It’s a “fur piece” from Pensacola to Miami, as they say way up in Escambia County, aka “lower Alabama.” Nine and a half hours down that long, lonesome highway. A hell of a long ways away for some Panhandle politician to take it upon himself to meddle in Miami-Dade County affairs.
Yet state Rep. Clay Ingram, though he resides closer in distance and culture to Beaumont, Texas, or Texarkana, Arkansas, or Bowling Green, Kentucky, indeed, has meddled.
The Republican took it upon himself to shove a piece of legislation down our collective throats. That would be his House Bill 1055, which would allow Florida Power & Light to string 88 miles of high-voltage electrical transmission lines from towers 80 to 150 feet high through Miami-Dade cities and across the county’s fragile wetlands without regard to county and municipal development rules.
HB 1055 zipped through the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee last week. As my colleague Mary Ellen Klas reported, it was approved with no debate and not much in a way of discussion. Except, of course, for a pep talk from an electric utility lobbyist.
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So why would some yokel up in Escambia County feel compelled to emasculate local governments 670 miles down the road? Maybe Ingram, the one-time long snapper for Florida State University’s football team, still nurses a grudge against Miami.
Or maybe Ingram just wants to suck up to an entity known for greasing state pols who put the wants of electric utilities over the public interest. Besides, it’s not like his constituents in Escambia County much care if he undercuts local government down in South Florida.
The real mystery here has to do with Miami’s own Frank Artiles. Last week, when state Sen. Artiles, chairman of the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee, was confronted with the Senate companion to HB 1055, he cuddled up with FPL rather than look out for the folks back home. He not only voted for the high-voltage line bill, he also pushed another piece of legislation that would allow FPL to charge customers to make up for the $500 million the company invested in an Oklahoma-based fracking company back in 2015. Environmental and consumer groups, for good reason, were outraged, but, of course, both bills cleared Artiles’ committee without a peep.
Frankie seemed unperturbed by the sleazy aesthetics. The votes came just a few days after Klas had described how Artiles had been ferried to the Daytona 500 last month aboard a plane owned by an FPL lobbyist. (And while he was lurking around Daytona Beach that weekend, Artiles raised $10,000 at a fundraiser.) The Miami senator was photographed at the track wearing a NextEra jacket. NextEra just happens to be FPL’s parent company. My favorite part of the story: Artiles claimed he “did not know that NextEra was the parent of FPL” until that weekend.
Frank’s fun weekend didn’t show up on his requisite contributions report, despite Senate rules, until Klas started asking questions. Suddenly, Artiles remembered that FPL had spent nearly $2,000 on his travel, food and beverages.
The transmission line bill, if it passes, will undo last year’s ruling by Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal in a lawsuit brought by Miami-Dade County and the cities of Miami, South Miami and Pinecrest. The appeal panel ruled that Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet erred when they gave FPL license to erect miles of new transmission lines running out of the Turkey Point nuclear plant without regard to city and county concerns. The court also found that the Cabinet failed to consider the potential damage to the Everglades.
Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez called the ruling “a huge victory for the city in our position against FPL on this issue.” Yet Miami’s own Artiles took up FPL’s cause.
“Sen. Artiles is not representing the people of Miami-Dade County; he is representing his corporate campaign donors,” South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard told me via email.
Stoddard said Artiles “has displayed an unfortunate fondness for big government preemption of local government. If he were the true conservative, he would keep his hands off local government and let us do our jobs helping the families of our communities who elected us to serve and protect them.”
That’s true, of course. But South Miami and Miami and Pinecrest and Miami-Dade County won’t shell out the money to chauffeur their state representative around the state. Or underwrite a big, fun weekend at the Daytona 500.
After all, thanks to FPL, Frank got to wave the green flag at the start of the truck race. And he looked so splendid in his new NextEra jacket.