Politicians love to talk about the environmental issues. It’s a popular topic, and it’s easy to talk about the environment. However, few elected leaders actually do the same thing.
Nikki Fried (Agriculture Commissioner) is one of these rare few. She is currently the strongest environmental advocate in the Florida Cabinet. Florida’s leadership had never used the term “climate change” before Commissioner Fried was elected to her statewide office.
Frieds has been in office for nearly three years and has made a much greater effort to protect the environment, energy, climate, and water than any of her predecessors.
Fried called on federal and state regulators to reject a permit for oil drilling in the Big Cypress watershed. This would have serious consequences for Southwest Florida’s water supply. After that call, Floridas Department of Environmental Protection was forced to deny this permit. This was a significant win for the environment.
Fried recently launched her Clean Water Initiative, which will collect records of nutrients applied to farms. It will also prioritize in-person verification farm sites visits over voluntary self-reporting. She has already referred more than 6,000 farms to DEP for their environmental practices.
She is updating the best agricultural management practices that have not seen significant improvements in many years. This includes improving water quality, energy efficiency and pollution reduction strategies. She prioritized investing millions in cost-share dollars for the most environmentally-impactful projects. She asked state legislators to provide additional resources for agricultural water conservation.
Fried asked the former DEP Secretary to answer questions at a Cabinet meeting about the Piney Point disaster. Fried cited dozens if documented issues since 2019, including stress fractures, critical failures and leaks that resulted in 250 million gallons worth of contaminated water being released into Tampa Bay.
Fried was the only vote against TECO’s expansion of the Dolphin Expressway through Everglades and new fossil fuel power plants. Her agency strongly opposed expanding Miami-Dade’s urban development into the wetlands.
She called for the banning of all oil drilling in Florida, called out plans that deep well inject toxic phosphate mining wastewater into our aquifers and called out Mosaics attempt expand their New Wales New Wales phosphogypsum plants in Polk County and to open a new DeSoto County phosphate mine. Fried is not content to be just an opponent. She has also proposed concrete, real environmental solutions. She has been a leader in securing millions of dollars in grants for low-income families and local governments to improve energy efficiency. In Florida, she also launched the first ever statewide study on energy inequity. This study aimed at helping Black and Hispanic families who are burdened by higher utility bills than the rest of Floridians. She voted for hundreds and millions of dollars in land conservation to protect ecosystems. She also launched the first electric vehicle roadmap for Florida to guide the growth of EVs.
Fried is not afraid to make tough calls. Aldicarb, one the most dangerous chemicals in the world, was denied state approval earlier this year. Fried rejected aldicarb for Florida, a pesticide so toxic it was banned worldwide. Donald Trump’s EPA quietly approved it for use on citrus, where it poses a high risk to children and infants.
Fried announced that she had begun to phase out polystyrene packaging in food markets, grocery stores, and convenience stores across Florida in September. Packaging like Styrofoam can take hundreds of years to biodegrade and is one of the most harmful to marine life and landfill waste.
Fried hosted the Florida Energy and Climate Summit in Orlando in November. This is her biennial conference that addresses water, energy and climate issues. Her summit facilitated important conversations about climate resilience, solar energy, biofuels, and innovative technologies for a zero-carbon future. She will continue to support ambitious climate and energy legislation in the next legislative session, just as she has done every year while in office.
Politicians talk a lot about the environment. To walk the walk, you need to make tough decisions and take bold action. That’s exactly what Nikki Fried has done as the head of Florida’s second largest industry. I hope all Florida’s elected leaders will follow her science based example.
Janelle Christensen M.A. is a past president of the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida. She is also a Fort Myers resident.