How Far Does Gov. DeSantis' Environmental Policy Go?

Jun 3, 2019
Originally published on May 31, 2019 5:29 pm

It’s almost six months into Gov. Ron DeSantis’s first term, and the biggest shift from the Rick Scott administration has been his focus on the environment.

On the campaign trail, DeSantis described himself as a "Teddy Roosevelt conservationist." He’s pushed for more funding for Everglades restoration. And he’s created two new state jobs – chief science officer and chief resilience officer.

Last month, when DeSantis named the CSO, he took a big leap from the previous administration, saying the words “climate change.”

“This idea of – quote – 'climate change' has become politicized. My environmental policy is just to try to do things that benefit Floridians,” DeSantis said.

But how far is the governor taking climate change policy specifically?

A panel of opinion editors consider that question on the latest episode of the South Florida Roundup: Nancy Ancrum of The Miami Herald, Rick Christie of The Palm Beach Post and Rosemary O’Hara of The South Florida Sun Sentinel.

WLRN: What do you make of the governor's first six months and his follow-through on some of the environmental pledges he made on the campaign trail?

NANCY ANCRUM: I think it's absolutely stunning. It is a 180-degree turn from where we have been for the previous eight years in terms of addressing this critical issue from the leader of this state. I would give him a "B+," "A-." His concern about the fragility of our waters, the fragility of our environment, and his backing it up with funding are extraordinary – one for this state and two for a Republican governor.

Is there a conflation that's happening here? And the governor is able to take advantage of it perhaps in the minds of most of the public? Of talking about water quality and building in a broader environmental record, and climate change accolades?

ROSEMARY O'HARA: Well, it's to be seen. He got in office in January. He had to have a budget done by the end of the month. So he's learning as he's going. The money that went into sea-level rise-type projects in this budget was only $26 million for the whole state. To really turn the corner on this, Tallahassee needs to hear from every corner of Florida that this is essential.

And to make change happen in Tallahassee, to make him the environmental governor, to really focus on hardening South Florida and preserving a future here, it's going to take the business community's muscle. And I am delighted to see that the business community is rising. A year ago this really was pretty quiet on their agenda.

Maybe that's a part of the case here, right? Gov. DeSantis, as a candidate, really did make that connection explicitly between the environment, blue-green algae and red tide, and the economy, tourism, specifically. But as that business community steps up and recognizes the threat of rising seas, not only on the coastline, but also inland, and you wind up having difficulty with sewer systems and drinking water quality – maybe that's the case. That's the inroad into the governor.

RICK CHRISTIE: I agree. That was one of the reasons I kind of settled on calling him a pragmatist because he drew a straight line between our environment and the economy. He didn't try to make this climate change argument. He just basically said, 'Look, our economy is dependent upon tourism, which is dependent on our environment.' Easy sell.

I think the harder argument he's going to make has to do with another big leg of our economy, which is real estate development and growth. And his signing off on the toll roads shows you how difficult that's going to be for him because [some] environmentalists made an argument for him not to do this. And he did it anyway because, well, this is an economic argument.

The editorial boards of the three major newspapers in South Florida The Miami Herald, Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post, supported by reporting from WLRN – have teamed up to confront the threat of higher seas. You can find all the coverage at TheInvadingSea.com.

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