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Evers Doesn't Warm to Climate Change Rules

Florida Senate

The emotional climate of the Legislature is hostile, with budget storms and high pressure in the long-range forecast. And as Jim Ash reports, clouds were also building Thursday over the issue of global warming.

“Climate change, climate change, climate change. There, I’ve said it three times. There is absolutely no policy against discussing climate change at the department.”

In case you missed it, here’s Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Jon Steverson again.

“Climate change, climate change, climate change. There, I’ve said it three times. There is absolutely no policy against discussing climate change at the department.”

Steverson was on the hot seat this week when he appeared before a Senate committee for confirmation. He cruised to easy approval, but the hearing poured salt on a recent wound.

Sterverson’s boss, Governor Rick Scott, faces allegations he muzzled his administration from even using the term climate change, or anything like it. Not only is it not true, Sterverson said, it’s not possible at DEP.

“In fact, we have multiple programs related to climate change. Within Florida Forever, we have a whole section set aside for climate change purposes.”

Steverson was even more specific.

“We know that climate change is always happening and we know that sea level rise is real.”

It was the first time such a high-level member of Scott’s team spoke at length about the allegations.

And his denial contradicts what Christopher Byrd, a whistle blower and former attorney in the DEP general counsel’s office, recalls.

“After Rick Scott was elected, the general counsel’s office held a staff meeting in which the attorneys were warned not to use the term climate change, global warming, sea level rise, or sustainability.”

Damien Filer, political director of Progress Florida, accuses the Scott Administration of not taking global warming seriously.

“The notion that the state of Florida can’t speak freely about the risk that this poses to our citizens and our state is one that is really unacceptable.”

If Scott is merely a closet climate change denier, some lawmakers want to go a step further and block attempts to deal with global warming.

Republican Senator Greg Evers of Baker is sponsoring a memorial to the Obama Administration and the Florida congressional delegation. It asks to delay federal rules that would require Florida, by this summer, to come up with a plan for cutting carbon emissions 38 percent from 2012 levels by 2030.

“The EPA proposal would force Florida to change the way the state produces electricity, reduce the amount of electricity used by Florida’s consumers, and significantly increase the price of our electricity.”

In a state that still gets 21 percent of its power from coal-burning plants, the cost to consumers will be 12.3 billion dollars, Evers predicts.

The memorial asks for more liberal standards.

Evers also wants a one-year delay for submitting the plan, which the federal rules allow. But it also asks for a five-year delay to meet interim standards in 2020.

Steverson was in the same room when Evers submitted the memorial, but he didn’t comment. However, in his testimony, he left little doubt how he feels about expensive solutions.

“I’m not a proponent of putting down a whole lot of regulation.”

Evers’ memorial is bogged down in committees and it’s not clear whether it will pass.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.