To mark Earth Day, President Obama is taking the climate-change debate to a state that has been ground zero both for the impact of global warming and the politics around it.
Obama Wednesday afternoon will deliver a speech at Everglades National Park in Florida, speaking about climate change and its impact on the national parks. It also to the home turf of several high-profile Republicans who have been caught up in the global-warming policy debate.
According to reports from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, Gov. Rick Scott has barred state officials from using the words “climate change,” a charge he has denied. Republican presidential candidate and Sen. Marco Rubio has also cast doubt on the human contribution to global warming, while former governor and presumed presidential contender Jeb Bush said last week that he was “concerned” about climate change, but was more concerned with the economy and would not say humans were the cause of global warming.
Scott on Tuesday jabbed at the White House ahead of the visit, saying that Obama had not funded a $58 million backlog in federal funding and that the president’s budget would cut millions from repair of the Lake Okeechobee Dike. “Our environment is too important to neglect, and it’s time for the federal government to focus on real solutions and live up to their promises,” Scott said.
The White House wasn’t buying it.
“It’s a little tough to take criticism from someone who has banned the use of the words ‘climate change’ for the accusations that the president has been insufficiently committed to fighting climate change,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in response to Scott’s statement.
Earnest added that policies like the “climate change” ban were “empty, symbolic policy statements” that were “more about politics and won’t impact the more substantial, tangible” work on the Everglades.
A spokesman for Scott said the governor wouldn’t be attending the speech.
White House officials denied that the visit was geared at Scott, Bush, or Rubio. Christy Guldfuss, managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told reporters that Florida was facing the immediate brunt of sea-level rise, so the speech was “more about the impacts [of climate change] and less about the politics on the ground.”
She added that the impacts of climate change and protection of the Everglades itself was not a partisan issue among voters in the state.
Obama’s speech will specifically look at the role of the country’s national parks, which have emerged as an administration priority during the week around Earth Day. The White House will release a report touting that parks return $10 for every dollar spent, with a record 293 million visitors last year generating $15.7 billion for the economy of surrounding communities. A second report will focus on the parks’ role in mitigating climate change, finding that parks in the lower 48 states can store 14.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.
Separately, Obama will appear with television personality Bill Nye to discuss climate change.
And no matter what the venue of the Earth Day speech may imply, Earnest said that Obama was firmly focused on addressing climate change during his remaining months in office, not on making it a political debate.
“This isn’t about campaigns, this is about making progress on a priority,” Earnest said. “The next campaign isn’t for a year and a half.”