Officials working in Florida's Department of Environmental Protection were banned from using the words "climate change," "global warming," and "sea-level rise" under Republican state governor Rick Scott, according to a new report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. Kristina Trotta, a former DEP employee, said that her regional administrator told her and her colleagues that they were no longer allowed to use the terms in 2011. Officials were reportedly told that sea-level rise was to be euphemistically referred to as "nuisance flooding."
Spokespeople for the DEP and the governor's office said that there was no policy on the use of the terms, but four former officials told the FCIR that the unwritten order was well known and distributed verbally statewide. Officials were reportedly warned against using the terms in reports in case they "would bring unwanted attention to their projects," and were told not to reference anything that "was not a true fact" in economic reports, educational materials, and environmental reports that were used to set energy and business policies.
The department says there is no policy on the use of the terms
The FCIR said the unwritten directive came into effect after Scott came into office in 2011 and appointed Herschel Vinyard Jr. as the DEP's director. Christopher Byrd, an attorney who worked for the DEP's Office of General Counsel from 2008 to 2013, said that the message had been communicated by his superiors. "It's an indication that the political leadership in the state of Florida is not willing to address these issues and face the music when it comes to the challenges that climate change presents," he said.
Governor Scott has not confirmed he believes in man-made climate change
The US Senate has overwhelmingly agreed that climate change is real, but speaking in 2011, Rick Scott said he had yet to be convinced that humans had anything to do with it. He deflected the matter in May 2014, saying "I'm not a scientist" in response questions about his stance on climate change, six months before he earned a second term as the state's governor. Scott invited environmental scientists to talk on the topic in 2014, but the experts complained that he used 10 minutes of the allotted 30-minute session to offer extended introductions.
Climate experts have agreed that Florida would be hit particularly hard by severe changes in Earth's climate and sea level. The 2014 national climate assessment for the US said that the state was at risk of an "imminent threat of increased inland flooding" and was "uniquely vulnerable to sea-level rise" — the kind of "nuisance flooding" that could wash cities like the low-lying Miami off the map.