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Klobuchar: Florida Is 'Ground Zero' For Climate Change Issues

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar meets with environmental leaders and activists in Tampa on March, 10.
Ashley Lisenby
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, says lawmakers cannot afford to ignore the environmental impacts of rising temperatures.

“It is our job, for the biggest challenge of our time, to not pretend it’s not happening and to not move backward,” Klobuchar said Sunday at a meeting in Tampa with regional environmental leaders and activists.

Klobuchar’s stop was her first visit to Florida since her now famous announcement in a Minneapolis snowstorm that she would be running for president. She is one of at least 14 Democratic candidates running in the 2020 presidential election.

Climate issues are among Klobuchar's main campaign issues, with rejoining the Paris Climate Change Agreement a priority.

"I've seen the changing world around us," she said.

Klobuchar said she believes "esoteric" conversations about rising temperatures are changing to the discussion about solutions, especially when red tide and hurricanes affect housing, tourism, employment, and agriculture. In recent years, Florida's strawberry growers have suffered because of above-average heat.

"[...] certainly in the state of Florida, which is ground zero for all of this when you have eight of 10 of the metropolitan areas in the country that are most affected by climate change," she said.

That list reference came from data published by the Brookings Institution in January that ranked the top metropolitan areas in the U.S. that would see higher climate-related costs between 2080 and 2099. The Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater region ranked second on that list.

Local leaders are making headway in terms of environmental policy. Lawmakers in St. Petersburg, for example, have made a commitment to “clean energy” by 2035, which includes electric buses and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings.

But State Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond, who represents parts of Pinellas County, said the Brookings study should be a wakeup call. He said his bill would call for Florida to assess environmental changes statewide and make a resiliency plan to deal with those changes.

“I’m really hopeful that we’re going to have a new direction for Florida as opposed to more of the same,” Diamond said, criticizing past state leaders. "Frankly the people in Tallahassee have put their heads in the sands and said this isn’t happening… I mean it’s happening.”

Florida’s legislative session is underway, and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has earmarked money in his proposed budget to address environmental issues.

Klobuchar said finding solutions to environmental changes is not partisan because of how those changes intersect with other areas of life.

“This isn’t just a Democratic issue,” she said. “This is an economic issue for the entire state of Florida. So I see this as one of the galvanizing reasons that people are going are going to go to the polls.”

Still, Republicans fired back.

“In a field of 2020 Democrats that is quickly embracing the fringe left, Amy Klobuchar is attempting to run as a moderate, but Floridians know the truth," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said in a statement. "Throughout her career, Klobuchar has been nothing but a rubber stamp for the far-left agenda and is already showing how radical she'll go by cosponsoring the 'Green New Deal,' which could hike taxes up 70%. Klobuchar is no moderate at all, and her disastrous agenda will move Florida backwards." 

Tim Heberlein, Political Operations and Civic Engagement Director of , sees talks about environmental issues in the state as a way to engage low-income communities and communities of color that he believes are often hit the hardest.

“Someone mentioned, you can just up and leave if climate change hits you, well a lot of our communities can’t just do that,” he said.

He added, “for most people, climate change isn’t foremost on their mind, but when you talk about how it impacts your take-home pay; how it impacts your health; how it impacts access to jobs; transportation is a big one; people get it. People understand how it impacts them on the day-to-day.”

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Ashley Lisenby is a general assignment reporter at WUSF Public Media. She covered racial and economic disparity at St. Louis Public Radio before moving to Tampa in 2019.