TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A proposal aimed at establishing a state fuel reserve to avoid a repeat of images from Hurricane Irma advanced in a Senate committee Tuesday, despite reservations from the petroleum industry.
The Infrastructure and Security Committee backed a measure (SB 404) to set up a task force that would consider developing an emergency fuel reserve for the state.
Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat sponsoring the bill, said the intent is to ensure fuel is available for places like hospitals and nursing homes.
Farmer recalled the deaths of residents at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a Broward County nursing home where the air-conditioning system was knocked out by Irma.
“We’re not trying to put the state of Florida into the fuel business,” said Farmer.
But Florida Petroleum Council Executive Director David Mica questioned the need for the task force. With fuel accessible through 12 ports and various terminals across the state, Florida was able to get through Irma -- which prompted the largest evacuation in the state's history -- “rather well,” he said.
But, recalling images of abandoned cars and bottlenecked evacuation routes caused by gas shortages, Sen. Janet Cruz disputed Mica’s assessment. There was a “system that failed us," Cruz, D-Tampa, said.
Sen. Ed Hooper, a Clearwater Republican, blamed the failure more on the delivery of fuel rather than the availability.
“Former Gov. (Rick) Scott, I thought, did an outstanding job of taking command of those tankers, with police, law enforcement escorts, and being able to maneuver those units to where they were most needed in priority of importance,” Hooper said.
Farmer’s proposal would create a nine-member Florida Strategic Fuel Reserve Task Force within the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Members would be appointed by the governor, House speaker and Senate president. The task force would have to make its recommendations by April 30, 2020.
A similar measure by Farmer last year failed to advance, as did an effort to include a fuel reserve in a post-hurricane legislative package from the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness.
This year's House companion to Farmer’s bill (HB 573) has not yet been heard in committee.