Florida Republican Leaders Pledge in a Column to Address Sea Level Rise Now

Climate change denial is apparently a thing of the past for Florida’s Republican political leadership. State Representative Chris Sprowls, the incoming Speaker of the Florida House, and State Senator Wilton Simpson, incoming President of the Florida Senate, co-authored a column recently published in the Tampa Bay Times titled “Republican leaders say Florida must prepare for sea level rise.”

“With 1,350 miles of coastline, relatively low elevations, and communities built on top of former swampland, Florida remains particularly vulnerable to the risk of flooding caused by sea level rise,” Sprowls and Simpson wrote. “Over the last several years, we have seen that risk grow exponentially.”

This observation is a far cry from a time not too long ago when Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott gained national notoriety for discouraging any mention of climate change or sea level rise in government documents.

Sprowls and Simpson go on to note that high tide flooding events — commonly known as “sunny day” flooding — are becoming more common, and just a foot of projected sea level rise will put 65,000 homes and almost 122,000 Floridians at risk. Furthermore, they wrote, “Over 20 percent of homes, the largest single investment for families, have a greater than one-in-four chance of flooding over a 30-year mortgage.” The flooding, they said, “damages homes, disrupts businesses, and displaces families and employees, which leads to, among other significant impacts, increases in insurance premiums for all Floridians.”

To address the challenges posed by sea level rise, Sprowls and Simpson said the state legislature funded Resilient Coastlines Program has already awarded grants to 30 coastal communities to help them strengthen their resilience to floodwaters. They then went on to call for more flood mitigation projects, such as the enhancement of natural barriers, including dunes, mangroves and stormwater parks, and the construction of man-made barriers, including seawalls, berms, and improved stormwater systems.

Sprowls and Simpson also called for a stronger partnership with the federal government to develop long-range planning and funding for the effort to battle sea level rise. And they called on the federal government to give Florida a “greater proportion of existing funds allocated for flood prevention.”

Finally, they said they want to see the state “partner with cities and counties that are doing good work and incentivize those who are falling behind.”

Sprowls and Simpson closed their column by noting that Florida can’t afford to ignore climate change during the pandemic. “Although the COVID-19 pandemic can feel overwhelming and all consuming,” they wrote, “we cannot allow short-term anxieties to blind us to our long-term needs.”

In recent years, some Florida coastal governments have banded together to form regional compacts to tackle sea level rise flooding while the state dithered. Sprowls’ and Simpson’s column is a welcome signal that the state legislature intends to take a leadership role in helping local governments to better coordinate and fund their responses. To protect their investments, everyone who owns real estate in the Sunshine State needs to hold them to their word.