While upsetting climate activists and taking what many believe to be a step in the wrong direction, Governor Desantis recently signed a bill mandating the use of fossil fuels by Florida towns and cities. With popular conversations centering on zero emissions, Desantis’ actions face uproar and scrutiny.
Following similar scripts of legislation, SB 1128/HB 919 came to fruition as Florida’s version of the common “ban the ban” bill. Supported and sponsored by the oil and gas sector, the Desantis bill, as well as others, have taken root as the industry’s response to an increasing number of cities attempting to abandon natural gas usage in new construction projects.
Joining Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, and Oklahoma with the bill passage, Florida seeks to overrule that move from natural gas. This grouping of states appears small with the passing of legislation; however, an additional eight other states are considering the same course of action.
“It definitely is following the national trend we’re seeing pushed by the natural gas industry,” said Alissa Schafer, Energy and Policy Institute research and communications specialist.
The Florida bill, however, comes packed with additional provisions. It stipulates limited retaliation in which cities “may not enact or enforce a resolution, ordinance, rule, code, policy, or take any action that restricts or prohibits or has the effect of restricting or prohibiting the types of fuel sources of energy production.”
While the bill’s specific language appears to cater to natural gas usage, bill supporters indicate the directive is designed to allow for Florida citizens to have a choice in energy selection. Opposition, however, brands this “energy choice” as a term the natural gas industry has used as a catchphrase in combating proposed bans. Schafer believes the bill’s language leaves a great deal of room for interpretation and could potentially be understood to restrict cities completely from banning fossil fuels.
“Sometimes they introduce board language, and then it gets amended, a finer point put on it. But this pretty much went through as-is,” said Schafer. “It creates a pretty aggressive precedent.”
City Government Goals
Although state legislation is leaning in support of natural gas, Florida cities have contradictory ideas with 100% energy renewable goals. These include Tallahassee, Gainesville, Orlando, Satellite Beach, Dunedin, Largo, Safety Harbor, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and South Miami Beach.
Schafer explained that although cities do not typically have the ability to make determinations in the energy portfolio used by their utilities, they are currently positioned to demonstrate they care about the future origination from which their energy is provided. Some believe that with this new bill, this passion could be set to the wayside.
“We’re seeing the impacts of climate change already in Florida, so cities are trying to do whatever they can to move the needle,” said Schafer. “They’re using whatever political power they have to say this is the goal. And as cities are making these goals, it sends a signal to the legislators and utilities that this is important.”
Schafer further voiced concerns about potential restrictions in cities involving energy efficiency codes and building regulations. Additionally, educational campaigns regarding climate change and clean energy could be negatively affected as well.
“The bill leaves a lot up to interpretation,” said Schafer. “We regularly see utilities fight non-binding resolutions anyways. Now that this is in their back pocket, is this just going to give them ammo?”
While the Florida House has said that the bill would not be used against local cities and other municipalities attempting to set their own energy goals, Schafer countered that the bill is hypocritical from her vantage point.
Constituents Say Otherwise
With the common trend of major cities to leave natural gas behind as a distant memory, their citizens are voicing concerns of disagreement. Small business owners, well known as the backbone of the United States, indicate that natural gas usage is essential to their success.
According to floridapolitics.com, Debbie Beutel owns the Buffalo Chophouse with her husband, Greg. She expressed support for the current bill saying natural gas reigns as the most important factor to her kitchen’s operation.
Beutel and her husband struggled during the pandemic to keep the fruits of their hard work and dream operational, and like many other small businesses across the nation, are still recovering. Deviating from natural gas would propel their restaurant’s utility bills into unsustainable costs.
Supporting natural gas as an energy source, Beutel reasoned it is both efficient and reliable, as well as affordable. It supplies more than 70,000 businesses and 700,000 homes across the Sunshine State. Deviating to an alternate energy source would impose a surplus of unexpected and costly changes, including retrofitting her kitchen and having to buy all new appliances.
“If the local governments want to see a reduction in private business owners, which by the way the United States was built on the backs of small-business owners, then take away our access to natural gas,” said Beutel. “The consequences will be severe. Business will fail, and people will lose their jobs.”