Fri, Apr 26, 2013
BY BRUCE RITCHIE
I’d like to say the session is winding down with just a week to go but it’s really not. It’s actually cranking up.
With both chambers now going all day without committee meetings, bills are getting amended and speedily passed.
Many controversial environmental bills have been amended or are dead. Here is the outlook for some of the top pieces of legislation:
HB 999 passed the House 98-20 on April 25 despite environmental opposition. An amendment to take out a controversial provision exempting water control districts from wetlands regulations failed in a voice vote. The Florida Conservation Coalition has targeted the bill as the worst in the legislative session. But the bill still has work needed in the Senate, as Sen. Jack Latvala said he wants to work on issues of concern.
Outlook: This bill will pass with more changes but environmentalists won’t be happy with the overall product. Is this really the way to write state law?
Environmentalists have been buoyed by the fact that both the House and Senate had money in the budget for conservation land-buying. But their hopes took a shot this week when the House, which had proposed $75 million for the program, offered to accept the Senate position of $60 million. Both proposals include $50 million from the sale of existing state land that is no longer needed for conservation.
Outlook: Florida Forever gets $60 million but environmentalists can claim victory with perhaps another $20 million going towards conservation easements. I’m skeptical the state can find $50 million worth of land to sell without creating more controversy.
It took thorough reporting by the Tampa Bay Times to put the 2006 nuclear cost recovery law in a stark light. The law allows utilities to charge customers for nuclear plants that may never be built. Both the House and the Senate have bills that would eventually eliminate cost recovery and require closer reviews of costs. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy argues that the 2006 law helps puts renewable energy and conservation at a disadvantage.
Outlook: With opposition from utilities, nothing will pass both chambers. The session will end May 3 before the chambers can agree on their different versions of legislation. The term “plausible deniability” comes to mind.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that the Legislature is doing nothing for springs this year. The truth is that water quality legislation is moving, it’s just not the legislation that the Sierra Club and a few other environmental groups want. The state and now the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency are skipping hand-in-hand down their “path forward” that calls for the state numeric nutrient criteria to eventually replace federal limits on nitrogen and phosphorus.
Outlook: David Guest of the Earthjustice law firm says this issue will be decided in federal court. Maybe so. But what will a victory look like if the federal EPA, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Legislature and industry groups are in agreement?
The session started with environmental groups concerned about SB 948 by Sen. Denise Grimsley dealing with agricultural water supply. Environmental groups saw it as a water grab until a compromise was forged. But the Tampa Bay Times story and a quote by former state springs task force chairman Jim Stevenson, has left me scratching my head. He said the state process of setting “minimum flows and levels” for waterways doesn’t work because it plans for avoiding only “significant harm” under state law. Good point. But after nearly 20 years of covering springs issues, I’m wondering when environmentalists are going to clearly identify what they do want for springs? Or is it even possible to say that on a statewide basis?
Outlook: SB 948 will pass the Senate by the time you read this. And I look forward to spending the next year on a new round of questions about what needs to be done to protect springs — or are the solutions being put in place now?
(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy, use or forward without permission, which may be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.)Tweet
Sat, Mar 30, 2013
With the Senate and House only holding meetings on Wednesday and Thursday this week, there was time to catch up on some stories that were slowly bubbling up. Like natural gas from a hydraulic fracturing well.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
“I think this issue has become radioactive, pardon the pun, for a lot of folks,” said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, referring to the 2006 state law allowing utilities to charge customers in advance for nuclear projects.
GREEN CERTIFICATION BACKLASH
A bill that supporters describe as representing a backlash against an environmentally sustainable building certification program is moving through the House.
In 2010, the state completed work on three new buildings that received certification under the U. S. Green Building Council’s LEED program. But some in the timber industry aren’t happy that their Sustainable Forestry Initiative isn’t the certification standard.
See “‘Backlash’ bill against LEED green-building certification program moving in House,” March 25, The Florida Current.
House bills that would require disclosure of certain chemicals used in oil and gas hydraulic fracturing while providing exemptions for others as protected “trade secrets” are facing increasing environmental opposition.
Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting large volumes of water, sand or other materials and specialized chemicals into wells under enough pressure to fracture the formations holding the oil or gas, according to the Congressional Research Service. Concerns have been raised about groundwater contamination and air pollution from fracking.
See “Once unopposed, fracking bills gain opposition as they move in House,” March 26, The Florida Current.
THE OTHER SIDE ON NUCLEAR
After a Senate hearing described by a Democratic representative as a “three-hour commercial for nuclear,” the House heard a more balanced presentation on a 2006 law that allows utilities to charge customers in advance for nuclear projects.
Former U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission member Peter Bradford said the law shifts the risk for nuclear projects from utilities and their investors to utility customers.
The question remains whether there is time to deal with the issue this session.
