By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - Despite coastal Florida's vulnerability to storm surge and rising sea levels, a state agency was directed not to use phrases such as “climate change” or “global warming” in its official communications, according to Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
Former employees of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) detailed the unwritten policy in interviews to the non-profit news agency, which reported the ban on Sunday in an article published by the Miami Herald and other state media.
“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” attorney Christopher Byrd, who worked with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013, told the Florida investigative reporting outlet.
“That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel,” he was quoted as saying.
The prohibition was put into place after the election of Republican Governor Rick Scott, who had disputed the human impact on climate change during his 2010 campaign, according to the report.
Concerns about climate change are widely accepted among research scientists, but questioned by conservative Republicans who oppose attempts to control the carbon emissions that have been blamed for causing environmental damage.
The governor's office and the state environmental agency said they had no official policy on the subject, according to the news report. Former agency employees told news outlet the prohibition was communicated verbally.
Reuters could not immediately reach the governor's office or the state environmental protection agency for comment.
Scott met briefly in August with five climate scientists who warned him that a steadily rising ocean was a major threat to the state's future. Scott listened to the scientists and had no comment after the half-hour meeting in his office.
One of the scientists, Florida State University professor Jeff Chanton, said he was not surprised by the report. "Why is the governor giving the people of Florida such a bum steer?" he said, noting recent polling that showed that most Americans think that climate change in happening.
"Does it have something to do with corporate influence," he added, citing a report last year by the non-partisan watchdog, Integrity Florida, that was critical of the political influence of Florida's top energy corporations.
(Additional reporting by David Adams; Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Doina Chiacu)