Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Local officials lack the luxury of climate change denial

It’s not as if real-life South Floridians suffer from the political delusions about global warming that afflict our governor and certain members of our congressional delegation.

Even as President Barack Obama was evoking the flooded streets of Miami Beach at the world climate summit in Paris, members of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact were meeting in Key West, facing up to a dismal reality. Local leaders were contemplating the consequences of at least six inches of sea level rise over the next 15 years, which would wreck the region’s plumbing — the well fields, the gravity powered sewer systems and drainage canals, the street drainage system — and devastate South Florida’s ecology. Local leaders know they don’t have the luxury of obfuscation.

Obama spoke about flooding on Miami Beach on Tuesday. The Climate Change Compact three-day meeting in Key West opened on Tuesday — and Tuesday was the day three members of Congress who represent vulnerable South Florida cast some telling environmental votes.

U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen voted in favor of a resolution to roll back new regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency that mandate a 32 percent reduction in power plant carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. The resolution passed with a mostly party line vote, pushed hard by coal state politicians, 242-180. (A companion resolution had passed in the Senate last month. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio missed the roll call, but given his zero environmental rating in 2014 from the League of Conservation Voters, it’s a pretty easy guess how he might have voted if he had shown up for work that day.)

Maybe our local congressional representatives figured the vote was just a meaningless gesture, destined for a certain presidential veto. But down at this end of Florida, the encroaching waters have begun to make such symbolism seem awfully wet.

The surprising vote came from Rep. Curbelo, the freshman congressman who has shown the gumption to buck Republican Party orthodoxy on climate change issues. Climate Wire wrote about his divergence from the party line last May, calling him the “lonely Republican” willing to tackle global warming. In fact, both Rep. Curbelo and Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (another Republican who rejects the tea party’s absolutism) joined Democrats and voted against a similar resolution Tuesday that would block EPA regulations limiting carbon emissions on any newly constructed power plants.

Apparently, it’s tough to pretend that climate change is a lie when your constituents back home are wading through flooded streets on sunny days.

Of course, by Wednesday that argument had veered into the inane: whether Obama’s allusion to fish swimming in Miami streets was strictly accurate.

I can’t vouch for aquatic life on Miami or Miami Beach thoroughfares, but on a rainless day in September I saw small fish in the waters flooding Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale after nearby canals had overflowed.

I couldn’t tell the fishes’ species or their party affiliation, but I’m pretty sure they’d back the local consensus that something’s sure as hell amiss with the climate down this way.