Environment becomes latest flashpoint in race for Vern Buchanan’s congressional seat

Vern Buchanan vs. David Shapiro this week became a race to see who can be more environmental.
Screen grab from a Vern Buchanan campaign ad from September 2018. Credit: Vern Buchanan for Congress. [Screen grab via YouTube]
Screen grab from a Vern Buchanan campaign ad from September 2018. Credit: Vern Buchanan for Congress. [Screen grab via YouTube]
Published Sep. 26, 2018

At a time when algae blooms of various colors are ravaging Florida's waterways, politicians are racing to establish their environmental credentials.

Take the race for Florida's 16th Congressional District. Incumbent Republican Vern Buchanan released a new advertisement this week that portrayed him as a champion for Florida's natural resources.

"Congressman Vern Buchanan is leading the fight against red tide and toxic algae," a narrator says over swelling music in the ad.

In a release accompanying the ad, Buchanan's campaign highlighted a number of the congressman's environmental efforts. The camp noted that Buchanan is just one of two Republicans to gain the endorsement of the environmental group Oceans Champions. It also spotlighted how Buchanan in November introduced bipartisan legislation to fund research about the toxic effects of algae blooms.

Buchanan's Democratic opponent, David Shapiro, isn't buying what Buchanan is selling. On Wednesday, Shapiro put out his own ad that slammed the Republican for siding with special interests over Florida's environment.

"Vern Buchanan took over $100,000 from big sugar special interests and voted to weaken the regulations that fight the pollution that make red tide worse," Shapiro says in the ad, titled "Clean." (Big sugar has been linked by politicians to the blue-green algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee, not the red tide that has spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.)

Shapiro's cites a vote Buchanan took on an amendment in 2015 to back up his claim that he voted to weaken the regulations that fight red tide. That vote reigned in the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency's attempts to expand its regulatory authority over America's waterways under the Clean Water Act.

In a release touting Shapiro's ad, the environmental group the League of Conservation Voters also weighed in on Buchanan's record.

"While Vern Buchanan may try to portray himself as an election year environmentalist, his abysmal 9% score on LCV's 2017 National Environmental Scorecard speaks for itself," the LCV Action Fund's Sara Chieffo said in a statement.

Still, Buchanan has taken some noteworthy environmental stances. The Republican urged President Donald Trump not to lead America out of the Paris Climate Accord. (Trump did anyway.) And he's long been a vocal critic of oil drilling off of Florida's coasts.

Read more: Nelson, Scott, Buchanan rip plan to weaken oil drilling regs

Read more on Vern Buchanan vs. David Shapiro: Vern Buchanan's Democratic opponent pounces on latest report about the congressman's yacht

The 16th Congressional District seat sought by Buchanan and Shapiro stretches through parts of Sarasota, Manatee and Hillsborough counties.