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2010 Legislative Session: Updating the latest environmental happenings

By Staff | Mar 24, 2010

Like a shot from the starting gun at a race, Florida’s 60-day legislative session started on March 2, 2010. A budget shortfall of $3 billion assures this session will need our active participation to maximize conservation opportunities prior to the start of the session policy staff met with some members of the legislative delegation to share our priorities.

Oil Drilling

We join municipal governments from along the Gulf Coast and conservation advocates in opposition to the expansion of oil drilling off Florida’s coast.

Last Friday, the House concluded public testimony on oil and gas drilling in Florida’s near shore waters. House speaker-elect Cannon, has stated he wants to take the time to get the bill right even if it means not having a bill this session. He indicated the panel will likely not begin working on a bill until the sixth week of the session, which may mean it does not have time to be heard and get through committees this year.

At this writing, the Senate has not yet taken action on the issue. A Senate report completed by the Collins Center for Public Policy released earlier this month found the estimated oil reserves on state owned submerged land to be less than 100 million barrels, a volume that would satisfy the U.S. demand for oil for less than one week.

The legislature needs to hear from us on this issue. You can find links to information on our website under policy/oil drilling as well as addresses to our legislative delegation under policy/government contacts.

Water Policy

Senate President Atwater tapped senior Senator Lee Constantine to chair a new committee to address the numerous water policy issues in Florida. The Senate Select Committee on Florida’s Inland Waters will be developing an omnibus water bill with a broad scope to address issues of water quality, water use and water regulations.

SCCF policy staff testified before this Senate subcommittee in January, emphasizing issues we believe need to be addressed to protect water quality. They include fertilizer legislation that does not preempt local communities from acting in their best judgment to address watershed based pollutants such as fertilizer. Several bills are emerging on fertilizer that will preempt local government’s ability to implement stricter standards than the states weak model ordinance.

Springs Protection: Last year, Senator Constantine sponsored legislation that emphasizes protection of watersheds including no phosphorus fertilizer and addressing septic system leaching. We continue to support his efforts with this legislation.

Septic System Regulation: Testimony from committee hearings also emphasized the need to address septic systems with maintenance and inspection programs. We support this effort and additionally encourage the regulation and elimination of wastewater residuals from septic and waste water treatment plants from being spread on the landscape. The disposal of these solids in the Lake Okeechobee, St Lucie and Caloosahatchee watersheds is being phased out by DEP however a proposed rule would allow residuals to be packaged and marketed as fertilizer. In addressing the water quality impacts of this practice we urge the Legislature to phase out all land disposal of sludge in basins with impaired water bodies.

Water use and regulatory changes are the other side of the water policy equation and a major concern. Over the past year special interests have quietly been working on proposed changes to Chapter 373 FS the statute that regulates the water permitting process. These interests have proposed splitting water permitting for consumptive use from the rest of water management permitting. This duplication of effort would not only be bad policy and duplication of effort but would make water supply permitting for the natural environment even more complex and convoluted.

Water Conservation: We support conservation as the lowest cost and simplest strategy for protecting Florida’s ground and surface water resources. The development of meaningful and effective water conservation rules throughout Florida is fundamental to sustaining natural resources and providing for the state’s future growth.

Local Sources First: Competition for water is already an issue in Florida. In our region the Caloosahatchee estuary has to compete with private permitted consumptive users for a share of the public owned freshwater. Further north water supplies are being eyed by thirsty South Florida threatening water wars well documented in states out west. We urge the legislature to reinforce “local sources first” to protect the environmental needs when consumptive use permits are issued.

Tax On Bottled Water: We urge the legislature to revisit Governor Crist’s proposal from last year’s session to tax bottled water. Unlike other natural resources such as lime rock, oil and gas, there is no extraction fee levied on bottling companies that bottle and profit from the sale of the state’s water resources. We urge the legislature to bring this issue in line with other extraction practices.

Growth Management

Florida’s growth management agency, the Dept of Community Affairs DCA is up for sunset review this year. The sunset review is designed to provide the legislature an opportunity to periodically review the need and effectiveness of agencies within state government. This agency coordinates the comprehensive planning process to provide seamless linkages between Florida’s 67 counties and provides independent review of the state’s largest developments those with the largest impacts on regional water resource availability, wildlife and habitat and transportation capacity. We are asking the legislature to:

Reenact the agency intact.

Maintain the budget.

Prevent Bad Growth Management bills this session.

This agency has borne the brunt of cuts over the past six to seven years while the legislature has loosened up regulations on the largest developments and transportation concurrency, shifting the burden of growth from the project sponsors who profit, to the taxpayers who pay the bill. Good growth management is not the problem with our economy. We need a strong growth management agency to keep Florida economically viable and to protect our precious natural resources.

As of this writing, there is a draft Senate bill to reenact DCA but no companion House bill.

Budget

Everglades Funding Governor Crist’s budget recommends $50 million to continue the restoration of the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. This funding is critical to projects that will impact our water quality and supply on the west coast.

Florida Forever Funding the Governor’s budget also includes $5 million that would support issuance of $50 million in bonds for Florida’s popular and effective land buying program that has protected more than 2.4 million acres of land including 5190 acres of coastline, 300,000 acres of forest land and 53,600 acres of springs and their watersheds.

At this writing, there is no money appropriated in committee for these important programs.