Facing enviro criticism, Crist says he’s helping economy

Gov. Charlie Crist today defended his record against environmental criticism by saying he’s looking out for the state’s economy.

Crist was criticized for signing a water bill last week and a growth-management bill on June 1 after environmental groups called for them to be vetoed.

Senate Bill 360 lifts state oversight of road requirements for new development in more than 200 cities and seven counties designated as “dense urban” land areas. Senate Bill 2080 allows water use and development permits to be approved by water management district directors rather than their governing boards.

The St. Petersburg Times said that with the water bill signing, the governor’s “sellout to developers is now complete.” The Orlando Sentinel said the water bill signing represented the “latest environmental betrayal” for the one-time green governor.

Asked by FloridaEnvironments.com for a response today, Crist — prior to a tour of the Department of Elder Affairs — said, “I think what we’ve done is tried to help Florida’s economy. And I think everybody understands that our economy needs help.”

“I’m trying to do that in a responsible way,” he said. “That’s why I’ve signed those bills.”

While environmentalists argued that the bills could allow urban sprawl and allow strain on water supplies without public input, development groups said the bills were needed to encourage construction in urban areas and the development of alternative water supplies.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole defended the water bill this week in a column distributed to the media but also said the bill may need revision in 2010. Today, he elaborated with a WFSU-FM radio audience, saying that more public input is needed on proposed permits when they also deal with water policy questions.

“Without question I think there are some issues as a result of this bill that need to be addressed,” Sole said. “One of the issues we talked about is the need for governing boards to talk about water policy and less focus on individual permits.”

“However, how do you deal with a situation when a permit application is touching on those policy issues?” Sole said. “I think the bill as written unfortunately doesn’t strike that effective balance. I do expect the need to go back to the legislature to deal with those scenarios.”

Also on the radio show was Audubon of Florida’s Eric Draper, who said he expected the water bill to be revisited next session because he said sponsors of the Senate bill and House amendment indicated a willingness.

Meanwhile, DEP contends that SB 2080 does also not allow 50-year permits to private landowners as some environmentalists have feared. Rather the law instead provides for those permits cities, counties, water utilities and other water supply authorities who have agreements with landowners and it preserves the state’s legal authority to revoke a permit, according to DEP water resources officials.

To listen to WFSU-FM’s “Perspectives” show, click here.

(Photo and story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

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