Commentary: Industry should pay its share for climate change damage

In his op-ed, Dan Peterson of the James Madison Institute (JMI) warns Florida city leaders to beware of climate change lawsuits and writes that climate advocates’ “claim that companies somehow hid scientific facts about climate change is a laughable idea.”

He did not, however, share that his organization is directly backed by the Koch brothers and the Florida utilities industry.

Just last year, the James Madison Institute’s policy director was caught on tape bragging about its efforts to deceive Florida voters into voting for an anti-solar amendment that was on the ballot in 2016. Fortunately, it didn’t work. If you’re starting to think the folks at JMI do not necessarily have Florida taxpayers’ best interests at heart, keep reading.

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So let’s look a bit more critically at some of Peterson’s arguments. The claim that companies somehow hid facts about climate change is actually irrefutable. Investigations by the Los Angeles Times, InsideClimate News and even researchers at Harvard University have determined that Exxon and other major oil and gas companies intentionally misled consumers about how their emissions cause climate change.

In fact, investigations have proven the electric utilities industry was aware of its role in helping cause climate change as early as 1968. Exxon knew. Shell knew. Everybody knew.

Peterson writes that “Florida’s cities should not join a movement that would harm the economic interests of their own communities.” I completely agree — which is why Florida taxpayers should not be solely responsible for paying for the costs of climate change.

It’s completely against their communities’ economic interest to shoulder the full responsibility for the costs of adapting infrastructure to prepare for sea-level rise and storm surge. And why should they? Utility monopolies like Florida Power & Light Co. knew all along that their products caused climate change, so they should help pay for it.

Instead, FPL is doing the exact opposite.

Remember how the company proposed rate hikes for Miami taxpayers to bring the grid back up after Hurricane Irma? FPL and its allies sow misinformation about solar in an attempt to force taxpayers into buying its services, and then have the audacity to stick them with the bill for a superstorm caused by climate change, a byproduct of its industry? It’s an outrage, and we should not stand for it.

The first step to holding polluters like FPL accountable for their fair share of climate change costs is figuring out just how much money is needed. That might sound simple, but even in Miami, the local government does not have a full accounting of the costs climate change will impose on the community.

Pay Up Climate Polluters Miami, a campaign launched by the Miami Climate Alliance and the Center for Climate Integrity, believes that cities across Florida should pass ordinances to get the whole amount in writing. It’s our right to know.

Once we know what it costs, we can ensure that the climate polluters pay the brunt of mitigation and adaptation costs.

It’s disappointing but unsurprising that the utilities industry would once again deploy the James Madison Institute to defend itself from honest questions about climate and energy policy.

Florida city leaders should not be intimidated by veiled threats like Peterson’s op-ed, and should remember the words of the actual James Madison: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

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