lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are talking about climate change and making policy plans.
Credit Lance Asper/Unsplash

More evidence of a shift in thinking arose this week among Florida’s Republican leaders when it comes to climate change.

A Senate committee held a panel discussion focused on climate change forecasts and how state agencies should prepare.

Three words that were largely kept under wraps by legislative leadership before the last election quickly emerged during the meeting: sea level rise.

They were spoken by Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who noted there hasn’t been much conversation in the legislature about climate change issues.

He says there’s been a paradigm shift since Gov. Ron DeSantis created the position of Chief Resilience Officer, "to not be in denial about the fact that there is substantial evidence out there that our sea level is rising, and there’s a lot of disagreement about how quickly and to what magnitude, but it is happening," Lee said. "I thought that was a decision that needed to be highlighted and respected, and that we should take an opportunity to put together a panel and begin a conversation about this.”

Lee acknowledged what he called a younger generation of conservatives that "aren’t so much in denial about these issues." That includes House Speaker designate Chris Sprowls, who will take the helm after next year’s elections.

"We need to stop being afraid of words like climate change and sea level rise," Sprowls told House members during his designation ceremony last month. He said Floridians want good jobs, ample water, and clean sandy beaches.

"We cannot afford to put our head in the sand and hope that the beach doesn’t disappear in a permanent rising tide," Sprowls said. "We shouldn’t be afraid of facts.”

So, Lee says it’s time to honor this "new breed of conservatives" by having conversations about climate change.

“The reason it’s so important here in my opinion is that we’re putting tens of billions of dollars a year into infrastructure in this state, and these are 50, 100 year assets," Lee said. "We ought to be doing what we can to make sure that we’re building them at an elevation or we’re planning in an environment that is relevant to what this world might look like as time passes.”

That’s the job of Chief Resilience Officer Julie Nesheiwat, who will oversee how state agencies prepare for and respond to a changing climate.

“Resiliency is such a cross cutting issue when we look at rising sea levels and the effects of climate change," Nesheiwat told the committee. "So I’m here today to help Florida be prepared for the economic, the physical, and the environmental impacts of these issues.”

The committee also heard from academic experts about sea level rise predictions and the potential for outbreaks of tropical diseases amid extreme heat.

News Service of Florida contributed to this report.