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Amendment 1 stands for clean water

Senate President Don Gaetz disapproves of the Land and Water Legacy Amendment — Amendment 1 on your November ballot — on Big Gubmint grounds. As a spokesman put it, he "believes the amendment is based on a core belief that more land of some kind somewhere needs to be controlled by the government and not private landholders."

Gaetz needs to read the amendment again. What it actually does is save the beautiful and wild places people come to Florida for in the first place: the creeks peaceful as dawn, ancient cypress stands, lands where bear and panther roam, and springs which, as Marjory Stoneman Douglas said, are like "bowls of liquid light."

The state would have to dedicate 33 percent of document stamp revenues, collected on real estate sales, to acquiring sensitive lands. It's not a new tax; it doesn't impinge on your freedom — unless your idea of "freedom" is wholesale destruction of nature. It simply ensures funding for the old bipartisan Florida Forever program, instead of leaving it to the whims of the Legislature and the governor.

Your elected officials jealously guard their whim-privileges. House Speaker Will Weatherford also dislikes Amendment 1: "Legislating via constitutional amendments doesn't work in California," he tweeted, "and it won't work here!"

Funnily enough, just 18 months ago Florida's Republican leadership larded the 2012 ballot with no fewer than seven amendments, trying to restrict women's reproductive rights, cripple Obamacare and weaken the separation of church and state.

While there's a principled argument to be made against stuffing the state Constitution with amendments, the speaker isn't making it; he's merely ginning up the tea party tendency by invoking the dreaded Democratic Socialist Republic of California, font of such abominations as emission controls and renewable energy.

Gaetz, Weatherford and their profit-uber-alles allies in the Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries should listen not only to the citizens (more than 700,000 of whom signed the Legacy Amendment petition) but their legislative colleagues, many of whom have taken to sounding like born-again greens: lamenting dead manatees in the Indian River Lagoon, expressing outrage over compromised drinking water in Southeast Florida, and promising action on the toxic algae choking the St. Johns, the Santa Fe and the Caloosahatchee. Some have gone so far as to suggest doing something about leaky septic tanks.

Even Gov. Rick Scott seems to have undergone a Damascene conversion, going around saying he wants to heal our springs, save Apalachicola Bay oysters and fix the Everglades.

It is, of course, an election year.

If that LED light bulb has finally switched on in their brains, good. Still, I wouldn't break out the organic champagne just yet: These are among the same legislators who gleefully shut down the Department of Community Affairs — the agency which stopped a habitat-destroying marina in Taylor County and refused to approve high-rises on barrier islands in the gulf — the same legislators who behaved with uncharacteristic but welcome good sense in 2010 when they passed a bill mandating septic tank inspection every five years, then, after the tea party commenced to caterwauling about government intrusion, turned tail and repealed it two years later.

This is the same governor who fired a slew of scientists from the Department of Environmental Protection and installed development-friendly types who tried to declare that dry pine uplands were really wetlands — until a judge stopped them — the same governor who thought it a fine idea to raise money for conservation lands by selling off conservation lands.

Okay, maybe they've evolved. The trouble is, they keep telling us they don't believe in evolution.

The big talk about springs cleanup and genuine water quality standards starts to smell like nothing more than campaign-season, er, manure. Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi (also up for re-election) are spending taxpayer money to join a lawsuit against cleaning up Chesapeake Bay. That's right: Florida is weighing on the side of Big Ag, Big Development and an outfit called (I am not making this up) the Fertilizer Institute.

They argue that if the Environmental Protection Agency can force polluters to clean up the junk they've been dumping into the largest (and once the most productive) estuary in the United States, why, EPA might make Louisiana get those dioxins out of the Mississippi. Or insist Florida stops using Lake Okeechobee as a sewer.

I mean, what's more important: clean water or states' rights?

Pro tip: If you want to test the governor's and the legislators' commitment to Florida's environment, follow HB 703, recently filed by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City. Patronis, the polluters' BFF, thinks it would be a fine idea to privatize drinking water, give developers precedence over local governments, forbid municipalities to protect wetlands and refuse to follow federal regulations designed to address sea level rise.

Thank God real people aren't waiting for politicians to get a clue. In addition to working hard to get Amendment 1 on November's ballot, more than 100 citizens' groups drafted a "Clean Water Declaration," which states: "The people of Florida, the state government, and the industries that benefit from Florida's natural resources" must stop pollution at the source, fight "overconsumption and privatization."

The declaration, however commonsensical, can't force Florida politicians to do the right thing. Amendment 1 can. Put Florida's leaders on notice: You can't be for dirty water in Maryland and clean water in Florida; you can't take money from polluters and tell us you're an environmentalist; you can't swear you love this state, then turn around and try to destroy it.

Diane Roberts is a member of the Florida Wildlife Federation board. The author of "Dream State," a memoir of Florida, she teaches at Florida State University. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Amendment 1 stands for clean water 02/13/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 10:43am]
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