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.)