Is Ron DeSantis Florida’s environmental governor?

The ink was barely dry on Florida’s $ 91.1 billion state budget that weekend when the Environmental Protection Department posted an ad for a refunded position to do what would have been unthinkable months earlier: prepare the state for climate change .

Under the previous administration, the government that presided over a peninsula and had more to lose to Mother Nature than any other US state was largely uninterested in environmental protection. Under former Governor Rick Scott, regulators were banned from using the term “global warming” and conservation efforts were so scarce that voters passed a constitutional amendment that forced the state to allocate millions to land purchases.

But after a summer of toxic algae polluting the waterways along the Republican strongholds, Scott’s conservative successor Ron DeSantis has become the state’s most prominent environmental restoration advocate. After drafting a ballot report in Congress that was attacked by environmental officials, he campaigned for a green agenda and, to the pleasant surprise of environmentalists, pushed for additional Everglades funding of $ 1 billion in his early days in office .

And now that he finally has money for his priorities, DeSantis will soon have the first chance to translate them into politics – a task that will determine whether he is really the new face of republican conservatism and the first modern era greener Governor of the Sunshine State.

“We still have a lot more to do,” said DeSantis, describing his efforts so far as “a really good first step,” said Tuesday in Miami.

After lawmakers approved the state’s budget on Saturday and awarded DeSantis nearly $ 60 million, more than the $ 625 million it requested for environmental restoration and water resource management, the governor paid a visit to the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami at Virginia Key for a winning lap. In a press conference, he surrounded himself with conservationists who were celebrating an “unprecedented environmental budget”.

Erik Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, said DeSantis’ first four months in office were “a combination of Christmas, the Super Bowl and [winning] the lottery, combined “for environmentalists. Doug Gaston, a policy analyst for Audubon Florida, described the governor’s efforts as Florida’s first “meaningful step in the right direction.”

And there are signs that DeSantis will go the way.

For all the reluctance of the governor to acknowledge man-made climate change on the campaign trail, the new search for a chief resiliency officer inherently recognizes the threat climate change poses to the future of the state. His government has spoken out against an oil drilling permit on the edge of the Everglades in Broward County. DeSantis is also the first governor in decades to quarrel with Big Sugar and blow it on the stump when the industry – one of the largest sources of campaign money in Florida – backed its main Republican antagonist.

DeSantis went so far as to oust the entire South Florida Water Management District board after ignoring his request to fight off a vote and quickly renewed a Florida Cystals lease for land intended for an Everglades restoration reservoir. And on Thursday, the SFWMD board is due to adopt new goals and replace a moderate plan “to manage and protect the region’s water resources by balancing and improving flood protection” with the mission of “protecting the water resources and ecosystems in South Florida and protecting ours Protecting communities from flooding and meeting the area’s water needs while connecting with the public and stakeholders. ”

“The focus now is certainly on Everglades restoration and water conservation,” said Scott Wagner, vice chairman of the board.

DeSantis appears to have built a reservoir of goodwill for his efforts. After a bruise campaign against Andrew Gillum, who often campaigned that Florida would have “a governor who believes in science” if elected, polls have shown that DeSantis is the state’s most popular national politician.

But as a Republican lawmaker close to the climate-damaging President Donald Trump, he also has a difficult balancing act.

While DeSantis won’t prevent the state government from recognizing the threat of climate change, it has shown little interest in tackling CO2 emissions. He supported a failed fracking ban bill that was criticized by environmentalists as toothless, and derided Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal Tuesday as a “radical” policy that “wouldn’t do much for the environment anyway”.

“If you’ve dealt with Rick Scott as eight and a terrible environmental record, he doesn’t have to do much to make us feel good. So we can only go upstairs, ”said Senator Annette Taddeo from D-Miami. “My suggestion to everyone is not just to look at the pretty cover of the car. Make sure you look under the hood. We do so many things that are clearly going backwards. “

– David Smiley and Adriana Brasileiro wrote this story.

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