Florida’s gubernatorial election is more than a year away, yet candidates are already using opposition to the Trump administration’s anti-climate agenda as a rallying point in a state feeling the effects of climate change.
Former Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL), who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said Monday if elected governor, she will make sure Florida sticks to the goals of the Clean Power Plan — the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s drive to tackle climate change. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is announcing plans this week to undo the plan, even as U.S. residents continue to recover from three devastating hurricanes and as deadly wildfires rage in California.
“Donald Trump and the politicians in Tallahassee have their heads in the sand. Our state is already feeling the effects of climate change and sea level rise — a single hurricane just destroyed countless homes, took dozens of lives and knocked out power across our entire state,” said Graham, daughter of Bob Graham, a long-time Florida politician who served as governor and U.S. senator. “I was proud to support President Obama’s Clean Power Plan in Congress, and, as governor, I will fight for Florida to enact a clean power plan to meet those goals.”
This week’s expected announcement is just the latest in a long list of actions the Trump administration has taken to undercut U.S. efforts to reduce carbon emissions and help stem global warming, including announcing it would formally withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. The United States, if the Trump administration follows through on its pledge to withdraw, would join Syria as the only two nations not to be signatories to the agreement. A third outlier, Nicaragua, has said it will sign within a year.
The actions have not gone unnoticed by local leaders. So far, the mayors of 247 U.S. cities have committed to the goals of the Paris climate agreement. U.S. cities, states, and businesses are expected to present a compilation of climate commitments to the United Nations at next month’s climate conference in Bonn, Germany.
Graham is not the only candidate opposing the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is vying with Graham for the Democratic nomination for governor, has rebuked President Donald Trump for his planned exit from the Paris climate agreement. “Instead of burying our heads in the sand, we should go down to Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, where on a non-rain day they are closing down the street due to high tide,” Gillum said in a speech in May covered by Politico. He also emphasized that Florida has the most property at risk from climate change.
On his campaign website, Gillum says he believes climate change is a real and urgent threat and that Trump, who called it a “hoax,” and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who banned the words “climate change” and “global warming” from appearing in official correspondence, are putting Floridians at risk.
The Democratic primary in Florida is scheduled for August 2018. Due to term limits in the state, Scott cannot seek reelection as governor.
In New Jersey, the candidates for governor — Democratic nominee Phil Murphy and Republican nominee Kim Guadango — have both pledged to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an interstate pact to lower greenhouse gases. The initiative establishes a regional cap on the amount of carbon dioxide pollution that power plants can emit by issuing a limited number of tradable carbon allowances. It has been lauded for reducing energy costs while reducing emissions since its launch in 2009. In 2011, Gov. Chris Christie (R) withdrew New Jersey from the program.
“Governor Christie’s decision to pull out not only slowed progress on lowering emissions, but it also cost New Jerseyans tens of millions of dollars that should have been used to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, and improve air quality in urban communities,” Murphy explains on his campaign website.
Similar to Trump’s withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, Pruitt’s plan to roll back the Clean Power Plan is serving as a wake-up call for state and local leaders, Bruce Ho, senior energy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s energy and transportation program, wrote in blog post Monday.
“Thankfully, many state and local leaders, including the governors of the nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), are doing just that: moving ahead with plans for cleaner air and energy sources that will protect public health, create jobs, and save customers billions of dollars on their energy bills too,” Ho writes.
Virginia’s gubernatorial race is pitting Democrat Ralph Northam against Republican Ed Gillespie, who supports the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal the Clean Power Plan. Northam, on the other hand, has stated that if the Trump EPA changes or does away with the Clean Power Plan, Virginia would set its own goals for power plants to reduce carbon emissions if he is elected governor next month.
In Florida, Graham, if elected to succeed Scott as governor, said she will appoint commissioners to the state Public Service Commission who understand the threat of climate change and the need to support clean energy. Combating climate change by reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels makes economic sense and will protect the state’s beaches from oil drilling, she said.
When Trump announced he would withdraw the country from the Paris climate agreement in June, Graham pledged to join a coalition of states that plan to continue combating climate change. She also has proposed that Florida implement a renewable portfolio standard, a requirement that electric utilities generate, or obtain, a percentage of electricity using some form of energy defined as renewable. A major U.S. states have some form of a renewable portfolio standard.
Graham’s rival Gillum also supports a plan to move Florida to clean energy as rapidly as possible. “If Trump and the Republicans roll back critical safeguards like the Clean Air and Water Act, Andrew will act to make sure that Florida implements its own safeguards, so that corporate polluters are not allowed to spew unlimited amounts of mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide or other pollutants into our air and water,” he said.