MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — On a recent afternoon, Scott McKenzie watched torrential rains and a murky tide swallow the street outside his dog-grooming salon. Within minutes, much of this stretch of chic South Beach was flooded ankle-deep in a fetid mix of rain and sea.
“Welcome to the new Venice,” McKenzie joked as salt water surged from the sewers.
There are few places in the nation more vulnerable to rising sea levels than low-lying South Florida, a tourist and retirement mecca built on drained swampland.
Yet as other coastal states and the Obama administration take aggressive measures to battle the effects of global warming, Florida’s top Republican politicians are challenging the science and balking at government fixes.
Among the chief skeptics are U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, both possible presidential candidates in 2016. Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for re-election, has worked with the Republican-controlled Legislature to dismantle Florida’s fledgling climate change initiatives. They were put into place by his predecessor and current opponent, Democrat Charlie Crist.
“I’m not a scientist,” Scott said, after a federal report pinpointed Florida — and Miami in particular — as among the country’s most at-risk areas.
He and other Republicans warn against what they see as alarmist policies that could derail the country’s tenuous economic recovery.
Their positions could affect their political fortunes.
Democrats plan to place climate change, and the GOP’s skepticism, front and center in a state where the issue is no longer an abstraction.
Their hope is to win over independents and siphon some Republicans, who are deeply divided over global warming. Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmental activist, has pledged to spend $100 million this year to influence seven critical contests nationwide, including the Florida governor’s race.