See “Nuclear cost recovery law shifts risk to customers, critic says, as legislation remains in question,” March 27, The Florida Current.
FISCAL YEAR 2013-14 BUDGET PROPOSALS
House and Senate budget proposals included new revenue for the Florida Forever land-buying program, Everglades water quality projects and beach restoration programs.
The House had not included Florida Forever in its budget proposals for the past four years. The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee proposed $25 million in new revenue for Florida Forever and $25 million for paying agricultural landowners to conserve.
“That is certainly significantly more land protection capacity that we’ve seen since 2008,” said Janet Bowman of The Nature Conservancy.
See “House, Senate budget proposals include money for land-buying, beach restoration,” March 27, The Florida Current.
DEP’s VINYARD SAYS TANKS PROGRAM WILL BE FIXED ON HIS WATCH
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. said Thursday he’s not happy with the length of time or cost for cleaning up thousands of petroleum contamination sites in Florida.
Vinyard’s came comments during an interview after the ouster a week ago of Robert C. Brown as chief for DEP’s Bureau of Petroleum Storage Systems. Brown said in a March 21 letter that he was resigning in lieu of dismissal.
Vinyard said the department is determined to “reform a program that has been broken for far too long.”
See “Following ouster of DEP bureau chief, Vinyard says he wants to fix “broken” cleanup program,” March 28, The Florida Current.
SO MANY STORIES, SO LITTLE TIME…
“Environmental groups to sue over feds handing endangered species duties to state,” March 28, by Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times.
(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not forward, copy or reproduce without permission, which can be obtained from email@example.com .)Tweet
Sat, Mar 23, 2013
By BRUCE RITCHIE
It was the third week of the Florida legislative session and the pace definitely picked up. Bills were moving through various committees while budget hearings were being held in the Senate.
The biggest news was that environmentalists and the sugar industry reached an agreement on legislation to fund Gov. Rick Scott’s $880-million Everglades restoration plan.
During a Senate committee meeting on Thursday, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, feigned a heart attack as the bitter rivals announced their support for SB 768. The House version of the bill, HB 7065, unanimously passed the House on Friday.
See “Everglades compromise hailed, passes Senate committee,” March 21, The Florida Current.
ENERGY CHAIRMAN DIES OF CANCER
The saddest news of the week was the death of Rep. Clay Ford, R-Gulf Breeze and chairman of the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee.
He was uniformly described as a warm, Southern gentleman who had the distinction of serving in both the Arkansas and Florida legislatures.
In 2011, he sought to pass a committee energy bill that would have allowed utilities to charge more for renewable energy. But he ran into opposition from Gov. Rick Scott and groups including Americans for Prosperity.
Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami and the new subcommittee chairman, took the time to talk about the loss of Ford, about energy policy moving forward and about being a former cast member on the TV show “The Apprentice.”
See “With Rep. Ford’s death, subcommittee chairman Rep. Jose Felix Diaz contemplates energy bills,” March 20, The Florida Current.
WATER QUALITY DEAL
An agreement between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency on implementing water quality rules won quick approval in the House and Senate.
Sierra Club lobbyist David Cullen warned the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee that U. S. District Judge Robert Hinkle was not going to accept the deal. We’ll see whether Cullen is right.
But utilities and industry groups have backed DEP in framing the issue in the Legislature. Even Rep. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando and sponsor of another bill calling for restoring Florida’s springs, told committee members that she supports the committee bill approving the agreement.
“We’ve got to get started,” Stewart said. “We can’t just wait around and have debate after debate and not accomplish anything.
See “Deal with feds on water quality rules wins quick approval from House committee,” March 20, The Florida Current.
I’ve been covering petroleum contamination site cleanups for 21 years since I wrote a series for the Independent Florida Alligator while in graduate school at the University of Florida.
It feels like the Department of Environmental Protection is making some progress. But some legislators are concerned about contamination sites that are not in the DEP program.
See:“Petroleum Tanks bill moving amid concerns about cleanup program,” The Florida Current, March 22
QUOTE OF THE WEEK (PART ONE):
“Senator Simpson, you are nothing short of a miracle worker. I would never have thought that I would have lived long enough to see all these disparate groups stand up at a meeting and all agree to one set of law here.” — Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Peterburg, speaking about the Everglades legislation compromise.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK (PART TWO):
“This is just a simple amendment that would deed the Florida Everglades over to United States Sugar.” — Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, joking about his SB 934 related to stormwater management permits, and unrelated to the Everglades.
SO MANY STORIES, SO LITTLE TIME
TALLAHASSEE — This could be the ultimate legislative cat fight.
A House subcommittee Wednesday approved a controversial bill that could help clear the way for programs that involve capturing free-roaming cats, neutering and vaccinating them and turning them loose again.
(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not forward, copy or reproduce without permission, which can be obtained from firstname.lastname@example.org .)