Legislators weaken protections for what makes Florida special

The Florida Legislature has been on an anti-environment tack for most of the past 15 years, even as Floridians become increasingly concerned about issues such as growth, water shortages, and the health of the State’s waterways where so many of us fish and swim. Unfortunately, this year’s just-completed legislative session brought more of the same with at least one glimmer of hope. Florida’s natural landscape and waterways are so unique compared to those of the rest of the nation, that they are a defining element of life in the Sunshine State. As these places degrade, so too does the very quality of Florida that makes people want to live, visit, and do business here. Despite the fact that Florida has lost more wetlands than any other state, legislators passed a bill–HB 7043 that allows the State’s Department of Environmental Protection to take-over Clean Water Act dredge and fill permitting from the Federal government. This will almost certainly lead to less protection for our remaining wetlands, as some Federal laws may no longer be considered as part of the review process. We also have an overworked and understaffed DEP that is unlikely to be able to give a thorough review to permit applications. GRN will continue to monitor the rulemaking side of this effort to make sure that our wetlands and waterways continue to receive at least as much protection as they have with Federal oversight. The continued issue of water shortages and sewage bubbled to the top of legislative concerns with the passage of HB 1149, which allows utilities to inject treated wastewater directly into groundwater reserves around the State. While the idea of replenishing groundwater and eliminating the discharge of sewage to surface waters are worthy goals, there remains concern about the level of treatment the DEP will require of utilities and whether it is sufficient to protect public health and the environment from contaminants such as pharmaceuticals. We will be closely watching to see how utilities and the DEP implement this, and to continue to work toward full protection for Florida’s waters. A little bit of hope came in land conservation the one check against unbridled growth for which Florida was once a model. After years of zero funding even after Floridians voted overwhelmingly in 2014 to make permanent funding of land conservation part of the State Constitution–the Legislature voted to fund $100 million for the Florida Forever Trust Fund. While it still falls short of full funding and is only for one year, it is a big step forward that will be seen in more State parks and forests protected in perpetuity. These large protected land areas are vital for delivering clean water to the Gulf and coastal bays, and for buffering us from the full impacts of climate change. We thank our many GRN members who responded to our calls to action and contacted their legislators on these and other environmental bills. Public support for protecting our environment and the Gulf of Mexico remain strong, and we will continue to work with all of you to make sure that our elected officials get the message.

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