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HEADING INTO THE FINAL WEEK — A SPRINGS HEAD-SCRATCHER

Fri, Apr 26, 2013

Misc

Dolphins statue "stormsong" is framed at sunset on the Florida Captiol

Dolphins statue “stormsong” is framed at sunset on the Florida Capitol.

BY BRUCE RITCHIE

FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

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:

ENVIRONMENTAL PERMITTING:

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?

FLORIDA FOREVER

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.

NUCLEAR ENERGY

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.

WATER QUALITY

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?

WATER QUANTITY

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.)

2 Responses to “HEADING INTO THE FINAL WEEK — A SPRINGS HEAD-SCRATCHER”

  1. Pat Harden says:

    MF&Ls are wanted by conservationists; they just want them to be clearly enforceable. However, they way they are now written is a lawyer’s dream….who and how is “significant harm” defined? If things have to be dying along the river edge or showing signs of major stress, how long will it take the system to recover? Call a water management district and ask the pertinent staff….ask how they will know and how long must a body of water be below the lowest minimum before they will take action. Will it always be blamed on drought regardless of the number of CUPs in the watershed? What if climate change brings a 50-75 year drought? Once thousands of people are depending on the source, what will the alternative be if that source is severely restricted?

    Some Districts are working on alternative supplies because they foresee these shortages and over-pumping but, they are being hampered by politics and funding at all levels. Sadly, most citizens just don’t think about their source of clean water or have any concern it could ever be limited or depleted. The Chamber of Commerce likes it that way…

  2. bruce says:

    Would the same legal questions exist if it were changed from “significant harm” to just “harm”? Just wondering.

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