ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Low-lying Florida, surrounded by the sea, is one of the most vulnerable U.S. states to ocean level rise driven by climate change. State Republican legislative leaders on Friday announced a $100 million-a-year plan to tackle the issue.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said at a news conference that measures in the upcoming session of the Legislature would address flooding and sea level rise.
“With sea level rise, we are seeing that risk grow exponentially, from storm surge and tidal flooding to groundwater and flash flooding. The impacts are devastating,” Sprowls said.
“This is something that members of both chambers and both parties can agree on,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. “It is irresponsible for us to sit and do nothing.”
Several bills are being introduced for the legislative session, which begins Tuesday in Tallahassee. They include:
- $100 million a year from 2022-23 to deal with sea level rise and flooding. This plan will be updated by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
- A grant program providing money to local governments for the costs of planning and dealing with sea level rise.
- Encouraging formation of regional resilience groups to coordinate local governments around the state to work together. There are about 200 local governments involved in these coalitions already.
- Establishing a Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation that would intensively examine the state’s vulnerability and solutions for the future.
Other legislation would offer tax breaks to anyone whose property is elevated to prevent flood damage. Those improvements would not increase property taxes.
“Nine of the top 10 counties in terms of total estimate economic damage across the entire U.S. are in the state of Florida,” said Sen. Ray Rodrigues, a Fort Myers Republican. “So this issue is personal to me and my neighbors.”
The measures come after years of resistance to climate change legislation in Tallahassee, including former GOP Gov. Rick Scott’s directive that people in government avoid using that phrase. Scott is now a U.S. senator.
An advocate for addressing climate change, Yoca Arditi-Rocha, executive director of the non-profit Cleo Institute, welcomed the proposals.
“We applaud state leaders for beginning to address the chronic flooding and rising seas that are impacting real estate values and insurance costs in Florida. We must adapt to rising seas but, we also must lower the heat and rising temperatures causing seas to rise,” she said.
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