Climate change is already costing Florida cities, large and small, a fortune. Officials desperately need to explore new avenues both to pay for much-needed efforts to make us more resilient and to dramatically reduce dangerous carbon pollution so we don’t make it worse. The looming question though is, will taxpayers be left with the bill?
Look no further than my small community of Belleair Beach: though our current annual budget is only $2.7 million, flooding and heavy rains — both climate impacts — have forced us to spend $4 million on new stormwater projects, dipping into limited reserves and creating a “huge budget gap,” according to our mayor.
Our new stormwater fees are the latest example of how flooding, made more severe and frequent thanks to climate change, are increasing costs for taxpayers.
Across the state, communities are facing even higher costs. In the Miami area, combatting storm surge means $4.6 billion for sea walls as high as 15 feet, and that’s just one project.
Impacts from climate change will continue driving these costs higher and higher. But it’s key that officials acknowledge that everyday Floridians are not to blame for the warming climate and rising seas. The credit goes to the fossil fuel industry — specifically a few major oil and gas companies that are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions — that have caused climate change. Like tobacco companies and opioid manufacturers, fossil fuel executives spent decades misleading the public about their role in climate change while communities pay the price.
A growing number of local governments — from Rhode Island to Colorado to Hawaii — have gone to court to hold them accountable for increasing costs they face. Several local governments in California had a recent victory in their effort to recover billions of dollars in damages from oil and gas companies to pay for the effects of climate change when court ruled to keep the cases in state court.
Florida officials seeking alternative ways to fund climate mitigation projects should consider similar actions to ensure that the polluting industry that caused this problem, and not taxpayers alone, pay their fair share of the damage
Susan Glickman, Belleair Beach
Florida Director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy