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Amid record heat, Florida agencies give EPA climate change rules a cold shoulder

Ooooooo-wee, have you noticed how hot it’s been this summer? Feels-like temperatures are up around 115 degrees, even a heat index of 120 in Pensacola in June. Repeated “excessive heat warnings” from the National Weather Service. Recently, the Miami Herald measured beach sand at 137 degrees and playground surfaces at 177. Ouch!

How hot is it? So hot that Florida prison inmates are being temporarily allowed to wear shorts.

Instead of “Cool Hand Luke,” they’re now “Cool Leg Luke.” I bet every time one of the prisoners (or the guards) collapses in those non-air-conditioned cellblocks, the warden says, “What we have here is a failure to hydrate!”

Despite the brutal heat, this is the moment when our Florida Department of Environmental Protection has chosen to give the federal government the old cold shoulder.

The DEP, which always seems to do its darnedest to protect us from the environment, has told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that its latest plan for battling climate change is as stinky as a fishkill from one of our heat-fueled toxic algae blooms.

In May, the EPA proposed clamping down on emissions from power plants that burn coal and natural gas. The agency targeted those carbon emissions because that’s what creates the greenhouse effect in our atmosphere, trapping heat from the sun.

The EPA had a pretty good plan to combat this stuff already. Unfortunately, last year the robe-wearing panhandlers on the U.S. Supreme Court, no doubt obeying what their donors told them to do, ruled that the Clean Air Act that empowered the agency to regulate smog, soot, and acid rain didn’t cover carbon emissions.

That’s why the EPA had to cook up this new plan, one that calls for the utilities themselves to choose how to stop cooking the planet. And the new EPA standards will ultimately be implemented and enforced by individual states, not by the feds, in the hope that the Supremes will let this stand.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan told CNN the new plan aims to meet President Joe Biden’s goal for America to be producing 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, even as baseline electricity costs would go up just 2 percent by 2030 and another 0.08 percent by 2040.

But the Florida DEP is having none of this! No sir! No fair cracking down on the poor utilities.

Shawn Hamilton via Florida Department of Environmental Protection

In a letter sent last week, DEP Secretary Shawn “I Keep My Thermostat Set Just Above Freezing” Hamilton told the EPA that its rule is bad. Why? Because it “places the reliability, affordability, and capacity of the nation’s energy supply at risk.”

Yes, we must have reliable electricity to run our A/C units 24/7 when the weather outside is this hot. That’s the Florida way, no matter how high our skyrocketing utility bills may climb.

“The proposed rules put states like Florida at greater risk, by attempting to force unproven transitional energy practices ahead of generating the energy capacity necessary to meet the demand of our residents, visitors, and businesses,” Hamilton told the feds.

Capacity! Yes! As our state sprawls out of control — er, excuse me, I mean “grows at a rapid pace because our governor is so darn popular” — we must build more power plants to burn fossil fuels to support all those new homes and businesses.

I asked the DEP whether there was anything the EPA could do about climate change that the state would support, but never heard back. I bet that was because it’s so hot. You can’t possibly expect bureaucrats to do anything about climate change when it’s this hot.

John Gorrie via Florida Inventors Hall of Fame

I mean, it’s so hot you can’t fry an egg on the sidewalk because it would burn. Stay indoors and crank your Carrier! A Florida man named Dr. John Gorrie was the first to patent a mechanical cooling system. We should make full use of it in his honor!

Also, I suspect Hamilton and other state officials are hesitant to do anything about climate change because Gov. Ron “I Wish These Iowans Would Stop Taunting Me”DeSantis dislikes it so much. Heck, he can’t even bring himself to say the term.

As a result, “the very agency that’s supposed to protect us is putting us further in harm’s way,” said Susan Glickman, a clean energy consultant with Florida Clinicians for Climate Action.

The limit does not exist

DEP isn’t alone in this fight against the future. Florida’s Power Servants Commission — er, excuse me, Public Service Commission — has already sent in a similar letter objecting to what the EPA was proposing.

