FL House leader seeks $100 million per year to fight sea-level rise but resists mention of man-made causes

Buildings in Surfside, seen through an underwater camera in the ocean, illustrate the danger to Florida from rising oceans due to the climate crisis. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls called for a state investment of $100 million per year to fight sea-level rise and inland flooding, plus creation of a research hub at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus to study those problems.

The spending would begin during the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2022. Sprowls did not give an end date for the plan.

A legislative package also would establish a Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan that would be updated annually. It would create a Resilient Florida Grant Program to help local governments cope with coastal and inland flooding. It would encourage regional cooperation, too.

And it would give property tax breaks to homeowners who gird their properties against floods.

FL House Speaker Chris Sprowls. Credit: Florida Channel, screenshot.

“Florida is home to seven of the 10 cities with the largest risk of property loss at risk of flooding in America,” Sprowls said during a news conference at the USF campus. Pinellas County alone bears the fourth highest risk of flooding within a 30-year mortgage, he added, at $494 million.

The new Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research at USF would draw upon the university’s expertise in marine, oceanographic, environmental, and coastal engineering sciences, said USF President Steven Currall.

The package will first be heard in the House Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee, Sprowls said.

He did not explain how the legislation would mesh with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposal to spend $1 billion over four years on coastal resiliency.

During his news conference, Sprowls did not utter the words “climate change” but did sidestep a question about its human causes.

“Too often, when we have conversations about flooding or we have conversations about the environment, we have some of our friends, and respectfully, some of our friends in the press who want to engage in the hyper-politicization of the environment. It’s all about words. I’ve said all the words,” the speaker said.

“What we’re here to do is tackle real problems. Washington is engaged in theoretical debates about theoretical topics that nothing that happens about.”

By contrast, the lawmakers who will carry the legislation “are interested in the people that live in our community. They’re interested in their businesses. They’re interested in the vibrancy of a beautiful state called Florida,” Sprowls said.

“That’s what we’re committed to, which is why we’re here today, tackling these issues in a real substantive way with a bill that really engages both from the local level to the state level to make sure we’re tackling those challenges.”

One questioner dismissed the news conference as “performative nonsense,” arguing, “You keep building walls but you’re not addressing the root cause of climate change.”

Sprowls responded: “It doesn’t include a lot of bricks and concrete. It includes a lot of great ideas assembled by members of the Legislature and stakeholders who’ve done a great job making sure that Florida will become the leader in America in protecting us from flood and sea-level rise.”

Tania Galloni, managing attorney in the Florida office of Earthjustice, a national non-profit environmental law firm, sounded in a written statement as though she sympathized with Sprowls’ questioner.

“In some ways, the term ‘resiliency’ is being used as a way to make it look as if government is doing something about the climate crisis. But it’s about building things, not tackling the problem at its source,” Galloni said.

“We can’t build our way out of the climate crisis. We need to put real policies in place to prevent global warming — policies that cut the greenhouse gasses that are harming our state and our planet. We’re not seeing that in this legislation.”

Update: This story has been changed to include a comment from Earthjustice.

Correction: This story has been amended to correctly identify the university involved on the first reference.

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.