Guest opinion: Supreme Court ruling on the EPA made Florida more unsafe

Dr. Jennifer Jones
Special to The News-Press
Carbon emissions from a power plant.

It's no wonder some folks in Florida still don’t believe the climate crisis is caused by people — we have done a terrible job talking about it. The recent decision by the Supreme Court limiting the EPA’s ability to prevent the spewing of dangerous fossil fuel emissions is a symbol of public ignorance and puts our environment, people and economy at more risk. The science is irrefutable: Human emissions of greenhouse gasses — from burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal — are warming the earth and endangering our communities. This new ruling against the EPA gives power to fossil fuel companies to profit in the short term at the expense of Florida’s prosperity in the long term.

At least we are finally talking about strategies to adapt to the impacts of climate change by building resilience along our coastlines and in our communities. Florida is spending hundreds of millions of tax-payer dollars on seawalls and hardening roads to better withstand storms and flooding. But adapting to the impacts of climate change is only half the story. We need to talk about reducing emissions of the heat-trapping gasses that continue to warm the planet. We need to speak publicly about the ridiculousness of elevating our roads and bridges while taking zero action to stop making the problem worse.

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If you are fishing one afternoon in the Gulf of Mexico and your boat starts taking on water, you do two things: start bailing and look for the hole so you can plug it as soon as possible. You do not pretend there is no hole or ignore the water rushing in. It's a sinking strategy to bail your way out of a boat that is taking on water faster than you can remove it. But that is what we are doing by ignoring the root cause of climate change.

Dr. Jennifer Jones

Here is the rub: Embracing strategies to reduce fossil fuel emissions in Florida will strengthen our people, place and wallets. This is the Sunshine State, yet it is not a leader in research, production or use of solar power. Only 4% of the state’s power comes from solar energy, and the rest is largely from oil and gas. Florida could become a technology hub for creating solar and other renewable energy sources. Instead, politics and special interests coerce you to cool your home with natural gas piped in from out of state rather than installing affordable solar panels on your roof.

The ruling against the EPA will strengthen oil and gas companies outside of Florida instead of incentivizing the marketplace to invest in solar and renewable energy that would benefit all of us.

To be sure, some of you will argue it's not the role of the government to tackle change. Really? Without the EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Water Act in Southwest Florida, our Gulf waters would be even more polluted and the Everglades completely lost.

Of course, we need the government to help keep us safe and healthy. In case you forgot, EPA stands for Environmental Protection Agency, a body created by a Republican president in the 1970s to tackle the pollutants that were killing people and the environment. It's time more of us talk publicly about the need for government action to protect our health, economy and communities. Speaking publicly about the need to reduce fossil fuels as the root cause of the climate crisis is one of the most important things we can do to tackle climate change.

Dr. Jennifer Jones is director of the Center for Environment & Society, part of The Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University.