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Environmentalists Hope DeSantis Vetoes Utility Preemption Bill

Environmentalists are urging Governor Ron DeSantis to veto a bill they say would impact local plans to transition fully to renewable energy.
Andriy Blokhin
Adobe Stock
Environmentalists are urging Governor Ron DeSantis to veto a bill they say would impact local plans to transition fully to renewable energy.

Environmentalists are hoping Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoes a proposal that would stop local governments from banning or restricting what fuels utilities can use. They fear it could threaten local clean energy plans.

Zac Cosner, with the environmentalist group, Florida Conservation Voters, says the measure has some problematic language. It bans local governments from taking any action that restricts or has the effect of restricting the fuels utilities can use. Instead, the state would preempt that power—Cosner questions what the "effect of restricting" means.

"Does a gasoline tax count as a policy that would have an effect of restricting because a lot of municipalities use local gasoline taxes to shore up their infrastructure budgets," Cosner says.

Cosner expects lawsuits to crop up because he says the proposal's language is unclear where local government's power ends, and the state's preemption begins. Cosner says that may steer some local governments away from making clean energy commitments.

"Theoretically, a goal to transition to 100% renewable energy citywide excludes fossil fuels—certain types of fuel. And so, it was already questionable whether or not cities would have the capacity under current laws at the state level to fully transition to 100% renewable energy, but now it's quite clear that ultimately, they can't. They cannot control for the use of fossil fuels within their jurisdictions," Cosner says.

Rep. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast) sponsored the Senate version of the proposal. He says it's not meant to do away with local government's clean energy plans. Instead, it's meant to stop them from banning natural gas.

"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.

Cosner says that means places can still incentivize renewable energy developments but says it strips local government's ability to transition fully to renewable energy.

"It doesn't completely take away options that locals have on the table, but it really severely curtails the slate of options that municipalities have available to them," Cosner says.

Cosner hopes DeSantis will veto the proposal—as does Susan Glickman, Florida Director of the Southern Alliance of Clean Energy.

"The governor has a decision to make, and that's whether he wants to weigh in on the side of the people of the state of Florida or of the polluters who want to lock in an increasing amount of gas infrastructure," Glickman says.

Glickman says the proposal runs against Republican-led efforts to address the impacts of sea level rise. She says locking in natural gas infrastructure causes greenhouse gas emissions, making climate change worse.

"We can't adapt our way out of climate change. So, we don't want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to adapt to sea level rise while we're simultaneously making the problem worse by locking in all this gas infrastructure that we will be saddled with for decades," Glickman says.

One Republican supporter of the bill, Rep. Bobby Payne (R-Palatka), rebuked that argument.

There's a sound byte out there that says we are responsible for climate change. I don't accept that premise. Climate change has been going on since the beginning of time. You can go to Colorado and look at the rivers and the lakes and see the stratification and the rock layers—water ebbing and flowing. Climate change has been going on forever. The amount of impact we have as humans on climate change is infinitesimal," Payne says.

Under the measure, local governments that own or operate and directly control their utilities can still take actions to regulate that utility.

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Robbie Gaffney