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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

House sends to gov bill to limit challenges to water permits for developers

In an about face that Democrats criticized as a bait and switch, the Florida House took up the Senate bill that included the controversial burden of proof language hated by environmentalists, and sent it to the governor.

Environmentalists last week thought they had succeeded in killing a controversial proposal to make it more difficult for the public to challenge development and environmental permits relating to water quality but, at the urging of the Scott administration, the Senate revived it Wednesday.

The Senate attached the language to a noncontroversial rulemaking bill by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, and voted it out 35-3. The language effectively shifts the burden of proof to those who challenge state permits to show that the development could harm, rather than require the developer to prove that the permitted project will be safe for the environment.

House sponsor of the measure, Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, said Friday that he took the controversial provision out of the bill "because I wanted more concensus with the environmental community and the Democrats in the chamber."

On Thursday, he scolded Democrats for opposing it. "This is not the first time we debated the burden of proof,'' he said.

The flip flop brought rebukes from the state's leading environmentalists. Eric Draper, director of Audubon of Florida, said it was "disappointing when the Department of Environmental Protection lines up with the polluters to keep citizens from exercising their rights."

Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to persuade members to reject the Senate's change. Rep. Scott Randolph warned that the bill will give a federal judge, who last week told DEP that it could lose its right to delegate clean-up of the Everglades, said this would violate procedures of the Clean Water Act and give him added reason to strip the state of its authority.

Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, said that "it puts the burden of proof on the challenger,’’ he said, admitting he doesn’t know how it compares with the clean water act. "This amendment doesn’t weaken anything with environmental regulations in Florida."

"We’re about to change 30 years of environmental law,'' said Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando. "If you’re comfortable with the federal government coming in and taking away our delegated program, then vote for this amendment."

[Last modified: Thursday, May 5, 2011 12:23pm]


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