As he heads to the Everglades to mark Earth Day, President Obama is picking a fight with Florida Gov. Rick Scott on climate change — part of a broader White House effort to use the issue to help Democrats and hurt Republicans ahead of the 2016 elections.
White House officials readily admit that Mr. Obama seeks an “elevated political debate” on the issue of climate change and also say Republicans are playing with fire by either denying man-made global warming or downplaying its effects. The president’s trip to the Florida Everglades — where he will talk both about protecting national parks and natural wonders, and his controversial climate-change agenda — has clear political undertones.
While the White House won’t admit it, Mr. Obama’s Florida trip seems to be an attempt to shine light on the climate-change positions of several GOP presidential contenders, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Mr. Rubio has formally launched a presidential bid while it is presumed Mr. Bush will run.
Mr. Rubio has downplayed climate change and humans’ role in causing it, while Mr. Bush recently would only say he is “concerned” about the issue.
The White House didn’t specifically mention either man but hinted their positions will be political liabilities come 2016.
“The president is hoping that his visit to the Everglades on Earth Day will prompt an elevated political debate about making climate change a priority,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on a conference call previewing Mr. Obama’s trip. “Those Republicans who choose to deny the reality of climate change, they do that to the detriment of the people they’re elected to represent. The debate we seek is one that puts this issue in a prominent place on the public agenda.”
But the White House saved its harshest critique for the state’s governor.
The administration explicitly called out Mr. Scott for allegedly banning state employees from even uttering the words “climate change,” though the Republican governor has denied that claim.
“The president’s commitment to the Everglades and fighting climate change stacks up very well against Gov. Scott, particularly when you consider Gov. Scott has outlawed employees in the state of Florida from even uttering the words ‘climate change,’” Mr. Earnest said.
The jab at Mr. Scott came after the governor made specific requests from the administration for federal funding to maintain the Everglades.
“President Obama needs to live up to his commitment on the Everglades and find a way to fund the $58 million in backlog funding Everglades National Park hasn’t received from the federal government. This has caused critical maintenance delays in the Everglades to linger for over a year,” the governor said in a statement. “As we continue to make important investments in our environment, the President’s latest budget cuts millions from the repair of the Lake Okeechobee Dike — the rehabilitation of which is critical to the protection of south Florida’s estuaries. 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.”
White House officials didn’t directly address Mr. Scott’s specific funding questions and instead focused on the politics, with Mr. Earnest calling his words “a little rich.”
Also on Wednesday, the administration will announce a new $26 million national park restoration project. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also will release a new flood-exposure map designed to help East Coast states protect against devastating floods caused by climate change.
While in Florida, Mr. Obama also will designate the Miami house of Marjory Stoneman Douglas — author of the 1947 book “The Everglades: Rivers of Grass” — a new national historic landmark. The White House calls the book “a significant turning point in the environmental movement.”