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'A baffling decision': DeSantis vetoes bipartisan bill to buy Florida more electric cars

Close-up of an electric vehicle charging station
Sam Navarro
/
Special for the Miami Herald
New charging stations for electric vehicles were installed on Miami-Dade County property at West Lot Garage on 220 NW 3rd Street, as part of its transition to low carbon transportation to combat climate change in Miami, Florida, Thursday, September 30, 2021.

The veto came days after former President Donald Trump slammed DeSantis and EVs.

A bill modernizing how Florida buys state vehicles, a change that would have saved a ton of money and likely led to more electric cars and trucks, came with rare bipartisan backing from the Florida Legislature.

It was sponsored by a Republican and passed with a nearly unanimous vote in the majority Republican legislature. It was endorsed by two groups often at odds, the Sierra Club and the Florida Natural Gas Association. Estimates suggest it could have saved hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars and cut down on the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

But late Wednesday night, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed it in a surprise decision that also seemed to go against his past history of support for electric cars.

“This veto is out of step with the interests of Florida families and the leaders they sent to the Legislature. It’s perplexing why the governor would drop the ball on this opportunity to save taxpayers money.”
Michael Weiss

“This veto is a baffling decision that will cost Florida taxpayers millions of dollars,” Michael Weiss, Florida state lead at Advanced Energy United, a trade group promoting clean transportation that supported the bill, said in a statement. “The Florida Legislature saw the clear economic and taxpayer benefits of a modern and efficient state fleet, but Gov. DeSantis somehow didn’t get the memo.”

Advanced Energy United estimated that the bill could have saved Floridians $277 million over 15 years if the entire fleet of cars were converted to electric vehicles. The bill would not have mandated a switch to electric cars but instead switched the state’s method of choosing new ones to favor whatever car was cheapest over a total lifetime cost.

“This veto is out of step with the interests of Florida families and the leaders they sent to the Legislature. It’s perplexing why the governor would drop the ball on this opportunity to save taxpayers money,” said Weiss, whose group represents an array of tech, alternative energy and utility companies.

DeSantis normally offers explanations for his vetoes, but his veto transmittal letter for this bill did not include one. The governor’s veto came days after former president and current presidential candidate Donald Trump gave a speech in Michigan railing against electric vehicles and criticizing DeSantis, who is also running for president. Recent polling in Michigan shows Biden tied with Trump and DeSantis, the Detroit Free Press reported.

DeSantis’ press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

White Tesla parked by a charging station with hood and doors open
Sam Navarro
/
Special for the Miami Herald
A Tesla SUV its parked by the new charging stations for electric vehicles on Miami-Dade County property at the county’s West Lot Garage on 220 NW 3rd Street, as part of its transition to low carbon transportation to combat climate change in Miami, Florida, Thursday, September 30, 2021.

The veto appears to go against the governor’s previous record supporting the expansion of electric cars in Florida.

In a 2022 statement about the state’s plan to use $166 million to buy 227 electric buses and 218 electric school buses to replace diesel buses, as well as install more electric vehicle charging stations statewide, Desantis called the move a “win-win.”

“This funding will help lower emissions while also bringing our transit bus fleets to more modern standards,” he said. “This is a win-win for air quality and advancing the state’s efforts to bolster growing electric vehicle usage.”

The bill, SB284, would have changed Florida’s process for buying cars from a requirement to choose the most fuel-efficient car to choosing a car with the lowest lifetime ownership cost. Research shows electric vehicles, which often have a higher upfront cost, have fewer maintenance and fuel costs over time than gas-powered cars. They also dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change, compared to cars powered by fossil fuels.

If an agency chose to buy a car with an internal combustion engine, they would have been directed to use gasoline blended with ethanol or biodiesel or use natural gas fuels when possible. There was an exception for emergency vehicles.

Similar bills have been signed by Republican governors in Nevada and Virginia.

Sen Jason Brodeur, a Republican representing the Sanford area, sponsored the bill. He did not respond to an immediate request for comment, but in an April op-ed published in the Orlando Sentinel about the bill, he said his bill would address “an outdated and ineffective way of evaluating vehicle performance and financial benefits.”

“This legislation doesn’t establish any mandates or consumer obligations, but it certainly does create opportunity,” he said. “Conservatives have always been solutions-oriented and savings-focused, and this legislation will give public officials the freedom to make investments in vehicles that are in the best long-term interests of taxpayers.”

Dawn Shirreffs, Florida director of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement that they are disappointed in the veto.

“Electric vehicles cost less over the life of the vehicle; they cost less to maintain, less to operate and last longer than other vehicles. When governments purchase vehicles, Florida taxpayers deserve the most cost-effective solution,” she wrote.

This story was produced in partnership with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a multi-newsroom initiative formed to cover the impacts of climate change in the state.