Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series highlighting the local impact of Trump’s policies in key counties in MI, PA, WI, and FL.
Red tide – the excessive growth of microscopic algae called Karenia brevis that is toxic in large concentrations – crashed into Pinellas County last year, leaving hundreds of tons of sea life dead and the local economy struggling.
And instead of working to protect the beaches of Pinellas County — a key swing region that voted for President Trump by just 5,500 votes in 2016 – Trump has pursued policies that could make the problem even worse in the years to come.
According to reporting by the Tampa Bay Times, Pinellas County spent over $7 million in 2018 cleaning up dead fish caused by red tide, collecting over 1,863 tons’ worth. The toxins released from the algae can cause respiratory illness and poison people who eat fish caught in affected waters.
In a sting to the local economy, some local hotels reported layoffs and financial deficits in the tens of thousands as tourism dropped off. As a result, some local businesses were forced to apply for Florida Emergency Bridge Loans to stay afloat through the red tide crisis.
Despite the ongoing crisis ravaging Florida, there has been little support from the federal government. Critics point out that since taking office, President Trump has done next to nothing to help further stop the onslaught of red tide in areas like Pinellas County, particularly in the effort to combat climate change which experts say is fueling the problem.
According to Florida Sea Grant, warmer water due to climate change is likely to make algal blooms more frequent, more intense, and more difficult to control once they’ve started. Climate change is also likely to lead to more extreme rain events that carry nutrients from farms all the way to the ocean. The causes of red tide are complex, but scientists believe runoff from cattle ranches, sugar plantations, and other sources provide blooms with fuel for extra growth once they have made their way close to shore.
Despite the risks to Florida and the rest of the country, the Trump Administration has ignored the threat of climate change and designated fossil fuel development one of its core objectives. Humans burning fossil fuels is a main cause of rising global temperatures.
The Trump Administration has also shown disregard for clean water. Just last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the repeal of the Waters of the United States rule, which was designed to protect about 60 percent of the nation’s water from pollution, including drinking water for about one-third of the population. The Administration has also proposed elimination of over 80 environmental rules overall, further complicating efforts to keep drinking water clean.
Should President Trump want to win Florida’s 29 electoral votes again, he will need crucial voters who supported him in 2016 after previously backing President Barack Obama. But if red tide makes another appearance before the election, these voters – like those in Pinellas County — may be tougher to win over again.