DeSantis Urged To Veto Bills That Would Make It Harder For Cities To Reduce Emissions

Apr 27, 2021

The Sierra Club of Florida has sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis urging him to veto twelve bills, including some that would make it harder for local governments to reduce fossil fuel emissions, the leading driver of climate change.

The letter sent Monday lists twelve bills that Sierra Club staff, members and supporters have labeled as anti-environment and/or anti-democracy.

“Sierra Club is appalled by the Legislature’s unprecedented attack on our state’s natural resources and the transparent, fair processes that Floridians have used to protect the environment and public health in the past,” said Deborah Foote, acting Florida chapter director. “This then is the ultimate test for Governor DeSantis. When he addresses this list of bills, he will show himself to be either the enemy of environmental protection and the public process or their champion.”

Among the bills listed in the letter are three introduced or co-introduced by Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast). 

Related: Local Efforts To Fight Climate change Could Be Stymied By State Lawmakers

SB 856 preempts the regulation of transportation energy infrastructure by local governments, leaving that power solely in the hands of the state. The bill would prevent local governments from banning gas stations or requiring gas stations to have electric vehicle charging stations.

The proposal originally aimed to prevent local governments from banning natural gas fracking, but was dramatically changed to focus on transportation.

SB 896 would expand the term “renewable energy” to include “biogas” and “renewable natural gas,” among other things. 

Methane, the main component in natural gas and biogas, is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas in the U.S. behind carbon dioxide, according to the EPA. Although carbon dioxide has a longer-lasting effect, methane’s warming power is much higher.

SB 1128 would preempt local governments’ ability to regulate the type or the fuel sources of energy production, though the bill does say that governmental entities would not be prevented from regulating a utility that it owns or operates and directly controls.

JEA, the predominant electric utility in Jacksonville, is owned by the city.

The bill would also void any relevant existing policies that have been implemented by local governments.

Sen. Hutson has said in the past that he knows climate change is happening and he supports moving towards clean energy, but he believes the state government needs to take steps to protect consumers.

“I want to see more electric vehicle charging stations. I want to see more solar power and other forms of renewable energy that we're using. Where I'm trying to draw the line is any local government that's willing to take away that consumer choice,” he said when defending his legislation during a March committee meeting.

The Sierra Club isn’t the only prominent organization who is vocally opposed to Hutson’s bills.

“As rising sea levels and climate change supercharged extreme weather increasingly and directly impact Floridians, it is shameful that the legislature would preempt local governments from attempting to do something about this problem,” said Food & Water Watch Southern Region Deputy Director Michelle Allen. “If Governor DeSantis signs these bills, it will show his rhetoric about the environment to be nothing more than hot air — something we will be experiencing much more in the years to come.”

The effort to preempt local governments in Florida from moving away from fossil fuels is part of a nationwide trend, according to E&E News, which reports on energy and environment issues.

SB 856 and SB 1128 have already been approved by the Legislature and would become law if they’re signed by Gov. DeSantis.

Other bills outlined in the Sierra Club letter touch on everything from water and air quality to land use and elections.

“This is a pass fail test,” said David Cullen, a Sierra Club lobbyist. “Either stop all this stuff and start doing the right thing or stop pretending you're a ‘Teddy Roosevelt’ conservative.”

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.