Even before Hurricane Ian devastated the state, Florida's insurance industry was collapsing. As discussed on today's BradCast, decades of climate denialism by the Republicans who run the state hasn't helped. [Audio link to full show follows below this summary.]
Gov. Ron DeSantis seems to have a very different perspective on federal hurricane disaster aid than he did while a freshman in Congress in 2013, when he was an adamant "no" vote on sending federal aid dollars to New York and New Jersey after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. He also seems to have a different opinion of President Biden than he did just a week or so ago, when the ambitious GOP Presidential hopeful was threatening to use state taxpayer dollars to fly undocumented immigrants to Biden's home in Delaware. Suddenly, the DeSantis swagger is gone. At least for now, as the Sunshine State Guv has little choice after Ian but to crawl hat in hand to the same federal government he has pretended to abhor for political benefit.
But that's not DeSantis' only problem. As our guest today, THOMAS FRANK, longtime climate change impact journalist at E&E News, explains, the insurance industry in Florida has been in big trouble for some time. Major insurers left the state after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and six of the regional mom and pop outfits who took their place have gone insolvent over the past year alone.
"There's not the kind of robust, private sector [in the insurance industry] you have really everywhere else in the country," Frank tells me today. "What happened the last few days is going to make a bad situation --- pick your adjective --- horrendous. The truth is nobody knows exactly how bad it's going to be, because that's going to take weeks, months to figure out as people try to start filing claims and so forth. But I don't anyone thinks it's going to be anything but bad."
Frank has been reporting on --- and warning about --- the state's failing insurance industry long before Ian may have finished it off. Premiums for homeowners insurance cost about 3 times more than the national average and, at the same time, Florida's Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-backed insurer of last resort, has been under-pricing homeowner policies for years, he says. They are unlikely to have enough money to pay out the claims that will soon come flooding in.
Moreover, homeowner policies don't cover flood insurance. That's left to a federal government program and most Floridians who have flood coverage live on the coast, even as hundreds of thousands of homeowners who have been flooded out this week live nowhere near it. They are unlikely to be insured for flooding at all.
As Frank writes today at E&E, "Hurricane Ian is expect to financially ruin countless people" in the state, including both homeowners and insurers. As he wrote yesterday at Politico, "Profit drove a 30-year boom" in the state, particularly near the coast, where the population has doubled or tripled amid a building boom in recent years, despite warnings from climate experts about sea rise and the intensification of hurricanes. "Ian smashed" that boom "in a day," writes Frank.
This, in a state controlled by climate change denialist politicians who have gone so far as to ban the use of the phrase "climate change" in state reports, and where DeSantis, as recently as last month, began an effort to bar the state's pension fund from even considering environmental factors when investing billions of dollars belonging to teachers, firefighters and other state workers.
Please tune in for today's enlightening conversation.
Finally today, Democrats in the House Oversight Committee recently obtained and released a trove of internal documents from fossil fuel industry insiders from ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP. The communications reveal that Big Oil execs, staffers and lobbyists admit to "gaslighting" the public regarding their public claims to be fighting against the climate crisis. (Who could have guessed it?!) For example, while Shell has publicly claimed they are working toward "net-zero" greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a missive to employees in 2020 instructs them to never "imply, suggest, or leave it open for possible misinterpretation that (net zero) is a Shell goal or target," adding that the company has "no immediate plans to move to a net-zero emissions portfolio" over the next 10 to 20 years.
Republicans on the House Committee are furious that their friends and campaign donors have been exposed (again) as liars. And the companies argue the Committee's selective release of documents doesn't offer a full picture of their very very concerned stance on the climate crisis. So, as a public service, we close today with a new ad from Chevron that may help clear the air a bit. You're welcome!
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)