Julio Fuentes: Florida Cities Should Embrace Cooperation to Address Climate Issues
OPINION: A new year and a new governor provide a hopeful backdrop for fresh approaches for sustaining Florida’s economic growth and creating opportunities for its people but a small pack of trial lawyers would rather pit Florida communities against energy companies over climate change. They think we can sue our way around this challenge but litigation would only mire our state in counter-productive confrontations with employers when cooperation on finding solutions is needed.

In his inaugural address Gov. Ron DeSantis called on all stakeholders to join together in promoting “a virtuous cycle whereby low taxes, a reasonable regulatory climate, a sensible legal system and a healthy environment attract jobs, business and investment.” That is the right tone. It encapsulates the common-sense, balanced approach for governing that Florida’s Hispanic businesses favor.

From tourism to technology to manufacturing, the 604,000 Hispanic-owned businesses contribute more than $90 billion to Florida's economy each year. Many of these entrepreneurs faced unique challenges in accessing capital and grapple each day with the same laws and regulations all businesses face. This is part of doing business. All we ask for are public policies that allow us to prosper while being responsive to the public interest for safety, justice, and environmental protection.

In contrast, there are trial lawyers and environmental activists who are motivated by recrimination and greed. Late last year, the group EarthRights International asked Ft. Lauderdale’s city council to consider suing energy firms for billions of dollars that could be needed to mitigate the effects of projected rises in sea levels. They contend these companies make products that alter the climate so they need to pay up. The city has made no decision about whether to sue but Mayor Dean Trantalis has indicated he would be open to ways to raise money to bolster the city’s environmental preparedness.

Over the last year, large plaintiff firms, working with environmental activists, have enlisted cities around the country in this legal folly. But this is neither a smart way to raise revenue nor a solution to climate change. Lawsuits that try to make a handful of energy companies culpable for vast changes in human civilization during the 20th century will do nothing to address the changes to come in the 21st century as human population soars to 10 billion or more.

This was a key part of rationale of federal judges in California and New York in dismissing suits against energy manufacturers brought by San Francisco, Oakland, and New York City.. In addition to the arbitrary lack of fairness in assigning financial responsibility to these companies, the judges ruled that precedent bars such “nuisance” suits. The case cited was the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling American Electric Power v. Connecticut in 2011 that said corporations cannot be sued over emissions under federal common law. That opinion, written by Justice Ginsberg, said it is the job of legislatures and executive branch agencies to come up with ways of addressing the possible risks of climate change. A patchwork of lawsuits in U.S. courts against industry is certainly not a sound response to an incredibly complex international phenomenon.

Former state Attorney General Bill McCollum had it right when he said recently that, “Large, national trial firms looking to make a big contingency fee killing are the driving force behind the recent proliferation of public nuisance lawsuits being filed by localities.” Their goal in enlisting cities and organizations around the country in these suits is to find a judge amenable to tossing precedent aside and embracing the flawed idea of suing our way to climate change solutions. By working on a contingency basis, litigators claim they are white-hatted crusaders for the common good but shaking down the energy industry for perhaps billions of hundreds of dollars will make them very, very rich.

Ft. Lauderdale and other Florida cities should not help them in their quest for fame and fortune. Florida does not need additional lawsuits, especially not frivolous suits that aim to effectively criminalize energy manufacturing. This would send a terrible signal to the 20,000 manufacturers in our state. The money spent on drawn-out court proceedings would be better spent creating jobs and coming up with new products and new technologies – hopefully the very products and technologies that will help slow the effects of climate change and handle its possible consequences.

Let’s head into 2019 with a spirit of cooperation and compromise among business, environmentalists, workers, and public officials about meeting the challenges of the future instead of heading into courtrooms to fight over the past.

Julio Fuentes is President & CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Read 261 times Last modified on Monday, 14 January 2019 18:47
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