I asked the DEP if it worked with anyone — the PSC, utilities, etc. — in writing its letter. A spokesman said the DEP’s letter “simply outlines the flaws of EPA’s proposed rule and the negative impact it would have on Floridians. While the concerns raised in DEP’s comment letter are shared by the PSC, Florida utilities, and many other states for that matter, DEP’s letter was written independent of them.”

Just like the DEP, the PSC warned about what havoc these rules would cause for “the safety, reliability, and affordability of electric service” for all that new development putting an increased demand on the grid.

“The last thing we want to see is unnecessary expenses falling back on our customers,” said Public Service Commissioner Mike LaRosa.

If you’re not familiar with LaRosa, he’s a DeSantis appointee, a former legislator and, according to LinkedIn, co-founder of LaRosa Realty and vice president of LaRosa Development.

It’s … oh, let’s say “interesting,” to see the DEP and PSC weigh in on this issue in this ornery way. These are the state agencies that are supposed to regulate our utilities, yet somehow can’t be bothered to snap a leash on them.

Dawn Shireffs via Environmental Defense Fund

I say this because of two facts that I first heard this week from Dawn Shireffs, Florida director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

One is that, on a ranking of the 100 most polluting power plants in the nation, Florida has nine of them.

The list includes the Seminole Electric Cooperative’s coal-fired power plant in Putnam County, Duke Energy’s gas- and oil-burning Hines Energy Complex in Polk County, and the Orlando Utilities Commission’s coal-and-gas powered Stanton Energy Center.

(Five of the nine, by the way, are gas-burning plants that belong to NextEra Energy, owner of Florida Power & Light, the biggest utility in the state.)

That statistic apparently doesn’t bother the DEP or the PSC, but it would bother me if I were in charge. Especially during an unprecedented heat wave that’s been boiling our coral reefs to death.

Her second point: Florida has no overall energy plan. We’re one of the few states without one to guide us, Shireffs told me. That means whatever the utilities want to do is our plan.

“We had a plan for cutting emissions in 2008,” she said. “Instead, we went the other direction.”

Over the past 12 years, under a couple of governors who didn’t want anyone to so much as mention climate change, that emissions plan disappeared like a fist when you open your hand.

Last year, there was a lot of hoopla about Florida setting a goal to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Everyone concerned about our future saw that and said, ”Whew, well, that’s a start!”

But anyone who read past the headlines saw that the person setting that goal was Nikki Fried, then the state Agriculture Commissioner and a Democratic candidate for governor. It would be up to the gubernatorial appointees on the PSC to carry it out. They weren’t likely to do so unless Fried somehow wound up in the Governor’s Mansion.

Once Fried lost and was out of office in January, her renewable goal went the way of the dinosaurs whose compressed skeletons form the oil deposits we now burn in our cars and power plants.

Our energy plan is sort of like our statewide growth plan for controlling sprawl. We used to have one but now we don’t. As Lindsay Lohan discovered in the movie “Mean Girls,” “The limit does not exist.”

But here’s something that the DEP and PSC may not be aware of: At least one Florida utility has seen how this all plays out and is planning for a very different future — one in line with the EPA’s plans.

Getting green to go green

As I mentioned, Florida Power & Light, owned by NextEra Energy, is the largest utility in the state. In the past it’s also been one of the most politically influential.

One of NextEra’s other subsidiaries, NextEra Energy Resources, bills itself as the world’s largest producer of wind and solar energy. In other words, NextEra is greener than a Publix aisle full of fresh lettuce. I’d say NextEra was the wokest company in Florida, but then the governor would feel compelled to attack it.

Last year, NextEra’s parent company announced plans to ditch its fossil fuel reliance by 2045 and instead “generate only carbon-emissions-free energy from a diverse mix of wind, solar, battery storage, nuclear, green hydrogen, and other renewable sources.”

In its press release, the company said it “intends to help lead the decarbonization of the U.S. economy, a more than $4 trillion market opportunity, by significantly increasing low-cost renewable energy deployment.”

How do the DEP and PSC not know that Florida’s biggest utility is going all in for alternative energy sources? As the warden in “Cool Hand Luke” might say, “What we have here is a failure to coordinate!”

I contacted NextEra’s media relations office to ask if the company had commented on the EPA plan. A spokesman told me he didn’t have anything to say.

Maggie Shober via LinkedIn

But Maggie Shober of the Southern Coalition for Clean Energy, which supports the EPA plan, told me that NextEra is part of an industry group called the Energy Strategy Coalition. And the coalition’s official comments on the EPA plan sure sound pretty positive.

Their letter to the EPA spells out why they’re so gung-ho: The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act “provide hundreds of billions of dollars in tax credits, grants, and loan authority to build new clean generation and storage resources.”

It’s a lot easier for a company to go green when they’re getting a lot of green.

But as FPL’s parent company pushes ahead, Florida seems to be lagging behind — not just in Tallahassee but also in our classrooms.

The four R’s

There’s a company called PragerU that produces educational videos with a distinctly conservative slant. You might say they teach the four R’s — readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic, with a big old dollop of Rush Limbaugh ladled over all of it.

Florida just became the first state in the nation to approve the use of PragerU’s videos in our public school classrooms.

Remember all of the governor’s talk about how much he hates schoolwork that’s actually indoctrination? Apparently he’s okay with the right kind of indoctrination — the right wing kind, that is.

Dennis Prager via his website

“It’s true we bring doctrines to children,” the U’s founder, conservative radio show host Dennis Prager, has said, according to the Miami Herald. “But what is the bad about our indoctrination?”

I’d say “the bad” is that the videos value ideology over accuracy.

Most of the news coverage about PragerU’s has focused on a video that shows an animated Frederick Douglass defending slavery as a necessary compromise for a young nation.

Douglass, a onetime slave who learned to read and escaped to freedom, was a fairly animated character in real life. He wrote books and delivered speeches opposed to slavery, all while pursued by bounty hunters who plotted to drag him back to his purported owners. He would never under any circumstances have defended the cruel slave system.

And the animation is so clunky! I mean, these videos make “Shrek” look sophisticated.

What caught my attention, though, was another aspect of the Prager indoctrination system — namely, that they offer videos claiming that when it comes to the climate “things aren’t that bad.”

One, about a girl in Poland, claims that burning fossil fuels is actually better for society than drawing energy from “unreliable” wind and solar sources. Another argues that the world needs to use more fossil fuels, not less.

In fact, all those carbon-heavy emissions from coal, oil, and gas are helping the world to grow more crops! Big power plants are actually the farmers’ best friend!

“Young kids are being taught climate hysteria,” CEO Marissa Streit told E&E News. “They’re hearing that the world is coming to an end, and we think that there needs to be a healthy balance.”

“Healthy balance,” in this case, means lying to impressionable children and hoping they don’t figure it out.

You may be wondering if LiarU has some connection to the fossil fuel industry it praises so much. If you are, congrats! You’ve hit the cynic’s jackpot.

This “education” company is backed primarily by fracking industry billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks, who have been dubbed “the Koch brothers of the Christian Right.”

While the DEP and PSC may endorse the line of fertilizer that PragerU is peddling, I’m disappointed to see our Department of Education buy into it as well. Woe to any teacher who actually shows one in class and tried to claim it’s reality-based.

But if they do, I am hopeful that our kids — like the ones in Montana who successfully sued their own state — will be able to look at the world around them and see the truth.

They’ll see the soaring heat wave on land and beneath the sea, the intensifying hurricanes and rising storm surges, the water in the streets on sunny days, the spread of more mosquito-borne diseases and toxic algae blooms. Then they’ll see the PragerU lessons for what they really are: desperate propaganda from a dying industry.

As the warden in “Cool Hand Luke” might put it, “What we have here is a failure.”

EPA, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Craig Pittman, Florida, Environment, Florida Phoenix