U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor hopes to push Gov. DeSantis on climate change

Kathy Castor
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor addressing the Florida House Democratic Caucus last Wednesday

By any credible measurement, Florida is in serious trouble when it comes to combatting the effects of climate change.

A 2018 report published by Science magazine said no state will suffer more economic damage from a warming planet than the Sunshine State. And Florida is one of a minority of states in the country that has not established any renewable energy goals.

That’s why Tampa Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor, the new chair of a special U.S. House committee on climate change, visited Tallahassee last week to speak with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“We talked about how we’ve got to act with urgency to address climate and the clean energy economy,” Castor said a few hours after meeting with the governor.

“Clearly the governor understands the threat to our economy, when we have Red Tide and toxic algae that lasts longer than ever before. So he’s done some positive things on resiliency and science,” she said. “I wanted him to understand how behind Florida is.”

Environmentalists largely backed Democrat Andrew Gillum in the gubernatorial race last year over DeSantis, so they were pleasantly surprised when the new governor announced the creation of an “Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection” and appointed a “Chief Science Officer” in January.

But Castor says there is so much more that needs to be done here.

“Florida is one of just 13 states that has not set a goal for renewable power generation,” she said, referring to energy collected from resources that are naturally replenished, such as solar and wind.

“That makes the burden on the people we represent so much higher compared to others. So, we’re the most vulnerable, we’re paying the highest costs, we’re facing the most dire threat, and yet we’re doing the least about it,” Castor said. “That can’t be, so people are clamoring for a Green New Deal (touted by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) or urgent action, and he’s new. I wanted to help provide a little bit of advice and a friendly push to take action.”

In addition to DeSantis, Castor had meetings with Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Senate President Bill Galvano. She said she told the Bradenton Republican that the state needs to do more to encourage public utilities such as Duke Energy and Florida Power and Light to provide incentives for customers to conserve energy.

Castor also talked about two bills filed by Democrats in the Florida House, in connection with climate change – but neither have gathered much steam in the Legislature.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, is sponsoring a bill that would direct the Office of Energy in Agriculture Commissioner Fried’s office to develop a plan to generate 100 percent renewable energy in Florida by 2050.

The legislation has been referred to the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee, but it has yet to be introduced there.

Eskamani says she’s “actively” looking for Republican co-sponsors and says she’s had some positive conversations with some of them. “We’ve told them, ‘this is a conversation that you can be a part of.’”

A bill sponsored by Ben Diamond, a St. Petersburg Democrat, would establish a comprehensive research program to assess the impacts of climate change on Florida, and prepare a resiliency plan for the state.

However, like Eskamani’s bill, Diamond’s legislation also is stuck in a committee.

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