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TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – Disputing reports that state agencies are prohibited from using the words “climate change,” top environmental official Jonathan Steverson repeatedly uttered the phrase during a confirmation hearing Wednesday.
Steverson, who was appointed in December by Gov. Rick Scott as secretary of Florida Department of Environmental Protection, told the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee his agency has no policy against “climate change.”
“Climate change. Climate change. Climate change,” Steverson responded when asked by Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, about the reported prohibition. “There I said it three times. There is absolutely no policy against discussing climate change at the department. In fact, we have multiple programs related to climate change.”
On March 8, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting reported that former Department of Environmental Protection officials claimed they had been told to avoid phrases such as “global warming” and “climate change.”
Scott, who said last year he was “not a scientist” when pressed on the issue of climate change, has denied the charge.
The reported prohibition drew national attention when “The Daily Show” on March 25 aired an exchange in which Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, failed to get state Division of Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon to utter the phrase “climate change.”
Steverson, who spent the past two years as director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District and once served as former Gov. Charlie Crist’s environmental policy coordinator, was unanimously backed by the committee for confirmation.
Steverson told the senators he backs Scott’s call for $100 million in funding in the next budget for Florida Forever land acquisition and noted there are “climate change” programs within Florida Forever, mostly directed at the Florida Keys.
“We also work hand-in-hand with the water management districts and have had a sea-level rise working group,” Steverson added. “We know that’s happening.”
“Now, as a resident of Northwest Florida I’m not a concerned,” Steverson joked. “That means I’m that much closer to redfish fishing. Down in South Florida, I know we have to worry about that as far as what it’s going to impact our infrastructure.”
However, as for “global warming,” Steverson told Soto, “maybe what you think should or should not happen to our economy as to that impact, we’ll probably disagree.”
“But certainly, climate change is always happening. It’s always changing,” Steverson continued. “And we know sea-level rise is real and we are working, not only with the water management districts, but the Department of Economic Opportunity and with Game and Fish (the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), to address those concerns.”
The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.