If there is one state that should know how important environmental protection is, it’s Florida. Florida has routinely been on the front lines of climate disasters. Climate change is creating larger and more devastating hurricanes to batter our coastlines and Miami is literally underwater due to sea level rise. We’re experiencing massive heat waves, and our aquifer is being drained and contaminated. We are routinely the site of massive spills and environmental catastrophes. Climate change and environmental destruction is devastating for Florida’s economy, especially because the backbone of our state’s economy is tourism to our beaches, wildlife sanctuaries, and beautiful natural environment.
Floridians recognize the serious danger that Florida faces. In fact, 75 percent of Floridians say they are concerned about climate change, which is much higher than the average for Americans. If only the Florida government had the same view. The state government has routinely been filled with individuals who are skeptical about environmental responsibility. In fact, investigative reporting a few years ago found that those working in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection were discouraged from even bringing up the word “climate change” in any official correspondence. When our current governor, Ron Desantis, was asked about global warming, he careened into a rant about “left-wing stuff” and people posing as environmental advocates in order to “smuggle in their ideology.” Florida is on the front lines of climate change and environmental disasters, and right now we are not getting the action and leadership we need from the state government to tackle this important issue.
While the governor’s office and legislature may be lacking in environmental stewardship, there is a chance that the Agriculture Commissioner’s office may soon help to fill in that void. Agriculture Commissioner candidate J.R. Gaillot entered the race a few months ago and has already laid out a groundbreaking, comprehensive platform on what the Agriculture Commissioner’s office can do to help protect the environment. The policies he has laid out offer a clear plan to address everything from endangered species loss to pollution. He has become the new champion for environmental policy in the Florida Agriculture Commissioner race.
Plans to protect Florida’s water
J.R. Gaillot has made protecting Florida’s water supply a key pillar of his campaign. Florida is currently facing a water shortage and contamination emergency. We are one of 14 states predicted to face "high risk" water shortages by the year 2050. This is partly due to overtapping of our groundwater, and contamination of fresh water sources with pollution. On his website he has spelled out how, if elected, he will diligently enforce laws on surface and groundwater tapping and pollution; transitioning the state away from its current lax and inadequate approach to environmental law enforcement to an approach which is robust, efficient, and effective.
Plans to protect Florida’s biodiversity
J.R. Gaillot has laid out clear plans to safeguard wildlife reserves, parks, sanctuaries, and other protected land by supporting projects and funding to enhance them. He also has vowed that should he win the general election, he will take advantage of the commissioner’s power to regulate owners of protected lands and set strict limits on any activities which could have harmful effects on the environment.
He has also promised to protect endangered species by stopping overdevelopment in environmental corridors. One of the main drivers of extinction is fragmentation. Species are forced into smaller and smaller land zones, reducing hunting and mating opportunities, by road systems that box them into a certain area. Environmental corridors are areas in the landscape that contain and connect natural areas, open space, and or other resources, offering animals a way to move between protected natural areas to find food, shelter, and mating opportunities. Recent studies found that the existence of an environmental corridor reduced animal death due to traffic by 90% and increased biodiversity. J.R. Gaillot has promised to reduce fragmentation by limiting the expansion of some unnecessary roads, and preserving wildlife corridors. His plan offers a safer way for both animals and people.
Plans to prevent pollution
While J.R. has lots of policies which aim to reduce pollution, two stand out among the rest: his proposed limits on plastic packaging and his plan to reduce fracking. J.R. has introduced a bold new proposal to not only continue the phase out of cancer-causing styrofoam packaging started by the current Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, but also expand the program to limit plastic packaging and ensure that businesses which fall under the purview of the agriculture department slowly transition over to more environmentally friendly, biodegradable packaging. Not only will this reduce plastic waste ending up in landfills and the amount of toxic chemicals being leaked by plastics into the environment, it will be a massive boost to Florida’s hemp industry, a key player in the biodegradable packaging industry.
His proposal to reduce fracking is also a big, but very necessary swing from current policy. His platform includes a plan to declare a state of emergency for fracking. The Agriculture Commissioner has the power to do this if there is cause for emergency in a matter relating to agriculture. And given that fracking in Florida has a long history of polluting water wells, sickening people and livestock, and reducing available farmland, it is safe to say that Florida is in such an emergency. Declaring a state of emergency would give the Agricultural Commissioner's office the power to limit or halt fracking until better regulations and enforcement of current regulations to protect people and the environment are established. He has also laid out a plan to establish a committee specifically dedicated to enforcing current fracking laws.
Of course, these are just two of the many policies J.R. has outlined which will reduce pollution. He also plans to develop better systems in Florida for storing toxic waste and limit certain kinds of dangerous mining practices. If you like your air and water pollution-free, J.R. is the candidate for you.
Plans to reduce CO2 emissions
While his plans to tackle issues like fracking will certainly help lower emissions, he has also pledged to go after a variety of other harmful practices which are contributing to global warming. For example, sugar cane burning by Florida sugar producers. I mentioned in an earlier article that every hectare of sugarcane burned in Florida releases 1.21 tons of CO2eq (a dangerous greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere. J.R. Gaillot has he will use his power as Agriculture Commissioner to “encourage production methods that implement green mulching and biochar techniques”, designate sugarcane burning as a “form of negligence”, and limit open burn permits. This will help Florida transition from a costly system of burning sugarcane, to a system in which sugarcane leaves are harvested and turned into other products. This will lower emissions and help create jobs in Florida.
J.R. seems to have a platform which addresses problems endangering the environment at every level. It is by far the more comprehensive plan any candidate in this race has released thus far. For any Floridian concerned about the environment, J.R. Gaillot provides a promising look into the future.
If you’d like to read more about any of his policies, feel free to visit his website: