Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-led Legislature appear bent on destroying Florida's environment and overturning decades of efforts to protect it by governors and lawmakers from both political parties. They would give developers free rein to pave over what's left, prevent local communities from cleaning up bays and rivers and enable homeowners to dump raw sewage into the drinking water supply. They want to delegate planning issues to local governments where developers can more easily win — and grab statewide control over issues such as fertilizing lawns to prevent local restrictions. In the rush to create jobs and lure businesses, they are making Florida less attractive as a place to live and work.
A bill already headed to the governor's desk revives the 2009 law that guts growth management and reverses more than 25 years of efforts. A trial court overturned the earlier law, so legislators chopped many of its components into smaller pieces. That legislation and other measures working through the Legislature would make it harder to force developers to provide for the roads, schools, parks and other infrastructure that their development projects need. The state's counties, left largely to regulate on their own, would develop in even more haphazard fashion, as if they need more strip malls and planned subdivisions miles from the nearest downtown. The state also would move further from overseeing some of the largest developments.
Lawmakers say they are trying to jump-start Florida's economy, but these gimmicks drive down property values, especially along the waterfront, the priciest land in the state. Florida's growth management laws emerged over the last quarter-century as a means to protect the quality, beauty and availability of the state's natural resources. Taxpayers have spent billions of dollars in recent decades to find ways to use wastewater for irrigation, develop sources for drinking water beyond pumping from the ground, and clean up Tampa Bay and the Everglades. Now those investments are at risk.
Last year's BP oil spill in the gulf underscored how Florida relies on a healthy environment for its leading industries in tourism, fishing and agriculture, which suffered billions of dollars in losses. It also helped stop the Republican effort to expand oil drilling into Florida's near-shore waters. But that hasn't stopped legislators from unleashing an assault on water, air and flood protections that would endanger public health and property. The measure allowing homeowners to pollute the public waterways with their broken septic tanks is only one example of a coastal state going off in the absolute wrong direction. The Legislature wants to stop some 47 cities and counties from limiting the use of fertilizer that is choking lakes and streams. And lawmakers want to end programs in Hillsborough and other major counties that monitor the source of air pollution and the location of leaking petroleum tanks.
The quality of our water, the air we breathe and the health of wetlands and other ecosystems are integral to Florida's economy. Instead of managing these precious resources, lawmakers want to add to the housing glut. And they would compound the damage in the years ahead with legislation that would starve regional water management districts of the money they need to buy land for conservation, flood control and water recharge projects. The governor and the Legislature are headed toward destroying what is left of Florida's natural beauty. In one legislative session, they would undo decades of efforts to protect the environment and manage growth — and it would take decades to undo the damage.