Hurricane Michael: Rick Scott climate record condemned as storm bears down on coast

Opponents claim the Florida governors environment policies support portrayals of him as a climate-change denier

Wearing his signature baseball cap, Floridas governor, Rick Scott, has been a highly visible fixture of every Sunshine State hurricane in the last eight years. On Monday, as Michaels 120mph winds bore down on the Gulf coast, Scott was there again, warning of forecasts of the most destructive storm to hit Floridas Panhandle in decades.

But as the term-limited governor attempts to become a US senator, scrutiny is again falling upon his record in office and what his opponents claim are policies that support portrayals of him as a climate-change denier.

He stands up in front of Floridians and he says: Time to abandon your homes, you better escape before the hurricane comes, said Frank Jackalone, Florida chapter director of the Sierra Club, which links rising sea temperatures to an increase in the frequency and ferocity of major hurricanes.

To me, thats a metaphor for what hes doing to the whole state. Hes allowing our environment to degrade and hes setting the stage for somebody to say, Time to leave Florida, your home. He looks like a leader when he does that but hes addressing the crisis after it happens instead of working to prevent the crisis.

Scott was a strong supporter of Donald Trumps decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. He was also reported to have banned the phrases global warming and climate change from state documents, websites and even office discussions, an allegation he has repeatedly denied.

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In 2017, he approved Floridas so-called anti-science law, which critics say was aimed at allowing legal challenges to the teaching of the realities of climate change and global warming in the states classrooms.

But to opponents such as Jackalone, its what Scott has not done that has caused lasting damage.

Mikes Jones, front, and Dan Steele boarded up a gas station Tuesday in preparation for Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida. Photograph: Dan Anderson/EPA

Hes acknowledging that were having sea level rise and stronger hurricanes but hes just not willing to say what the cause of it is, he said.

Florida is only just getting to 1% of our power generation from renewable energy, which means that 99% is dirty fuel. The little progress were making has little to do with Rick Scott, who has taken no leadership towards moving the state forward.

He could have been directing his public service commission to take a stronger stand, he could have created a blue ribbon commission to study the problem, he could have just said we need to move forward with renewable energy. The lack of any policies, any discussion, has been a major flaw.

We havent seen any movement towards electric vehicles and electrification of Floridas transit system. And another example of his failure is his move towards building major road corridors across the state. Those cars would create sprawl and urban growth, which in turn means clear-cutting trees, adding cars thatll be traveling greater distances. That just increases the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Last year, the Tampa Bay Times questioned whether Scotts personal investments in the energy industry had helped shape the states lack of policies on climate change. The article claimed that chunks of the business-friendly governors $232m fortune were tied up with stock in petroleum and power-generating companies opposed to the restriction of greenhouse gases and other regulatory actions.

In an email to the Associated Press this month, his spokeswoman, Lauren Schenone, denied any conflict of interest.

Governor Scott has never made a single decision as governor with any thought or consideration of his personal finances, she wrote. The governors blind trust is managed by an independent financial professional who decides what assets are bought, sold or changed.

In an email to the Guardian, Schenone fiercely defended Scotts record on the environment.

Last year, she said, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had a near-record high compliance rate, which means businesses and facilities are following the law and preventing environmental harm. [He] has also invested record amounts in Floridas environment, including hundreds of millions of dollars to help local communities transition from septic to sewer.

Scott continues to avoid talking about climate change on the campaign trail, often using the explanation Im not a scientist to dodge awkward questions.

His stance on environmental issues is laid out on his campaign website, which claims he has secured millions of dollars in state funds for local governments to plan and enact coastal defence strategies and combat sea level rise.

To Jackalone, such claims have no merit.

His lack of work on environmental protection has led to some major problems, he said. Our water quality continues to diminish, our algae blooms are becoming larger and more toxic and weve lost any semblance of growth management. He has been Floridas worst governor in decades with a head in the sand attitude to sea level rise.

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