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DeSantis pledges ‘Glades restoration funds; fines for polluters

By Staff | Sep 12, 2019

Florida lawmakers have touted over and over again that they are serious about environmental reform in Florida, and on Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Naples) showed the issue is still at the forefront of their minds.

At the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center in Naples, DeSantis announced his request for $625 million in recurring funding from the Florida Legislature for the next three years pertaining to Everglades restoration and the protection of Florida’s water resources.

According to DeSantis’ office, the funding will meet the $2.5 billion goal laid out in the Governor’s Bold Vision for a Brighter Future budget.

DeSantis also announced he was in favor of legislation that would increase fines for environmental crimes by 50% across the board.

The legislation would also empower the Department of Environmental Protection to assess daily fines until the environmental harm has been resolved or strategies are discussed with DEP to address the matter at hand.

“Since day one, it has been a top priority of my administration to protect our environment and find innovative solutions to the environmental issues facing our state,” DeSantis said on Wednesday. “This historic funding is key to the success of our fight to protect our environment and water resources, which are the foundation of Florida’s economy and way of life. A hardline increase in fines across the board sends a clear message to those who would pollute our state’s natural resources Florida will not stand for it.”

DeSantis was accompanied by First Lady Casey DeSantis, DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein, Sen. Rob Bradley, Sen. Kathleen Passidomo and state Rep. Dane Eagle.

“These historic steps to protect our environment and water quality underline a strong focus by Gov. DeSantis to safeguard Florida’s natural resources,” Valenstein said in Naples. “The increase of fines will provide an additional tool to enforce the environmental laws we have on the books.”

Eagle, who serves as House Majority Leader and represents Florida’s 77th District, which includes Cape Coral, said, “Floridians across our state understand how crucial our environment and water quality is to our way of life. These initiatives by the Governor, working effectively with our legislature, will play a critical role in the protection of our environment, our economy and our livelihoods in Southwest Florida.”

Erik Eikenberg, The Everglades Foundation CEO, showed his support of the governor’s request Wednesday.

“Today’s announcement is a dream come true for all of us who cherish our Everglades, clean water, natural springs, pristine beaches and other natural resources,” Eikenberg said in a statement. “With this announcement, Governor DeSantis has again shown that he is a true environmental steward in the model of President Theodore Roosevelt – and that he is as good as his word.”

Eikenberg is pleased by how the governor has stayed true to his promises thus far on the environmental spectrum, and said he is looking forward to continuing the work that Florida’s waterbodies — especially the Everglades — need.

“Governor DeSantis announced on his second day in office a $2.5-billion commitment to Florida’s environmental needs over four years, and today’s announcement is in keeping with that priority. The Governor has been steadfast in keeping his promises to the millions of Floridians who support Everglades restoration and the tourism-dependent businesses in this state,” Eikenberg said. “We are grateful, and we look forward to working with Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley and the Florida Legislature to move this important investment forward.”

According to DeSantis’ office, as part of the $625 million, the law will require:

* At least $300 million for Everglades Restoration and the EAA Reservoir project

* $50 million for springs restoration

* $50 million for Total Maximum Daily Load projects (TMDLs) to ensure water bodies throughout the state have appropriate nutrient levels

* $15 million for projects within the St. Johns River, Suwannee River and Apalachicola River watersheds

* $10 million for Coral Reef protection and restoration.

* The remainder of the $625 million will be appropriated for other water quality, alternative water supply, and water conservation projects, including innovative technologies for nutrient reduction and harmful algal bloom prevention and mitigation.

Also on Wednesday, Rooney announced that the House of Representatives voted in favor of H.R. 205, a bill titled the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act, which would end drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, east of the Military Mission Line.

The bill was passed by a 248-180 vote, and is now headed to the Senate for consideration.

“Offshore drilling off the coast of Florida would create an industrial coastline less appealing to visitors, hinder our military readiness, and adversely affect our environment,” Rooney said in a statement Wednesday. “I want to ensure that all areas east of the Military Mission Line in the Gulf of Mexico are permanently protected from offshore drilling, so these negative consequences do not transpire. Floridians overwhelmingly support the idea as evidenced by the 69% approval of a 2018 state constitutional amendment banning offshore drilling off the coast of Florida. The military has supported this as well, since the Eastern Gulf is America’s largest testing ground.”

Rooney is hopeful that the importance of the bill will also be recognized by his colleagues in the Senate.

“I thank Speaker Pelosi and House Leadership for taking up this bill and my colleagues who voted in favor,” Rooney said. “Hopefully our Florida Senators Rubio and Scott can accomplish moving this legislation to passage in their chamber and that President Trump will support Florida’s critical imperative by signing it into law.”

The bill was introduced by Rooney in January of this year.

A release from Rooney’s office stated, “The Eastern Gulf of Mexico hosts the Gulf Test Range, a 120,000 square mile range that stretches from the Florida panhandle to the Keys. The vast size allows the testing of hypersonic weapons, combat maneuvers training, drone testing, and untold future operations of weapons and platforms that will not only need space for testing, but also restricted access areas for classified operations. The moratorium on drilling and exploration in the eastern gulf will expire in 2022 unless the Senate and President act.”

This bill covers issues Florida residents are in favor of, according to voting on Florida Amendment 9, which would ban offshore drilling for oil and natural gas off the coast of Florida. The amendment saw 69% voter approval in 2018.

On Thursday, a vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee will see the full funding — $200 million — for Everglades restoration projects being undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps on Engineers in the coming fiscal year.

“Today’s vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee moves the Energy and Water Appropriations bill closer to Senate approval. It reflects the urgency that is desperately needed to kick start vital Everglades restoration projects, including the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir,” said Eikenberg in a statement. “What has long been needed is consistent, sustained funding to realize the restoration benefits to the Everglades, Florida’s waterways, and to our economy. When the dollars flow south from DC, so too will clean water flow south from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay.

“We want to recognize the persistent diligence of our entire Florida Congressional delegation in supporting full federal funding. We especially want to thank U.S. Senator Marco Rubio: as a member of the Appropriations Committee, he has been a stalwart supporter of the Everglades throughout this process.”

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj