Democrats want feds to revive $346M energy-saving grants that DeSantis vetoed

Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel/TNS
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TALLAHASSEE — State Democratic leaders are joining U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Kissimmee and other congressional Democrats in urging the U.S. Department of Energy to let local officials distribute $346 million in grants for energy-saving upgrades to homes under a program vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“Floridians are suffering because of Ron’s political games,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried said in a statement released Tuesday. “His obsession with the presidency cost Floridians nearly half a billion dollars in federal grant funding — funding that comes straight from our taxes — all in an effort to impress farmers in Iowa. If only he cared about putting money back in the pockets of farmers in Florida.”

Critics have said DeSantis vetoed this and other energy-saving bills to help wean the nation off of fossil fuels to appeal to Iowa voters, who are expected to get the first crack at choosing a Republican nominee for president in January.

Iowa produces much of the corn to make ethanol used in gasoline. DeSantis also vetoed a bill that would have allowed state and local agencies to increase the electric vehicles in their fleets, saving the state $277 million over 15 years.

Florida communities “should be able to choose to participate for themselves, instead of being left at the mercy of a wannabe presidential candidate with a point to prove,” Fried said.

DeSantis, who is running a distant second to Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination for 2024, vetoed two bipartisan-supported bills in June that would have allowed the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services run the grant program through its energy department. It would have made $346 million in rebates available to low-income homeowners to spend on energy-saving appliances and other energy upgrades to their homes.

“The state has refused to participate in any of these federally funded programs, leaving lower-income families without the opportunity to upgrade their homes with energy-efficient appliances and transition to clean energy,” Soto said in a news release.

DeSantis gave no explanation for the vetoes at the time. Press secretary Jeremy Redfern said DeSantis “uses his authority under the Florida Constitution to veto bills that he believes are bad public policy.”

Redfern did not immediately respond to a follow-up request for comment Tuesday.

DeSantis has frequently criticized the Biden administration for reckless spending while at the same time accepting billions in federal aid.

The Florida Democratic congressional delegation sent a letter Sept. 5 to the U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm urging Washington to manage the program directly or let local governments manage it.

“These rebates stand to assist families in need who are looking to upgrade their homes with more energy-efficient appliances, accelerating the nation’s transition towards clean energy,” the delegation wrote.

But after DeSantis vetoed $30 million in state seeding funding required to get those grants, the state “inexplicably withdrew its application to the federal energy rebate programs, leaving Florida without access to rebates,” the delegation wrote. “Regrettably, these restrictions deny millions of Floridians access to approximately $346 million in energy-efficient improvement rebates and energy-efficient home appliance purchases for consumers over ten years.”

The deadline for states to tap into those rebate funds is Jan. 31, 2025. The Department of Energy did not immediately reply to a request for comment.