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Florida’s Faux Rejection of Biden’s Green Infrastructure Dollars Didn’t Cost It Anything

Florida is still planning to spend federal funds without following the requirements of the law that allocated them.

Ron Desantis
Florida officials have postured against the Carbon Reduction Program, but the state is still taking its funds. Phil Sears/AP

Florida is waving off the federal requirements of President Joe Biden’s landmark infrastructure law while still spending the $320 million the legislation doles out for the state.

The federal government seems fine with it.

In November, the state’s transportation secretary said that Florida had decided “to not participate in the continued efforts” of the Carbon Reduction Program, a green infrastructure fund created by the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (what the Biden administration touts as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law).

The move came in response to a deadline to produce a carbon reduction strategy, one of the provisions of the law.

In the seven months since then, the Florida Department of Transportation has continued to spend down the roughly $320 million intended for the state through the program. An FDOT official told NOTUS that they don’t think funding will change as a result of the state agency’s refusal to produce the strategic plan.

Under the federal law, states can use carbon reduction funds from the federal program for projects like expanding truck stops, building bike lanes or improving intersections. Florida plans to use the money for these types of projects, although it is not calling them carbon reduction efforts.

Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration has approved and published the plans of all 49 other states for reducing transportation emissions. The agency told NOTUS that “a Carbon Reduction Strategy is not required in order to receive [Carbon Reduction Program] funding, which is apportioned to states by statutory formula.”

Florida’s posturing against the program while still spending the funds could set a strange precedent of a state getting to pick and choose the parts of federal law it wants to comply with without facing any consequences.

“What the politics are sometimes in a state like Florida with [Gov. Ron] DeSantis and all these ideologues, they may be doing something that they call by a different name, but it actually checks the boxes of the law in order to draw the funds,” House Transportation Committee member Rep. Jared Huffman told NOTUS. He said that he was not aware of the specifics of the carbon reduction program’s implementation in Florida, but added, “I think if we’ve got a planning requirement, they’ve got to honor it.”

Florida’s refusal to produce an emissions reduction plan alongside receiving the funds — while continuing to use the money for projects that do just that, under the law’s definition — is also part of the state’s larger, ongoing fight with the Biden administration over the semantics of climate change.

In February, the state signed onto a lawsuit against the Biden administration’s emissions targets. In March, the Florida transportation secretary testified before Congress against Biden’s greenhouse gas reporting rules. And in May, DeSantis signed onto a bill that takes effect next month, ensuring climate change is not a priority in energy policy.

State spending plans show that, as far as the Carbon Reduction Program goes, Florida never actually intended to stop getting or using the funds, despite its public withdrawal and the ensuing media attention over the decision.

In May, the state told NOTUS it “does not foresee any funding changes tied to this decision,” adding, “We have a good working relationship with FHWA.”

Claire Heddles is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.