Florida lawmakers are taking steps to block local government officials from passing laws that restrict certain types of fuel used in energy production. Lawmakers are concerned that overzealous, politically-motivated, or even well-meaning local officials could pass local ordinances prohibiting certain types of fuels that the rest of the state relies on for energy production. That sort of far reaching impact could have a devastating effect on Floridians far outside the jurisdiction of the local ordinance.
The proposed solution, Senate Bill 856, would preempt that local authority to regulate fuel infrastructure to the state legislature.
But in an absurdly long 2,065 word opinion piece thinly disguised as a news story, Miami Herald reporter Mary Ellen Klas offered up an alternative explanation that rivaled even her most far-fetched conspiracy theories. This time, she accused Florida’s Republican lawmakers of conspiring to prevent local governments from developing “energy alternatives in the age of climate change.” She offers scant evidence to support the allegation, and then fails to provide readers with the other side of the story. Her opening paragraph is so far fetched it defies belief:
Florida’s GOP-led Legislature took the first steps on Tuesday to reach its goal of putting a stop to efforts by cities and counties to strengthen options for energy alternatives in the age of climate change.
Nowhere in the remaining 2,029 words does Klas provide a shred of evidence that Florida’s GOP-led Legislature has any such goal.
Worse, in an attempt to bolster her story, Klas extensively relies on comments from long-discredited environmental activists to support the outlandish claims in her story. In fact, both Klas and those same activists have frequently and inexcusably chosen to remain silent while local governments in Florida repeatedly blocked renewable energy projects on dubious grounds.
One of the most credibility-destroying examples of environmentalist bias and political partisanship occurred in Alachua County last October when the local government there, encouraged by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, blocked a large-scale solar plant because of “environmental racism.”
The project had been given a clean bill of health from environmental regulators, who pointed out that once construction was complete, the site would operate quietly, out of sight, behind a 50-foot deep vegetative barrier set back more than 150 feet from the road, far exceeding the county’s requirements for industrial zoning. Nowhere in their public statements on the matter did they cite actual environmental reasons for opposing the renewable energy plan. Instead, the Sierra Club relied solely on social justice reasoning:
“While advancing renewable energy is essential for the sustainability of the county, the state and the nation,” wrote the Sierra Club’s Florida Chapter in a letter to the county, “it is also essential that communities of color, which have experienced a historic and ongoing marginalization, have meaningful and substantive opportunities to meet with project managers and with county officials to understand and influence the decisions made regarding their communities.”
But the Alachua County incident was only the most absurd inconsistency in the ever-more-dubious logic of Florida’s environmental activist groups. The Sierra Club and their environmental allies were nowhere to be found just two months ago when Walton County rejected a Gulf Power plan to build a $100 million clean energy solar plant there, claiming the land was better suited for raising methane-producing cattle and growing crops using fertilizer and pesticides which flow into the Panhandle’s watershed.
There’s more. In 2019, environmentalists were silent when commissioners in Jefferson County rejected a new transmission line designed to allow Gulf Power to eliminate coal in Florida while improving reliability and resiliency during and after hurricanes that have rocked the area with increased frequency over the last five years.
The real story here is not some shopworn trope that Florida Republicans are secretly plotting to undermine efforts to combat climate change. It’s that environmental activists and their public relations partners like the Miami Herald are so deeply entrenched in progressive politics that they set aside their principles in exchange for partisan gain. Their inconsistent, hyperpartisan activism has led to numerous missed opportunities to champion large-scale renewable energy projects. Their error is compounded by the fact that their failure to support these projects only make renewable energy more expensive and less competitive with fossil fuels – the very industry these groups have sworn to fight.
Those who point out that the conservative principle of limited government means that local control is preferred over state preemption laws are missing a crucial factor: sometimes “limited government” means limiting local governments from imposing overly restrictive regulations that could have a detrimental impact on Floridians outside of their local jurisdiction. That’s exactly the case this time. Sadly, it’s one that Mary Ellen Klas and the Miami Herald have chosen to ignore so that they can advance their own anti-GOP political agenda.
Republican lawmakers are right to revoke regulatory authority from increasingly partisan local officials who seek to advance inconsistent and often radical political agendas that will turn Florida into a patchwork of impossible-to-navigate fiefdoms.
Just like air pollution, carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, electricity also travels across city and county jurisdictional lines. Politically motivated decisions in one part of the state have significant ramifications for all Floridians. That’s why state lawmakers need to limit local authority in this area to ensure that all Floridians are benefitting from sound energy and environmental policy. If one really cares about the climate, our state and even the planet, then it’s time to consider the big picture. Sadly, that’s just the sort of thinking Mary Ellen Klas and the Miami Herald no longer engage in.