Just a few short years ago, the state of Florida’s official position on sea level rise was not only “no problem” but “don’t mention it”. Then Republican Gov. Rick Scott made national headlines by banning mention of climate change and its many impacts from official state discourse.
This month, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis turned the tide — so to speak — on sea level rise by signing into law a bill that created the Resilient Florida Grant Program in the Department of Environmental Protection. The program will use millions of dollars in state funding to aid local communities in their efforts to combat sea level rise flooding, which has been damaging coastal real estate and infrastructure for years. Some of the funding will be spent on new seawalls in Miami and West Palm Beach, drainage improvements in Key West, and reconstructed roadways at many locations.
In addition to the grant program, Gov. DeSantis signed a bill that requires the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a statewide risk assessment and draft a three-year sea level rise resilience plan.
Environmentalists are generally encouraged by the state’s willingness to acknowledge and take on the challenges posed by sea level rise flooding. They would, however, like to see officials take the next step and actually tackle the root cause of sea level rise: the burning of fossil fuels that’s driving global warming.
Lawmakers in Hawaii are taking on an issue few coastal states are ready to address: Where do you allow new real estate developments when scientists are predicting up to three-to-six feet of sea level rise by the end of this century?
The answer could have a huge impact on real estate developers, builders and people seeking affordable housing.
According to a report on Honolulu Civil Beat, some legislators in Hawaii are promoting a bill that would prevent new construction in areas below 6 1/2 feet of the current sea level. With land elevations varying greatly, that would still allow some construction right on the shore while developers wouldn’t be allowed within a half mile of beaches in other areas. Builders in Honolulu say that limit would prevent them from constructing many new developments, including projects that would be sold at a more affordable price point.
The stakes are high for Hawaii. Scientists predict that even 3.2 feet of sea level rise by 2100 would displace more than 13,000 people and lead to $12.9 billion in economic losses in Oahu alone.
As in other states, there are areas in Hawaii where coastal real estate is already experiencing flooding due to rising seas. Finding solutions that serve the needs of current generations while looking out for the future is a difficult political tightrope to walk. Further complicating the issue is the fact that the burning of fossil fuels, global warming, and rising sea levels are continuing at an accelerating pace, which makes it difficult to issue the accurate predictions coastal communities need for planning purposes.
That Hawaii is discussing this difficult issue is commendable. Other states need to step up to the plate to protect people and property.
Florida legislators are considering a bill that would establish a state-wide Office of Resiliency and a task force to research the best ways to protect the Sunshine State’s 1350 miles of coastline from sea level rise flooding.
The legislation, which has bipartisan support, is needed to help communities coordinate their response to sea level rise. With years of state-level climate change neglect, governments in South Florida and the Keys have formed their own regional compact to study the problem and seek ways to meet the challenge that complement each others’ efforts. State leadership and funding would certainly help them.
According to a Finance & Commerce report, the proposal could still face some political headwinds in Tallahassee. Environmentalists would like to see the new resiliency office deal with both sea level rise and the causes of climate change.