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Florida Environmentalists Want Legislature To Create Climate Change Committee

Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, left and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, right.
Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, left and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, right.

As two Tampa Bay leaders take control of the Florida Legislature, a group of environmental advocates is asking them to create a committee on climate change to tackle what it considers “the single biggest threat facing Florida.”

In a letter Tuesday, Florida Conservation Voters executive director Aliki Moncrief asked Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, the new House Speaker, and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, the new Senate President, to select a group of lawmakers from both chambers to focus on the issue.

“We believe that the climate change crisis facing Florida warrants, at a minimum, a serious and deliberative body to explore and propose policy solutions to address the worst effects of this unfolding disaster and enact policies that will solve the problem at its source,” Moncrief wrote, citing language from the Florida Constitution that says the state should manage pollution and protect natural resources.

Neither Sprowls nor Simpson answered a call or immediately replied to a text message seeking comment Tuesday.

The letter references issues like saltwater intrusion into the freshwater supply, higher temperatures and increased flooding as ripe for a potential committee to study. Moncrief noted that rising tides could cut into property values on the coast and drive people to higher ground, where they may displace low- and middle-income Black and Latino communities.

For the better part of the last decade, state lawmakers have passed few bills and entertained few serious public discussions about climate change. Policy creation has meanwhile advanced within cities and groups like the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact and Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition.

“Local communities are making incredible efforts to combat the threat,” Moncrief wrote. “Now, state leaders must also explore and enact policies to address both the most harmful effects and the root causes of climate change.”

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Florida Conservation Voters
Aliki Moncrief is executive director of Florida Conservation Voters.

Under Gov. Ron DeSantis, state officials have begun to talk about climate change more openly, but environmentalists say Florida remains focused on adaptation — building up roads, seawalls and houses — rather than lowering emissions from cars and energy producers that worsen global warming.

Sprowls and Simpson, in a September letter to the Tampa Bay Times, wrote that the Legislature can do “quite a bit” to address sea level rise.

“Rising water damages homes, disrupts businesses, and displaces families and employees, which leads to, among other significant impacts, increases in insurance premiums for all Floridians,” they wrote. They did not use the term climate change but said with all of its coastline and developed wetlands, Florida is “particularly vulnerable.”

The two lawmakers touted a grant program that has provided funding for local resiliency projects and described a path that includes making flood mitigation an important part of infrastructure planning, drawing down federal funds to expand that work and collaborating with cities and counties that have already started to work on climate adaptation. Sprowls reiterated his intention to pursue flood mitigation in his first official address as speaker on Tuesday.

Florida Conservation Voters' letter marks the second time the environmental advocacy organization says it has asked top lawmakers for a climate change committee.

Times staff writer Kirby Wilson contributed to this report. This story was produced in partnership with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a multi-newsroom initiative founded by the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, The Palm Beach Post, the Orlando Sentinel, WLRN Public Media and the Tampa Bay Times.