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Fla. Senate Discusses Climate Change Issues

Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, filed a proposal to establish an Office of Resiliency that operates under Gov. Ron DeSantis, and a nine-member Sea-Level Rise Task Force to create baseline projections on expected sea-level rise and its flooding impact on Fla.’s coastlines.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An effort is back in the Senate to permanently set up a statewide office to consider climate change impacts, as environmentalists wait for a new chief resiliency officer to be appointed.

Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, filed a proposal Friday to establish an Office of Resiliency, a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis. The Office of Resiliency would be part of DeSantis’ office.

Rodrigues’ proposal (SB 514) would also set up a nine-member Sea-Level Rise Task Force to create baseline projections on expected sea-level rise and its flooding impact on Fla.’s coastlines.

A similar proposal during the 2020 legislative session drew unanimous support in the Senate but failed to get through House committees. Rodrigues’ bill is filed for the 2021 session, which will start March 2.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein said Monday his office will continue to be involved in sea-level rise discussions, regardless of the location of the office or who is appointed chief resiliency officer, a position he currently holds and considers “interim.”

“The agency (Department of Environmental Protection) will work on the issue of climate change, no matter what,” Valenstein told members of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. “One of the reasons it was easy for me to step in as interim chief resiliency officer was we already have a great program covering many of these things. And so, I think for my position, it was one where I was able to do double duty and do it, hopefully, effectively.”

Through an executive order issued days after he became governor in January 2019, DeSantis created the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection within Valenstein’s agency, as well as the chief resiliency officer position.

In changing a narrative that Republicans were avoiding the science of climate change, DeSantis sought the resiliency office as part of a multi-pronged effort to help grapple with water issues that included the potential effects of sea-level rise.

DeSantis also set up the Blue-Green Algae Task Force to work on issues related to algae fouling waterways and included a request for $2.5 billion over four years for Everglades restoration and water resource protection. Legislators have so far responded to DeSantis’ request with more than $1.3 billion.

Jonathan Webber, deputy director of the Florida Conservation Voters, speaking remotely Monday to the Senate committee, said while Valenstein is “smart and capable,” the chief resiliency officer position “really should belong to one person who is dedicated to that job.”

“I do want to encourage you to think big in terms of mission and scope for the CRO (chief resiliency officer),” Webber told committee members. “Future generations are counting on this body to take action.”

Environmentalists have considered the position vacant since Julia Nesheiwat left a year ago to become deputy assistant for homeland security and resilience in President Donald Trump’s administration.

Nesheiwat, a former U.S. Army military intelligence officer who was raised in Umatilla and served in the two prior presidential administrations, became the first person to hold the chief resiliency officer title in 2019.

Source: News Service of Florida