Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Politics

Bousquet: As Gov. Rick Scott goes 'green,' skeptics see red

Gov. Rick Scott wants voters to see him in a different light, as in green, for being a true friend of the environment.

Scott spent the past week stressing the theme on a "Let's Keep Florida Beautiful" tour by promising $1 billion for water protection, tougher penalties on polluters, renewed promises to protect the Keys, the Everglades and Apalachicola Bay, and a new staffer in the governor's office to shape policies on water.

Adding credibility to Scott's tour was the man at his side: Eric Draper, a leading voice on the environment as Audubon's Tallahassee lobbyist.

As Draper noted in an interview, he was on hand partly because Scott agreed to spend $20 million to acquire land to protect water quality in the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, or CREW, an Audubon goal for years.

"It's something I've been lobbying the governor on for a long time to get done," Draper said.

The Naples Daily News showed Scott holding his grandson and walking with Draper under the headline "Going green."

The money for the CREW project would come from Florida Forever — a program Scott killed funding for in his first two years in office, and provided only token support for in the past two years.

On that issue and others, Draper has been critical of Scott, including his $700 million tax cut to water management districts his first year in office and a shakeup in the state Department of Environmental Protection that critics said showed a pro-developer tilt.

"I've seen a shift," Draper said of Scott. "You have to be green to be governor of Florida. Scott recognized that at some point, and started shifting."

Such views make other environmental activists see red.

"It's insane," said Paula Dockery, a columnist and former Republican legislator who was a leader on environmental issues. "Rick Scott has been absolutely awful for the environment." She signed off her latest column with: "Color me skeptical."

Scott has won praise from Everglades advocates for supporting restoration efforts there. But he won't take a position on climate change, though he will meet with a group of climate scientists next week in Tallahassee.

He won't take a stand on Amendment 1 on the fall ballot to set aside billions from an existing tax source to protect land and water, much more than what Scott has promised.

As governor, Scott signed a law that lifted a freeze on new septic tanks. He ran in 2010 in favor of "safe" oil drilling, and dismantled the state's growth management agency his first year in office.

Scott's "Beautiful" tour began as billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer launched two TV ads portraying Scott as an environmental threat. Scott's campaign threatened legal action, claiming one ad mistakenly accused him of taking campaign money from an oil driller. Activists also cited Scott's personal stake in a firm building a Florida Power & Light natural gas transmission line through Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

Green? It looks decidedly gray.

Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.

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