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Environmentalists Say Bill To Boost Communities' Resiliency To Sea Level Rise, Flooding Could Be Conversation Starter On Climate Change

Pictured here is a wide view of a flooded street. Palm trees by the roadside sway in what looks to be harsh winds. In the background are tall buildings.
Satoshi Kina
Adobe Stock
Environmentalists have long been asking legislators to address the root cause of climate change. Now, they hope a bill heading to the governor's desk could open more conversations on not only sea level rise and flooding, but the impact of greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuels on the climate.

A bill to address the impacts of sea level rise and flooding has been approved by the Florida legislature and is heading to the governor's desk, where it is expected to be signed into law. Environmentalists say the bill is a step in the right direction but say more needs to be done to address the root cause of climate change.

The proposal does many things. It creates the Resilient Florida Grant Program that would give local governments grants to plan and develop projects aimed at combatting the impacts of sea level rise and flooding. It also would task the Department of Environmental Protection with creating a statewide assessment that identifies areas that are vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding. The department would also have to create a resilience plan with projects proposed by local governments and other entities and submit it to the governor and legislature. House speaker Chris Sprowls has been working on getting the proposal passed this session.

"For the first time, Florida will have a statewide plan to address flooding, and we will dedicate $100 million a year to that cause," Sprowls says.

Jonathan Webber is with Florida Conservation Voters, an environmentalist group. He says the resiliency plan outlined in the bill is an important first step.

"It includes a lot of vital items that we've been asking for, and the environmental community has been begging for 20 years, but the fact that it's here. It's happening is really great news for Florida. It includes a lot of really important tools that local governments are going to be able to use to better protect their communities," Webber says.

Gianna Trocino is with the CLEO Institute, a non-profit that focuses on climate change. She agrees that the proposal is long overdue.

"We do hope that the legislature continues to uplift these conversations and eventually include next steps that will advance comprehensive policy solutions such as investing in clean and renewable energy systems to truly prepare the state for the changing and warming climate that we're all about to see," Trocino says.

David Cullen is with Sierra Club Florida. He says the bill is good but hopes lawmakers in the future will attempt to identify the cause of sea level rise and do something about it.

"We obviously believe that we know what the cause of sea level rise is. And the international panel on climate change—the IPCC—the consensus of something like 97% of the scientists in the world that deal in this area are absolutely convinced that fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of this rapid increase in global temperature and climate change," Cullen says.

Cullen hopes lawmakers will consider transitioning away from fossil fuels. Trocino says while the bill could expand conversations on climate change, it also comes at the cost of reducing dollars going towards affordable housing programs.

"We really just want to emphasize that while we absolutely 100% need permanent funding solutions for sea level rise and flooding, we cannot be truly resilient as a state without continuing to invest in affordable housing projects throughout the state—it's a problem within a problem," Trocino says.

The Resilient Florida Grant Program will be paid through the documentary stamp tax. That tax helps pay for many things, including affordable housing programs. The dollars going into those programs are being reduced permanently to pay for the grants. An initial proposal would have left the programs with around $140 million, which has been recently bumped to $200 million. Florida Conservation Voters' Webber says that's still a cut.

"As good as the proposal might be, again, they are still taking a lot of money away from a really needy cause. And the thing that gets me the most about this is that there is $10 million coming in from President Biden's American Rescue Plan that is specifically earmarked to do things that they are taking money from affordable housing to do—like wastewater infrastructure and sewage upgrades, things like that. And unfortunately, the legislature is choosing to take the money away from affordable housing instead of us[ing] the money from the federal government specifically for this reason," Webber says.

Democrats have also proposed using federal dollars to pay for Republican leadership's environmental initiatives. But Republicans are set on using those dollars on one-time expenses. The environmental initiatives would be recurring.

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.