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State Not Moving Fast Enough To Address Climate Change, Tampa Area Lawmakers Say

Swampy water with cypress trees and knees.
Jessica Meszaros
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Democratic Florida legislators say they are receiving emails from their constituents opposing a suite of bills that would give the state control of climate change initiatives over local governments.

State lawmakers from the Tampa Bay region discussed climate change legislation during a virtual town hall Monday hosted by the advocacy group Tampa Bay Climate Alliance. One big topic was "preemption."

A slate of measures in the Florida Legislature aim to restrict local governments from moving to renewable energy. Identical bills in the House and Senate would prohibit cities and counties from regulating transportation energy infrastructure, leaving it to the state.

Similar bills in each chamber would preempt restriction of utility services to the state, as well.

RELATED: Floridians: How Does Climate Change Affect You?

Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, opposes these preemption bills. She used the example of the Florida Chief Resiliency Officer position not being permanently filled for a year to question whether the state really has a commitment to a resilience plan.

"When our state consistently fails to act and our cities and counties do, we're now going to prevent that too? It's sad and, in my opinion, it's reckless," Cruz said.

All four Democratic lawmakers on the panel said they opposed the state taking over the rights of local governments regarding clean energy, including Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg.

“What I see happening on this suite of bills is very alarming and very upsetting to me,” Diamond said. “On the one hand, we have some people up here now saying ‘we want to work on this on a state level, we want to talk about it.’ On the other hand, we want to roll back and preempt some of the innovation and ingenuity that we're seeing on the local level.”

The sole Republican, Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, would not clearly state if he opposed or supported preemption.

The town hall moderator, Jim Verhulst of the Tampa Bay Times, pointed out that for the past three years, measures have been filed in Tallahassee to move the state to 100% renewable energy, but they have not even received committee hearings.

Panelists, such as Rep. Susan Valdés, D-Tampa, were asked "why?"

"Some might say that it's because of the fossil fuel and the big companies — that might be a case, but I don't know the real reason why," she said.

Brandes said he doesn't think the technology is there to take the state to 100% renewable yet.

"The simple truth is Florida's over 70% natural gas today,” he said. “No. 2 is nuclear, then coal, and then renewables, but renewables is radically rising."

Brandes predicts that renewable energy will be surpass coal in Florida between 2025 and 2030.

Freshman lawmaker Rep. Andrew Learned, D-Brandon, said he doesn’t believe climate change to be a particularly partisan issue. He said he grew up Republican before switching to Democrat.

“I think people on both sides live in the state, see the effects of climate change every day. This is no longer our grandkids’ problem, or our kids’ problem. This is my generation’s problem,” said Learned. “My generation is going to have a hard time getting 30-year mortgages because of sea level rise in Tampa Bay.”

The overall message from state legislators at the end of the discussion was that “the people are in the driver’s seat” and “the power lies with voters.”

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