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St. Pete activists fight bills that could halt green initiatives

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The Tampa Bay Climate Alliance is holding a "lunchtime phonebank to drive calls into Speaker Sprowls’ office" Thursday (April 15) from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Photo provided.

Last month, the Florida House and Senate introduced eight bills that would limit local ability to change energy sources. Activists in St. Petersburg are urging their representatives to vote “no.”

Nicknamed the “energy preemption bills,” this legislation would prohibit cities from switching to renewables and shift big energy decisions to Tallahassee. Activists like Isabel Muir, campus organizer for the Student Public Interest Groups (PIRGs), say this will stop long-term climate initiatives in their tracks. “Any universities, any cities, any counties that want to change the ways they are powered (would be) completely stopped from doing that,” Muir told the Catalyst.

The local Sierra Club branch has also been petitioning against these bills, arguing that they will stop local efforts to fight climate change and that the nature of state-level “preemption” reduces cities’ decision-making abilities.

On March 8, the group delivered more than 3,000 petition signatures against the preemption bills to House Speaker Chris Sprowls’ Clearwater office. Members also rallied alongside climate groups Tampa Bay Climate Alliance and Food and Water Action in Pioneer Park to oppose these bills’ movement through the Florida House and Senate.

In reporting for The Floridian, Rep. Josie Tomkow is quoted saying the bills would not prohibit cities from using alternative energy, but protect the ability to use multiple sources together. 

Jessica Lewis, a contract lobbyist for the Sierra Club and a St. Pete resident, has been staying in Tallahassee to fight these bills. According to her, it’s a typical “David and Goliath” battle between energy corporations like Duke and TECO and grassroots efforts for renewable energy.

“It shows how concerned the big corporations are with the actions we’re taking at a local level,” Lewis told the Catalyst. 

Pinellas County is currently working on a six-step Sustainability and Resiliency Action Plan that includes switching county vehicles from gas to electric. According to Phil Compton, senior organizing representative at Sierra Club’s St. Pete office, these are the kind of projects the bills could stop.

Here’s what each of the Senate/House Bills would do in Florida:

  • SB 856/HB 839: Prevents municipalities, counties, special districts or political subdivisions from transitioning to renewable energy. (This bill has since been amended).
  • SB 1008/HB 761: Limits local ability to implement solar power.
  • SB 1128/HB 919: Prevents municipalities from banning natural gas in future construction.
  • SB 1236/HB 617: Prevents local greenhouse gas regulation without state approval. 

According to reporting by the Texas Observer, the San Antonio Report and The Guardian, the American Gas Association has been lobbying for similar bills across the country. The City of Miami Commission acted swiftly to pass resolutions opposing SBs 856 and 1128 during their March 11 meeting.

The Sierra Club continues to lobby against these bills as they enter Senate hearings this week, and as the legislative session nears end on April 30.

 

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