Sign In or Create an Account.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy

Politics

Ron DeSantis’ Environmental Switcheroo

The Florida governor once presented himself like an environmental moderate. Not anymore.

Ron DeSantis.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

In April 2019, Florida’s new governor, Ron DeSantis, visited the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium to formally name his state’s first chief science officer. “This idea of, quote, ‘climate change’ has become politicized,” he told the assembled press during the announcement. “My environmental policy is just to try to do things that benefit Floridians.”

Dismissal of the phrase “climate change” aside, it seemed like a new dawn for the Sunshine State: At least a Florida governor had an environmental policy. A self-proclaimed “Teddy Roosevelt conservationist,” DeSantis didn’t immediately look good for environmental and climate-related causes in the state of Florida. But he didn’t look like the worst, either.

In fact, arriving in Tallahassee on the heels of Gov. Rick Scott, who’d allegedly banned state agencies from using the phrase “global warming,” DeSantis looked downright promising. He represented a “180-degree turn from where we have been for the previous eight years in terms of addressing this critical issue from the leader of this state,” Miami Herald editorial page editor Nancy Ancrum, who’s taken a special interest in the state’s rising sea levels, told the southern Florida public radio station WRLN at the time. “I would give him a ‘B+,’ ‘A-.’”

It wasn’t just the creation of the chief science officer position and its implicit confirmation of “science” being a real thing that won over left-leaning skeptics. DeSantis also created the job of a chief resilience officer to “coordinate statewide response to better prepare for the environmental, physical, and economic impacts of flooding in Florida.” He signed the Resilient Florida Program to pay for adaptive infrastructure like seawalls. He took a keen interest in protecting the Everglades by okaying a $2.5 billion restoration effort. He fended off toxic algae blooms by attacking the state’s sugar industry. He moved to prevent offshore drilling and fracking by directing his Department of Environmental Protection to “adamantly oppose and ban fracking statewide.”

Though some remained skeptical — the Sierra Club pointed out that DeSantis voted against the environment “98% of the time in his three terms as a member of Congress” — most coverage was glowing and generous. Even the progressive magazine Mother Jonesreported with surprise that “the New Governor of Florida Is Not the Environmental Disaster Everyone Thought He’d Be.”

But when speaking at the aquarium in 2019, DeSantis was candid in his admission that climate change is politicized. And he knew well which side of that polarization he wanted to be on. While things like clean waterways (for fishing and recreation), protecting the Everglades (the natural pride of the state), and banning offshore drilling (beach communities love their oceanfronts!) were popular with DeSantis’ peninsular constituents, as the governor’s political ambitions began to stretch north of the panhandle, he has swung harder and firmer against policies that were otherwise savvy bets for the leader of a climatologically vulnerable state.

By 2021, DeSantis was leading 2024 straw polls and clearly beginning to make overtures to a national Republican audience. In June of that year, he signed a law preventing cities and towns in Florida from setting 100% clean energy goals by “banning a ban” on new natural gas hookups (he’d previously signed a ban that banned coral-reef-damaging sunscreens). He also eagerly joined in on the hysterical pile-on against banning gas stoves, although only 8% of his own constituents cook with gas.

Last year, DeSantis further called for IRS audits of every lawmaker who voted for the Inflation Reduction Act — an unserious troll that nevertheless landed him headlines in the right publications. Washington is “going after you,” DeStantis goaded conservatives, this time more seriously; he called the IRA a “middle finger” to Americans. He’s also run an aggressive (and national headline-grabbing) anti-ESG campaign, blocking state officials from investing money into funds that take into account environmental factors — this being the GOP’s latest ridiculous culture war and a dubiously enforceable one at that. “DeSantis has basically abandoned all of the environmental promises that he made earlier in his career,” Jonathan Webber, the political and legislative director for Florida Conservation Voters, told Mother Jones in the publication’s subsequent mea culpa.

DeSantis’ switcheroo on the environment has been called contradictory, “greenwashing,” and “stupid.” At Heated last fall, Emily Atkin saw DeSantis courting the oil industry with his zig-zagging rhetoric. The point was prescient. Since then, even Koch Industries, which didn’t back Trump in 2016 or 2020, has donated to the DeSantis PAC.

