Gillum lays out environmental plan in ground zero for red tide
Written by WPVR on October 12, 2018
SIESTA KEY — With red tide now encircling the state, Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum came to one of the hardest-hit regions Tuesday to lay out his environmental plan and bash his opponent as an “election year” environmentalist.
Speaking under a pavilion at Siesta Key Public Beach within sight of where fish killed by the toxic red tide algae bloom have been washing ashore, Gillum called for a transformation in how Florida approaches environmental issues.
“Our water, our air, our oceans, all of it have been compromised under Republican control,” Gillum told a crowd of roughly 150 people who spilled out of the pavilion and onto the surrounding beach landscape.
With domestic absentee ballots starting to go out Tuesday, the 2018 election season is entering the final stretch and environmental issues continue to dominate much of the debate.
Red tide was detected off the coast of Palm Beach County this week, a rare occurrence that means the toxic algae is now affecting communities from the Panhandle to Southwest Florida and the Atlantic coast. Add in the blue-green algae blooms that are spilling over from Lake Okeechobee into estuaries on both coasts and Florida is experiencing an environmental disaster of epic proportions.
“I think that there’s no question that it is the issue of this election,” Siesta Key state Rep. Margaret Good said Tuesday after introducing Gillum. “What’s happening in Southwest Florida, what’s happening in Sarasota is happening all around the state.”
Gillum released a television ad Tuesday touting his commitment to environmental protection and unveiled a multi-pronged environmental plan that calls for funding septic to sewer conversion programs, reinstating the Red Tide Control and Mitigation Grants Program and the Harmful Algae Blooms Taskforce, banning fracking for oil and gas, reducing carbon emissions and transitioning to renewable energy, reinstating growth management laws and working to “strictly limit sources of nutrient runoff.”
However, Gillum did not offer any specific new regulations to address fertilizer runoff or other sources of excess nutrients, such as leaky septic tanks, that can feed red tide blooms.
Gillum’s GOP opponent, Ron DeSantis, has argued the Democrat’s rhetoric on environmental issues doesn’t match his record.
Gillum’s “environmental track record proves that he would be terrible at improving our quality of life,” DeSantis tweeted last month.
In 2005 Gillum, who currently serves as mayor of Tallahassee, supported a new coal-fired power plant as a member of the Tallahassee City Commission. The project was never built and Gillum eventually changed his position on the plant.
Gillum’s campaign also received a “false” rating from PolitiFact for claiming that under the mayor’s leadership “Tallahassee reduced its carbon intensity by roughly 40 percent.” PolitiFact found that the reduction in carbon intensity began before Gillum joined the commission and that “recent data from the city shows that … the amount of carbon dioxide released has actually gone up 4 percent” between 2014 and 2016.
DeSantis’s allies have pointed to Gillum’s early support for the coal power plant and the 4 percent increase in carbon emissions to argue the mayor’s environmental record is not good. Asked about the criticism Tuesday, Gillum said “first off I would direct him to the facts.”
“What would be important is in the city of Tallahassee we actually made a very green turn,” Gillum said. “Our energy source is 98 percent reliant on natural gas and beyond that we’re building and strengthening our energy renewable portfolio. My commission voted unanimously toward moving toward an energy neutral 100 percent renewable energy source 20 years from now and we’ve begun that process already.”
More than most Republicans, DeSantis has positioned himself as an environmental champion. DeSantis relentlessly criticized his GOP primary opponent as beholden to “Big Sugar.” He has long been an outspoken critic of the sugar industry, which frequently is blamed for contributing to the excess nutrients that feed algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee and coastal estuaries.
DeSantis rolled out his environmental platform three weeks ago. It includes many policies that are similar to Gillum’s, including a ban on fracking, more money for land conservation and opposition to offshore oil drilling. DeSantis also told the Herald-Tribune in July during and event in Fort Myers that he is open to new regulations on polluters.
“We will absolutely look at what needs to be done in terms of the regulatory apparatus because that is one thing, that is not infringing on people’s rights or livelihood that’s helping people’s rights and livelihood because they’re just trying to live their lives in Southwest Florida, they have all this stuff spewing into their waterways,” DeSantis said.
There is a sharper divide between DeSantis and Gillum on other environmental issues, such as climate change.
Gillum’s environmental plan includes measures to curb carbon emissions that warm the planet. He wants to establish a “renewable energy portfolio standard” in Florida that would require electric companies to generate a specific percentage of their energy from renewables.
DeSantis told the Herald-Tribune in August during an Englewood event focused on red tide that climate change is not a problem state government can help mitigate.
“I certainly don’t think in Tallahassee, you know, we’re going to be able at the state level to do things that are really global in nature so that’s something that I think is more of a national and international issue,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis said he believes the state should take action to address the impacts of sea level rise, although he seemed to question whether climate change and rising seas are caused by human activity.
Gillum jabbed at DeSantis’s environmental record Tuesday, saying the congressman from northeast Florida “had six years in Congress to do right by the state of Florida.”
Gillum’s environmental plan includes an entire page dedicated to bashing DeSantis. It says he voted to “weaken clean water laws 33 times” to “expand oil drilling in national wildlife refuges” and to “weaken protections for national forests” among other criticisms.
Gillum also touched on the string of race-related controversies that have swirled around DeSantis’s campaign. The GOP candidate drew extensive criticism for using the phrase “monkey this up” in talking about how he believed economic growth would take a hit under Gillum, who is African-American.
“While my opponent would love you to be focused on the color of my skin, I want you to be focused on the blue-green algae flowing out of the east and the west side of the state,” Gillum said to loud applause.
The DeSantis campaign did not respond to a request for comment.