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Climate Change Action Proposed in Legislature

Future of Bills Depends Upon Legislative Leadership

A group of Democratic lawmakers unveiled an energy-efficiency plan this week that would reward farmers for conserving energy, assess energy efficiency in state-funded buildings, and create "floating solar" systems – among other projects.

The plan - a bill for consideration in the 2022 legislative session - is sponsored by state Sen. Tina Polsky and state Rep. Kelly Skidmore, both of Palm Beach County, with backing from Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Nikki Fried, the state's only statewide-elected Democrat.

The sponsors describe the bill as an "aggressive, statewide climate change mitigation strategy with the goal of reducing state greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030, 90 percent by 2050, and 100 percent by 2055."

Greenhouse gases, emitted by burning fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas, are accumulating in the atmosphere and causing the climate to change, according to scientists worldwide.

The bill also would set new standards in support of solar installations and establish consumer protections to ensure that investments in solar are secure and fruitful, with consumer affairs being part of Commissioner Fried's departmental responsibility.

The "floating solar" component of the bill involves installing solar panels that float atop retention pond systems, which are plentiful in Florida, thus requiring less consumption of land area.

"This bill is big and bold, but we need to go forward with it. It's time to take serious action. Let's put partisan politics aside and do this," Polsky said at a press conference in Boca Raton atop a solar-paneled rooftop.

However, Republicans who control the House, Senate and governorship have for years rejected proposals to shift the state from dependence on fossil fuel to clean energy and energy-efficiency. The proposals, which gained no traction in GOP-controlled committees, included installing solar panels on public-school rooftops and helping cities and counties invest in clean-energy infrastructure. Last session, lawmakers approved spending for projects to ease the impact of flooding on cities and counties, but such projects do nothing to slow the pace of worsening climate change.

Boca Raton is among many Florida cities dealing with the consequences of the changing climate, said City Councilwoman Monica Mayotte.

"We are seeing the effects of climate change all around us, especially here in Boca," Mayotte said. "It is well past time to move forward as a state ... to ensure our state is moving in the right direction both economically and environmentally at the same time. We cannot be successful at either unless we lead on both."

With Florida agriculture – including the state's signature citrus industry - feeling the climate-change impacts of extreme heat, invasive crop diseases, and increasing storm damage, farmers would benefit from such programs, said Justin Dunlap, representing the United Farmers Alliance.

The Polsky-Skidmore bill would create tax credits for farms that produce renewable energy and would provide financial assistance to producers who choose to implement recommended conservation programs.

"It is really important for the agricultural community to stay innovative on their approach for the development of new agricultural entities," Dunlap said. "It's important for the agriculture industry to take a sustainable approach when retaining and developing new farms."


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