But the Florida governor needs to have national Republicans on his side, too, if he’s to win the presidency. And in the process of winning them to his camp, he’ll need to out-Trump Trump, who’s described himself as a great environmentalist while at the same time relished in boosting fossil fuels and raging against the IRA.

Perhaps some will consider it an encouraging sign that the two leading Republican candidates in the presidential race view climate-related issues as something, at the very least, to wink at. Notably, DeSantis hasn’t entirely abandoned talking up his environmentalism; his boasts about his stewardship made it into his campaign book and he chose as the moderator for his presidential announcement Elon Musk, the far-right-curious enfant terrible of the renewable energy transition.

But DeSantis’ otherwise opportunistic dismantling of his own (albeit touch-and-go) green record really should tell you everything you need to know about the Republican Party’s conservative base. For DeSantis to make a successful 2024 run, he doesn’t just need to cozy up to fossil fuels or bash Biden as a soft-hearted Dem. He’ll need to distance himself from, quote, “climate change,” and in doing so, turn his back on his own vulnerable, waterlocked state — even when he’s already let slip that he knows better.

Yellow
Jeva Lange profile image

Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City.

Climate

The Future of Nuclear Fusion Is Clear — Legally, At Least

Now we just need a working commercial reactor.

A bald eagle gripping an atom.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

After decades of research and billions of dollars in funding, nuclear fusion has produced “net energy” (more energy coming out of a reaction than was necessary to start it) in exactly two places in our solar system: Lawrence Livermore National Lab, and the sun. Even the scientists who did it on Earth say that using the technology for real-world energy generation is still a “very distant” prospect.

On the bright side, however, the regulatory path for fusion energy has gotten a lot clearer.

The ADVANCE Act, signed by President Biden last week, contained language that will simplify the path to deployment for fusion, should it ever reach commercialization. The Fusion Energy Act, contained within the ADVANCE Act (which itself was stapled onto Fire Grants and Safety Act), confirmed a decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2023 separating the regulatory apparatus for fusion and fission projects. Fission — the only process used to produce nuclear energy commercially today — can lead to runaway nuclear reactions and inevitably creates radioactive waste, and going through the complex regulatory process can take years. Fusion, by contrast, doesn’t have those risks.

Keep reading...Show less
Blue
Sparks

Wind Is More Powerful Than J. D. Vance Seems to Think

Just one turbine can charge hundreds of cell phones.

J.D. Vance.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

It’s a good thing most of us aren’t accountable for every single silly thing we’ve ever said, but most of us are not vice presidential running mates, either. Back in 2022, when J.D. Vance was still just a “New York Times bestselling author” and not yet a “junior senator from Ohio,” much less “second-in-line to a former president who will turn 80 in office if he’s reelected,” he made a climate oopsie that — now that it’s recirculating — deserves to be addressed.

If Democrats “care so much about climate change,” Vance argued during an Ohio Republican senator candidate forum during that year, “and they think climate change is caused by carbon emissions, then why is their solution to scream about it at the top of their lungs, send a bunch of our jobs to China, and then manufacture these ridiculous ugly windmills all over Ohio farms that don’t produce enough electricity to run a cell phone?”

Keep reading...Show less
Blue
Politics

Republicans Have No New Ideas About Energy

On night one of the convention, the GOP presented a platform that repackages Biden-era achievements with an all-caps flourish.

Donald Trump and J.D. Vance.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

National political conventions don’t make for the best TV. Prime-time speeches are delivered by a parade of party celebrities and last for only a few minutes — typically just enough time to bash gas prices (nonsensically) and get in a few digs at the opposition. The highlight of the Republican National Convention’s broadcast out of Milwaukee on Monday night was, in fact, entirely wordless: former President Donald Trump’s walk across the floor with a conspicuous white bandage over his ear.

The only words that really mattered on Monday were reviewed and approved behind closed doors. “It’s a different kind of platform,” Tennessee Senator and Chair of the Committee on the Platform Marsha Blackburn said by way of introduction during her speech yesterday evening. Reviewing how the 2024 Republican Party Platform’s energy sections compare to the ones in 2016 (the GOP did not write a new platform for its convention in 2020), it’s clear how true that actually is.

Keep reading...Show less