Capping a week of firsts for Gov. Ron DeSantis, the newly minted chief of state held his premiere pre-Cabinet press conference this morning.
A relaxed DeSantis, who held the gaggle in the governor’s large conference room, spent about 10 minutes fielding a handful of questions from reporters ranging septic tanks to his pal President Donald Trump’s proposed diversion of disaster recovery funds to pay for a border wall.
DeSantis spoke about his trip to Hurricane Michael-wracked Mexico Beach, his appointment of a Cuban-American female Supreme Court justice, and a sweeping water policy announcement delivered in three parts of the state with water woes.
In response to a query from Florida Politics’ Jim Rosica about whether he believes in climate change, DeSantis used the word “climate” but didn’t directly answer the question.
“We put in that executive order that, as climate changes and our environment changes, water rises in places in South Florida and there’s increased flooding, we want to make sure that we’re taking steps that we can to combat that. We’re going to create an Office of Resiliency to try to combat effects,” DeSantis said.
“Look, to me, I’m not even concerned about, is it this sole cause, that sole cause, when you have water in the streets you have to find a way to combat that. So we’re going to work to do that. I think this office will be able to coordinate a thoughtful response based on…”
Rosica: “Do you agree with many scientists that that humans do cause climate change?”
DeSantis: “Next, next question.”
The climate change discussion was a follow-up to a question about the impact of septic tanks on the nutrient run-off that’s causing algal blooms.
Here’s DeSantis’ take on the septic tank issue:
“In our exec order, we directed DEP to establish a septic-to sewer grant conversion grant program, where local governments would have to put up money but then we would match it. So I think that is a factor, but I don’t think that is exclusively the factor. I think that you have a lot of nutrients put into Lake Okeechobee, that obviously, when the Army Corps is discharging that water, that is aggravating some of the algae bloom that’s caused huge problems on both our coasts,” DeSantis said.
Gatehouse Media reporter John Kennedy followed up by pointing out that the Legislature has been “pretty friendly” toward the sugar industry and agriculture in the past.
As he did yesterday, DeSantis insisted water quality issue isn’t an R or D issue.
“At the end of the day, what we’ve been able to show is these issues in Florida really do not fall on partisan lines. How the Legislature is divided in the past, I think is probably yesterday. I think now going forward people realize… I can go in the most rock river Republican party in Southwest Florida, they tell you about the water. I can go talk to liberal environmentalists, they talk about it. They want us to deal with the water. I just think there’s just such a huge majority of folks in Florida who support making sure we get this right, that I think the legislators are going to listen. Yesterday we had legislators from all across the state who were with us. We had folks in Lee County. We had people in Sarasota. We had people in Martin County. This has not been as salient an issue in the past as it is now.”
DeSantis’ last question, from Emily Mahoney, was focused on Trump’s reported consideration of steering money earmarked for hurricane victims in Florida — and disaster victims in other states — to cover the $5.7 billion Congress is refusing to give him for the border wall.
The Tampa Bay Times reporter asked the governor how the president’s plan would affect Florida and whether he’s spoken to Trump about it.
“I have not,” DeSantis said. “I don’t know, because I just don’t know the details. In all my years in Congress, we never dealt with this idea of an emergency. So I need to look at the law and figure out how it is. My sense is, just as somebody who’s studied the Constitution, the president wouldn’t be able to just appropriate his own money under any circumstances. He may be able to re-purpose some money. I’m not sure how that works. Obviously anything that was done on the disaster front, we have people that are counting on that. If they backfill it immediately after the government opens, that’s fine. But I don’t want that to be where that money is not available for us.”