Wednesday, October 03, 2018

For the calm version of how Gov. Rick Scott and a Republican majority lead to Florida's destroyed environment, read Margaret Good ... guest blog

Miami, it is time for voters to rise up. Vote for electeds who will protect your drinking water and not protect polluters' profits. The following, from Florida's west coast ...

Water issues have long history
By Margaret Good
Guest Columnist

You can see it, smell it and feel the frustration mounting. Every day one of my constituents asks me what I am doing to help with the effects of red tide.
I get it. I am just as frustrated that my walks on the beach are limited and that businesses I frequent are facing economic hardships. I, too, feel a deep need to take immediate action to prevent more sea life from dying.

While I understand the urgency, our water issues were decades in the making and the course correction will take time and sustained effort. We cannot move forward until we have looked back and analyzed what brought us to this point.

Here is some of the harmful environmental legislation passed and decisions made in the last eight years: In 2011, the Legislature passed the Community Planning Act (HB 7207), which minimized state oversight of local governments’ comprehensive planning, essentially abandoning state oversight of landdevelopment decisions.

The Legislature that year also passed SB 2142, which limits the amount of revenue water management districts can collect through property taxes, crippling their budgets and resources. This undermined state monitoring of our water quality and our water supply.

2011 also saw Gov. Rick Scott’s appointment of new Department of Environmental Protection and water district heads. Both came from the private sector and have a history helping large companies get permits.

In 2012 the DEP laid off 58 employees, making enforcement of regulations more difficult. In 2010, the DEP had handled 2,289 environmental enforcement cases; that number plummeted to 799 in 2012.

Also in 2012, the Legislature repealed SB 1738, a 2010 bill that required septic tank owners to have their tanks inspected every five years to prevent sewage leaks.

In 2013 the legislature passed HB 999, which ratified the governor’s decision to continue 30-year leases of public lands in the Everglades to sugar companies. The bill also prohibited local governments from banning fertilizers, accelerated permitting for gas pipelines, and forbid environmental groups from suing to overturn the Everglades leases.

In 2015 the Legislature passed SB 552, The Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act. Don’t be fooled by its name. This bill eliminates many regulatory checks by allowing agricultural operations to self-monitor using “best management practices.” This bill also made it difficult for water management districts to deny consumptive-use permits.

In 2015 the governor instructed the DEP and other agencies to avoid the term “climate change.” More important, the South Florida Water Management District’s board voted against a deal to purchase almost 47,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land critical to Everglades restoration. Had the deal gone through, that land would have been used to store additional water from Lake Okeechobee.

In 2016, the Environmental Regulation Commission weakened standards on chemical dumping, resulting in 80-plus chemicals having less restrictive dumping standards than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends. Benzene, a chemical carcinogen used in fracking and linked to leukemia, had its dumping limit nearly doubled.

We stand astonished by what has happened to our shorelines, but when we look at the systematic deregulation of our environmental protections, the picture becomes clear: Our government has not protected our natural resources and we are all paying the price.

The losses of sea life and livelihoods are daunting, but change can happen. We must support septicto- sewer programs, better regulate pesticides and fertilizers, fully staff inspection agencies and fund land preservation.

Moving forward, we must make better choices and forge a path that prioritizes our land and water. We do this by holding our elected officials accountable — at the ballot box.

Margaret Good, D-Siesta Key, has represented Florida House District 72 since winning a special election on Feb. 13.

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