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Local Governments Can't Ban Utility Use Of Certain Fuels Under Senate Bill

A Senate bill would stop local governments from being able to restrict or ban utilities from using certain fuel sources like natural gas. Its sponsor, Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast), says some local governments are planning to move away from fossil fuels, and he wants to stop it.
A Senate bill would stop local governments from being able to restrict or ban utilities from using certain fuel sources like natural gas. Its sponsor, Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast), says some local governments are planning to move away from fossil fuels, and he wants to stop it.

Environmentalists are concerned over a series of bills aimed at promoting consumer choice by preempting local government control of energy-related issues. Senate Bill 1128 is one of them. It would stop local governments from being able to restrict or ban utilities from using certain fuel sources like natural gas.

"Even worse than that is the fact that the bill is retroactive in nature, which, in my opinion, is the worst kind of preemption bill," Jane West says. She works for 1,000 Friends of Florida, a non-profit advocacy group. If a local government plans to reduce the amount of natural gas it relies on, West says those plans could be undone under SB 1128.

"Think about all the time and energy and resources that have gone into some of these issues, for example, on greenhouse gas emissions that a local government might be trying to enact regulation on, stemming back, over a decade ago. So that's the problem, is those would all be wiped off the books to the detriment of all the taxpayers within that local government," West says.

Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast) is the bill's sponsor. Hutson says some local governments are planning to move away from fossil fuels like natural gas, and he wants to stop it.

"I think that is wrong, I don't think governments should pick and choose winners and losers, and so each bill you can be progressive moving forward with new clean energy, but you can't be regressive and ban the energies that are currently in place," Hutson says.

Bradley Marshall is an attorney for Earth Justice, a non-profit environmental law organization. He says the bill takes away residents' ability to have a say in what energy they want to use.

"And cities have been at the forefront in recognizing the threat of climate change and promoting the transition to renewable clean energy, and basically this is putting up a big stop sign and saying, 'no,' they are not allowed to take action to move the state forward and serve their own constituents," Marshall says.

Marshall also says it's unclear how cities that operate their own utilities would continue doing so under the bill.

"For example, here in Tallahassee, we have a municipal electric utility that is directly run by the city government," Marshall says.

Tallahassee currently has two solar farms. Marshall says if the city decides to build more solar farms or expand them, the action could have the effect of restricting another fuel type because the city would be relying on solar more. And under Hutson's bill, that power would be preempted to the state.

"It would make it very hard for a city to operate its own utility when it's basically being told they're not allowed to operate and decide their own fuel," Marshall says.

Hutson disagrees with Marshall's take.

"They would be able to do a solar farm if they want to—wind, solar, electric charging stations, all that stuff they would be able to do," Hutson says.

He says the bill doesn't ban local governments from diversifying their fuel sources.

"They just wouldn't be able to go backward by saying, 'no gas stations or no natural gas in our community,'" Hutson says.

The bill has one more committee stop to go before heading to the Senate floor. Another proposal from Hutson would preempt the regulation of transportation energy infrastructure to the state. That means local governments wouldn't be allowed to create rules stricter than state law on the production, importing, storage, and distribution of fuels like petroleum, gasoline, and electricity. Environmentalists are concerned this proposal could preempt local government bans on fracking.

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