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Bills are dying — is springs legislation next?

Thu, Apr 10, 2014

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2-19-14 dolphins photo
By BRUCE RITCHIE

FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

I wrote a piece on the status of major environmental bills at the midpoint in the legislative session on April 4. But I didn’t get around to posting it. And that’s OK, because most of it had changed just seven days later.

1. SPRINGS LEGISLATION

Sen. Charlie Dean said on April 10 that SB 1576 isn’t dead and that it’s just a matter of getting funding aligned between the House and Senate. And he pointed out that the Senate and House leadership next year is committed to dealing with water issues. Huh? The bill has just one committee stop left but the House companion bill hasn’t budged. A deal will have to be worked out between leadership of the two chambers for this to go anywhere. Newspapers and prognosticators said this was the year of water in the Legislature. Will they say that again next year?  ”I think the bottom line is it’s going to take the public to get angry about this before the Legislature will act,” former Florida Springs Task Force Chairman Jim Stevenson said in September 2013.

2. PATRONIS BILL

Rep. Jimmy Patronis half joked with me on Wednesday that I don’t have anything to write about now. His HB 703, a wide-ranging environmental permitting bill that faced environmental opposition, appears dead after the Senate version was temporarily passed by its sponsor in a Senate committee, according to The Florida Current. But elements of the bills could wind up in other legislation in the mad dash towards the end of session. If that happens, I certainly will have something to write about (in addition to the other legislation that I am covering — do you hear that Patronis?).

3. ENERGY

What Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam calls an “ambitious” agenda on energy is ambitious largely because the Legislature has been averse to doing almost anything since 2009, when the Senate passed a 15 percent renewable energy requirement. It didn’t pass the House. Now Putnam’s proposals to extend a renewable energy tax exemption for residential property to commercial property appears dead because of opposition from Rep. Ritch Workman, chairman of the House Finance & Tax Committee. Oh yeah, the hydraulic fracturing bills are dead too.

4. GROWTH MANAGEMENT

SB 372 would expand from eight to 15 the number of counties where large developments are exempt from review by the state as “developments of regional impact.” Environmentalists and the Florida Association of Counties have opposed the bill, which has passed three committees. But a House companion bill has not been heard and, as a result, SB 372 was temporarily passed in a committee this week. “Nothing is dead until the white handkerchief drops on the last day of session,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar and sponsor of HB 241, told The Florida Current. “But I’m starting to hear the echoes of the death rattle.” I admitted I didn’t know what “death rattle” meant.

5. ENVIRONMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS

All these compromised and dead bills are shifting my focus to spending issues in the proposed House and Senate versions of a $75 billion state budget. And I don’t think the news is good for groups supporting the Florida Forever land-buying program. The Senate and House are far apart on issues such as local water projects, Indian River Lagoon and petroleum contamination site cleanups. If the allocation for environmental spending increases, those programs likely will get the money first. The House now has proposed $30 million in new revenue split between Florida Forever and agricultural conservation easements. Both the House and Senate provide $40 million from the sale of nonconservation land. Any boost is going to fall far short of the $100 million in new revenue requested by the Florida Forever Coalition.

The lesson learned from 10,000 miles in an all-electric Nissan LEAF

Tue, Feb 25, 2014

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Our car recently passed the 10,000-mile mark.9-9-12 Leaf at St. Marks

That’s usually not a big deal. But with our car, it may hold a lesson about when to invest in the latest green technology.

Our car is the all-electric 2012 Nissan LEAF, which we leased in August 2012 with the intent of buying when the 40-month lease expired.

But the time it has taken us to get to the 10,000-mile mark — nearly 18 months — shows that we’re not driving it enough. That may be the reason we return our LEAF to the Nissan dealer when the lease expires in 2015.

Driving less in a gasoline-powered car usually is good for the environment and your wallet.

You don’t have to buy as much gasoline and your car will last longer without the wear and tear.

But it’s not such a great thing when you buy a LEAF. The extra cost of the LEAF — about $12,000 compared to the cost of a Nissan Altima or $16,000 for a Sentra — means you’re essentially paying for your fuel up front. (A $7,500 federal tax rebate helps close the cost gap.)

You’re paying for the ability to plug in your car and buy cheaper electricity.

And that means that the less you drive the car, the premium cost of owning a LEAF is going to waste. We’re not losing money. Perhaps we just didn’t need to spend it in the first place.

I’ve learned that the best use of a LEAF is as a commuter vehicle — if I had to drive between 20 and 35 miles each way to work every day. I would avoid the gas station and you can plug in the car each night.

I’m guessing that I pay about $1 now for a full charge that will reliably take us about 75 miles.

We can’t drive the LEAF on longer trips, so we keep on driving our 9-year-old Nissan Xterra SUV, which has more than 93,000 miles on it.

We love the LEAF and think it’s a great car around town — and obviously it’s better for the environment compared to driving the Xterra.

So it’s not a done deal that we’ll get rid of the LEAF when the lease expires at the end of 2015.

But if we keep the LEAF, then we’ll have the added budget pressure of having to replace the Xterra a couple of years earlier because of the unanticipated miles we’re still putting on it as a second vehicle.

If you drive quite a bit each day, the LEAF may be the car for you. But if you don’t drive that much, then maybe think again.

(Photo and story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not forward, copy or publish without permission, which can be obtained from brucebritchie@gmail.com)

Just how permanent are those conservation easements?

Thu, Dec 5, 2013

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2-6-10 Flint RockBy BRUCE RITCHIE

Just how permanent is “perpetual” — when it comes to conservation easements?

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in November touted the benefits of those landowner agreements not to develop as the Cabinet approved a deal to preserve 1,364 acres of a sod farm and cattle ranch in Polk County.

The benefits, Putnam said, include maintaining preserving green space and agricultural jobs at a fraction of the cost of the state buying the land and managing it.

Of the 2.4 million acres of conservation land purchased by the state since 1990, more than 425,000 acres is conservation easements.

They are called “perpetual” conservation easements. But are they really permanent?

The conservative National Center for Public Policy Research says the agreements could create problems for future generations if they really are permanent.

Changes in climate or scientific understanding may reduce the public benefit of some purchases. Surrounded by development, an “island” of conservation may no longer be as valuable when weighed against the need for, say, a hospital.

University of Virginia law professor Julia D. Mahoney wrote in a research paper that permanent conservation easements may create a legal mess for future generations. She argues that preservationists should rely on future generations to make wise land use decisions.

“Such an approach would compel today’s preservationists to abandon the illusion that they can save nature through calculated efforts to restrict the options of future generations,” she wrote. “Their descendants, however, might thank them.”

I’m not arguing against conservation easements or any other form of land purchase. I guess I’m just skeptical that some of the same political conservatives who favor them now won’t change their tunes in the future.

Remember that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is undergoing — at the behest of the Legislature — a review of more than 3,000 acres that are actually owned by the state. DEP is determining whether the land is still needed for conservation or whether it can be sold to buy new land.

What’s to stop the Legislature in the future from directing DEP to evaluate whether some conservation easements are no longer needed? What’s to stop any government from changing its mind?

“Nothing is forever,” says Stephen J. Small, a Massachusetts attorney who specializes in such landowner agreements not to develop their property.

“But people should go into these transactions assuming perpetual means perpetual,” he said.

And when it comes to perpetual I would add “until the political winds change.”

Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or republish without permission, which can be obtained from brucebritchie@gmail.com.

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