Column: Beware of Trump-Scott scheme to kill Florida’s wetlands

Published February 1
Updated February 1

President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott have been working on a play to make it easier and faster for developers to wipe out our natural wetlands. Seizing on a political opportunity, the state is moving swiftly to take over a longstanding federal program that protects wetlands under the Clean Water Act, something that only two other states have ever done.

We know wetlands preserve our fresh drinking water supplies. We know they buffer our coasts from hurricane damage. And we know they are Florida’s true wild heart, home to thousands of plants and animals — many of them found nowhere else on the planet.

So why would the Florida Department of Environmental Protection take it upon itself to make it easier for powerful interests to wipe out these natural resources? A bill in the Legislature — SB 1402/HB 7043 — would allow just that. It is wrong to approve a plan that fast-tracks the destruction of natural wetlands.

Florida’s record of protecting wetlands is abysmal. The state’s environmental agencies are in the worst shape they’ve been for years — experienced staff has left in droves and environmental budgets have been starved by politicians who do the bidding of well-heeled industry and developers. The state Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t have the capacity to take over the wetlands permitting that has been run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for decades — not if the goal is environmental protection. Florida has done little more than rubber-stamp massive wetland destruction, and we are seeing the disastrous results everywhere — lowered aquifers, worse storm damage and disappearing species.

Powerful developers and lobbyists got their political friends to come up with a similar scheme back in 2005, but the state walked away after state analysts produced a report advising against it, given the cost and complexity of federal wetlands protection.

This time around, the state is not even bothering with a serious analysis. It’s up to all of us to expose this scam and hold every state lawmaker who supports this wetland death sentence accountable.

Tania Galloni is managing attorney for the Florida office of Earthjustice, a national non-profit environmental law firm. Manley Fuller is president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.