Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection is tasked with protecting the state’s “air, water and land.” But there’s one environmental threat you won’t hear DEP officials talking about.
Officials at Florida’s DEP have banned the words “climate change” and “global warming” from all official communications, including reports and emails, according to an investigation published Sunday by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR).
Four former DEP employees told FCIR that they had been instructed not to use the terms during their time at the state’s DEP.
“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” Christopher Byrd, who served as an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel from 2008 to 2013, told FCIR. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”
The DEP’s press secretary Tiffany Cowie disagreed with these reports, however, saying that her department “does not have a policy on this.” But according to the former employees’ accounts, the unofficial policy went into place after Gov. Rick Scott (R) took office in 2011 and appointed a new DEP director. Over the last year, Scott has skirted answering questions on his views on climate change. He said in 2010 that he had “not been convinced” that climate change was real, but during last year’s gubernatorial race, he refused to take a stand on the issue. In August, five Florida climate scientists sat down with Scott in an attempt to explain the science behind climate change and the effects it’s having in Florida, but the scientists left the meeting feeling unsure that the governor had gotten the message.
The ban on using “climate change” and “global warming at the DEP manifested in a variety of ways, FCIR writes. One writer wanted to include climate change in a series of fact sheets he was writing on coral reefs for the state’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, but he said he was instructed not to by DEP employees. In addition, when volunteers attended a 2014 meeting the Coral Reef Conservation Program held to train volunteers to conduct presentations on coral reef health in Florida, two volunteers said they were told not to address climate change when talking about threats facing coral reefs.
“I told them the biggest problem I have was that there was absolutely no mention of climate change and the affect of climate change on coral reefs,” Doug Young, president of the South Florida Audubon Society and a member of the Broward County Climate Change Task Force who attended the meeting, told FCIR. “The two young women, really good people, said, ‘We are not allowed to show the words, or show any slides that depicted anything related to climate change.’”
An unwritten ban on mentioning “climate change” is concerning for an environmental agency in any state, but Florida in particular faces major threats from climate change and its impacts. The state has been called “ground zero” for sea level rise, an impact that’s already causing problems in parts of South Florida. The FCIR notes that the state doesn’t have any ban on talking about sea level rise, but it’s hard to address sea level rise without also addressing the broader problem of climate change. And on a federal level, Florida hasn’t been great at doing either: Scott announced last month that $106 million of his proposed budget would go towards ways to mitigate the impacts of sea level rise in Florida, but his re-election environmental plan published last year didn’t mention climate change.