Youth Activist Says Scott Has Failed On Climate Change: "He's An Election Year Environmentalist"

May 10, 2018

Delaney Reynolds is an 18-year-old college freshman at University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a climate activist. She's leading a lawsuit introduced by 18 Florida kids and teens against the state and Gov. Rick Scott over climate change, Reynolds v. State of Florida.

They’re suing him with help from the Oregon-based nonprofit Our Children’s Trust.

The suit claims that Rick Scott is not protecting them from the climate-driven sea level rise that’s already happening and that his energy policies are making climate change worse.

Guy Burns is the head attorney for the young plaintiffs and a lawyer based in Tampa. Reynolds and Burns talked to Sundial about the fight to educate people on climate change and their hopes for a "climate recovery plan" to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

WLRN: Guy, let me start with you. Tell us exactly what is this suit about.

Burns: Well the Florida Constitution, as well as statutory requirements and common law standards established that the environment - including air quality and scenic beauty and the rest of the things and environment we treasure - are really held by the state of Florida and our elected officials, namely the governor and the secretary of agriculture or the commissioner of agriculture in our state and the head of the department environmental protection. They hold these items as trustees for the benefit of the public and they are not taking actions to protect the trust assets. And we have environmental catastrophes that are already occurring and are going to get worse. Our suit is an attempt to require them to discharge their fiduciary obligations and statutory obligations to protect the environment.

And this suit is similar to other suits around the country. There's also a federal suit there's a suit that was filed back in 2015 against the United States. These are all the same right?

They're not identical but they have very similar theories and they all attempt to get the same relief. This is not an attempt by Delaney Reynolds or any of the other plaintiffs to get any money for themselves personally but to get what's known as injunctive relief that is compelling a course of action by the state officials to remedy their inaction and inappropriate actions today.

(That suit that I was talking about is called Juliana v. United States. It was filed in 2015 deemed sound by a federal judge. It's getting a hearing in October.)

Delaney we've had you on the program before ... we talked about your fight to educate people on the issues of climate change and sea level rise. What is it you hope to happen? What do you want from the governor? What do you want from Tallahassee leaders?

Reynolds: I want them to create laws and plans that will actually begin to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that we are pumping into our atmosphere. Thus far the executive and legislative branches of our government including Gov. Scott and Commissioner Putnam have failed us. They have failed to uphold the Florida Constitution and the public trust doctrine and their duties as officers of the state to protect our natural environment. And so it's time that we start doing that. 

I know Governor Scott's office spokesman released a statement saying, "Hey we've done a lot. We're doing a lot." The legislature passed more expenditures this past session. But he's saying we have spent money on the environment.

Well that money that has been spent on the environment has been decades in the making. This is nothing new. Florida's budget is approximately $80 billion and there is not a single dollar within that budget allocated towards reducing carbon dioxide emissions. And so if the governor wants to talk about political theater then that's exactly what he and his entire administration are performing. His entire position is basically a theatrical production. He's what people like to call an election year environmentalist.

Is this a matter then of just saying the state has to be more proactive ... maybe perhaps like California was in reducing carbon emissions ... that we have to have stricter standards on cars, stricter standards on factories and things like that. Is that really what you're looking for?

Burns: We're looking for the state to develop and implement a plan to reduce the carbon emissions that come out of the state of Florida. And we need to we need to have our leaders address this trouble this problem and not just push it off to saying well we'll see what they do in Washington D.C. or what we do elsewhere. And I do think that California's is acting like a leader in coming up with some ideas.

Update, Friday, May 11, 3 p.m. After publication of this story, Gov. Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis responded with the following statement: "The Governor signed one of the largest environmental protection budgets in Florida’s history last month – investing $4 billion into Florida’s environment. The Governor is focused on real solutions to protect our environment – not political theater or a lawsuit orchestrated by a group based in Eugene, Oregon.”