Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Politics

Sen. Simpson's green claims take a hit with bill sponsorship

Some environmentalist.

Sen. Wilton Simspon, R-Trilby, talked like one, you might remember, before the start of the legislative session.

Long term, he wants to be known as a champion of reclaimed water, he said, and discussed plans for a statewide system of reservoirs that would help spare our aquifer from excessive pumping.

That ties in perfectly with protecting Florida's springs, his main goal this session, which is why he joined other senators to sponsor a bill setting aside $378 million for that purpose.

But unfortunately for his green credentials, Simpson also has joined with Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, in Patronis' annual assault on environmental protection. Simpson filed the Senate version (SB 1464) of Patronis' sweeping deregulation House bill.

What's in it?

Generally, the same things that are in bills Patronis has filed annually since 2009. He doesn't write laws so much as pass a sack and let lobbyists for miners, developers and farmers stuff it with whatever they please.

In previous years, he's protected the rights of sugar companies to lease state-owned parts of the Everglades and stripped protections for thousands of acres of wetlands.

This year's bill takes particular aim at the regulatory power of local governments and water agencies.

For example, in 2009 the Hernando County Commission decided to require a super-majority — four of its five commissioners — to approve any change to the county's comprehensive plan.

It's a reasonable restriction, especially because the state has dismantled the agency that supervised local growth management. It also fits in with the argument used to justify that dismantling: controlling growth is a job for locals.

Not, apparently, if there is a threat of real control, because the Patronis/Simpson bill would do away with the right of commissions to require super-majority votes.

The bill also upends the process of regional water supply planning. Developers' plans wouldn't have to fit in with those of the water authorities; instead, a project's development order would be written into the water supply blueprint.

That's a strange way to proceed if you want to protect the state's water-starved springs. Even stranger is the language that would grant some large developments pumping permits lasting up to 30 years, which not only undercuts springs protection but his plans to expand the use of reclaimed water.

How do you convince developers to pay for treated wastewater when they can pump fresh water for such a long period of time and for free? It would be pretty tough, Simpson acknowledged.

He's already stripped out some harmful sections of this bill, and says he will weed out others before it goes to a vote of the Senate.

"Judge us by what makes it to the floor," he said.

Okay, but Simpson should have known better than to have anything to do with this bill, or with Patronis. About the only name I can think of that means worse things for Florida's environment is British Petroleum.

Simpson shouldn't have sponsored this bill. Shouldn't even vote for it. If you allow polluters and resource hogs to write laws for their own benefit you can't even call yourself a responsible lawmaker.

Environmentalist? Sorry. There's no way.

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