The Conservancy is deeply committed to fully representing the interests of Southwest Florida's water, land and wildlife in our State capital prior to and during the legislative session. We have been actively engaged in working with members of both the House and Senate in pursuing bills to address critical needs for our water resources, while also commenting extensively on some potentially disastrous new bills that would weaken environmental protection in the State. As the bills are very fluid at this stage of the process, I hope this update will serve to educate you on the current state of the Bills, and prepare you for the need in the coming weeks to take action through our e-advocacy efforts.
Senate Bill 442 has passed through its first Senate Committee hearing with a 5-0 vote in favor of the bill, while the House has not yet taken up this bill in committee. The Conservancy has been one of the principal advocates for creating better protection of our water resources from enhanced oil well stimulation techniques including but not limited to fracking. We applaud the leadership of Senator Dana Young (R) of Tampa and Representatives Miller (R) of Orlando and Janet Cruz (D) of Tampa to introduce bills that would ban fracking in Florida. The Senate and House bills have over 34 co-sponsors from both political parties, marking a historic first – bi-partisan efforts to end fracking and fracking-like oil extraction in the State of Florida. With water being Florida’s most valuable natural resource, and water shortages expected to worsen as Florida’s population grows dramatically, the Conservancy supports efforts to protect our water resources from high risk activities when the public benefit is not worth the risk. To learn more visit: https://www.conservancy.org/our-work/policy/oil.
The Conservancy has been deeply involved in advocating for Everglades Restoration and in particular protection of our estuaries from excess polluted discharges emanating from Lake Okeechobee. Senate Bill 10 sponsored by Senator Rob Bradley (R) and a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron (R), is an effort that centers around the necessary acquisition of up to 60,000 acres of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) for needed storage, treatment and conveyance south of Lake Okeechobee. On Wednesday, by a vote of 5-1, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources passed Senate Bill 10 with amendments. The amended bill retains the EAA reservoir component, however, it also included provisions that need to be improved upon to protect funding for other conservation purposes, such as Florida Forever. The Conservancy will continue to work with legislators and our conservation partners to ensure that amendments to SB10 recognize both water resource and land conservation needs for Florida. The EAA Reservoir is an original part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), and the Conservancy will continue to advocate to accelerate this missing piece of the restoration puzzle in order to alleviate harmful discharges to our estuaries and send more clean water south to the Everglades and Florida Bay. Learn more: https://www.conservancy.org/our-work/policy/SB10-EAA-land-buy.
These bills are not officially considered companion bills, and they revise different statutes. However, substantively they both result in preempting local government's regulatory authority in a number of very concerning ways. The stated intent of the bills is to prohibit local governments from imposing new regulations on businesses or commerce. Examples cite "draconian interference" by local governments, including bans on Styrofoam cups and helium balloons. Such local bans would be prohibited by these bills. The Conservancy opposes preemption of local governmental authority. In addition, we are concerned about how such legislation could impact important local ordinances, such as fertilizer ordinances and fracking bans.
These companion bills would authorize DEP to issue permits for mangrove alteration and trimming to owners of residential lots containing five acres or less. The bills would allow for up to 69% of the mangrove shoreline to be impacted, if the owner indicates the mangroves shoreline was planted. The Conservancy opposes this bill. Homeowners already have the ability to obtain permits to trim mangroves. We believe the result of this bill could be extensive destruction of important mangrove shorelines, one five acres lot at a time. Cumulatively, the impacts could be extensive.
This companion bills would require an award of attorney fees and costs to be made to a prevailing party in certain administrative proceedings. Currently, if a citizen group objects to a local governmental decision, they are able to challenge through the State Administrative Hearing process. In most cases, each party pays its own legal costs. For small organizations, this is critically important, as they cannot afford to pay the other side’s legal fees. Unfortunately, while this bill still allows for legal challenges, it would require the losing side to pay the prevailing side’s costs, up to $50,000, even if the case is settled. This will have a devastating effect on the ability for small citizen organizations to challenge bad local decisions, and the Conservancy is opposed.
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