Growth management has been gutted, and the water management districts have been neutered. Developers have free rein, and water quality rules have been weakened. The state spends a fraction of what it once did to preserve sensitive lands, and the Department of Environmental Protection makes up new rules when private interests can't make enough money under existing rules. Yet the Florida Legislature still finds more ways to do more damage to the environment.
A bill passed by the House and awaiting Senate action in the last week of the session would make it easier to pollute waterways, destroy flood protection areas, squander the drinking water supply and extend even more leverage to developers over when and where they build. It would hurt Florida's economy as much as its natural resources, and if the Senate votes for this mess Gov. Rick Scott should veto it.
The sponsor of HB 999, Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, describes the legislation as "tweaks and fixes" that would make Florida more business-friendly. But the provisions are toxic. They would prevent local governments from regulating the destruction of wetlands by small, independent drainage districts that oversee more than 1 million acres across the state. They would give legal cover to a no-bid, 30-year sweetheart deal that Scott and the Cabinet gave to two farming operations to continue polluting the Everglades. The bill also would fast-track permitting for natural gas pipelines, and big water users would have every incentive to continue pumping groundwater even after new technologies offer a more sustainable water source. So much for the House's truth in packaging.
Making it easier to destroy wetlands increases the risks of coastal and inland flooding, puts new pressures on the fisheries and other commercial habitats and hurts the aquifer's ability to recharge. Barring local officials from asking developers more than three times for information before processing a permit will lead to even more unchecked growth. Republican Rep. Jake Raburn of Lithia also did his Tampa-area hometown a special disservice by passing an amendment that bars any new local fertilizer bans until 2016. Local governments such as Pinellas County, the city of Tampa and others in Florida have acted on their own to clean nitrogen from their waterways because the Legislature would not. Now the House would stop the clock for three years while a stacked committee conducts a phony study.
The economy is recovering, and there is no evidence that developers are hindered by environmental protections that already are so much weaker than they were just several years ago. This bill doesn't promote the recovery, because the fallout would make Florida less appealing to visitors and more expensive for residents and businesses alike. It is senseless to clear the way for more pollution at the very time Florida is putting new clean-water standards in place. And the Legislature shouldn't dictate to local communities about what environmental priorities they set for themselves. There is no need for a fertilizer study or a moratorium on fertilizer restrictions. What happened to the Republican mantra about local control?
This legislation doesn't make minor fixes to environmental rules. It continues the full-scale assault on the environment, and the Senate should kill this bill before Tallahassee kills off what's left of Florida's natural resources.