Mar 1, 2021 - News

Florida lawmakers tackle flood risk with slate of climate change bills

People walking along a shore.

A couple walks down Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa in 2017, where the bay had receded ahead of an expected storm surge from Hurricane Irma. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images.

Florida lawmakers unveiled a suite of bills at USF's St. Petersburg campus on Friday aimed at preparing the state for flooding caused by climate change-induced sea-level rise.

Why it matters: A study released by the First Street Foundation last week found that Florida accounts for the nation's heaviest concentration of expected economic loss due to residential flood risk, at nearly $8 billion.

Details: State House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) presented his "Always Ready" agenda with bills sponsored by Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera (R-Coral Gables) and Rep. Linda Chaney (R-St. Pete Beach) to dedicate $100 million each year to mitigate the impacts of flooding and sea-level rise starting in 2022.

What they'd do:

  1. Create a statewide resilience plan and a grant program to help local governments cover the costs of planning for and addressing threats from flooding and sea-level rise.
  2. Establish the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation at USF so academic and research institutions can collaborate to address the state’s flooding and sea-level rise challenges.
  3. Allow Florida counties and municipalities to create regional resilience coalitions to coordinate solutions.
  4. Offer tax breaks to homeowners who elevate their property.

Between the lines: Nine of the top 10 U.S. counties for total estimated annual economic damage are in Florida.

  • Broward County leads the list with a $1.3 billion estimated annual loss. Pinellas follows at $1 billion. Sarasota County ($485 million) and Hillsborough County ($456 million) also made the top 10.

What they're saying: Busatta Cabrera said the bills could make Florida "the world leader in flood mitigation."

  • But Tampa Bay Disaster Resiliency Initiative's Getulio Gonzalez-Mulattieri called the efforts "performative nonsense," asking legislators to address fossil fuels as one of the root causes of climate change.
Unless you address the fossil fuel industry, nothing will change. You're just going to keep building higher and higher walls. What happens when you can't keep building any more walls?
— Getulio Gonzalez-Mulattieri

Sprowls retorted that the plan "doesn't include a lot of bricks and concrete. It includes a lot of great ideas" to make Florida the flood-mitigation leader in America.

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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