We all regret how the business of government gets transacted in Tallahassee. It’s not just ugly. It’s dangerous, and throws into question such simple things that most of us strive for in this great country of ours as fairness, truth, honesty, and just doing the right thing. Well, it’s happening again, right now, and you need to know about it, be disgusted and outraged about it, and be juiced up enough to do something you might not otherwise do, like call your legislators and let them know how you feel. It’s time.
There’s a Tallahassee phenomenon that has seemingly become legislative protocol, i.e., culturally imbedded. It’s a terrible thing called a “train.”
A train is when
“ … a compendium of every lobbyist's dream amendments, all strung together as if they were one real piece of solid legislation, comes barreling into Tallahassee as an “environmental train” bill. Pressure builds for passage as each lobbyist gets their special little amendment onboard the train….and it gathers steam. The problem with these runaway bills is that each of the components represents a serious issue, and should be heard as separate bills in their proper committees. By combining these issues into a single train it is nearly impossible for public interest groups to be experts on and properly address the wide array of concerns. This years' train, sponsored by Representative Patronis and Senator Altman, is leaving the station …” (FCC publication)
This year’s “train bills” are SB 1684 and HB 999 and, if passed, they will have a devastating impact on this state’s ability to effectively manage and protect what’s left of its natural environment and related water resources.
This is not internet hyperbole. It is happening and only you can do something about it. Here was the situation as of April 1st as described by the FCC:
Senate Bill 1684 by Senator Thad Altman is a smorgasbord of proposed legislation that would weaken current environmental law in many ways and diminish environmental protections. The House companion bill, HB 999 by Representative Jimmy Patronis was recently amended and is even worse than SB 1684.
SB 1684 is very long with over 18 sections, all bad. Here is a brief summary of the bill:
· This is an environmentally insensitive bill that creates, amends, and deletes environmental permitting regulations across a wide spectrum of areas.
· Contains sections which
o restrict County and City requests for additional information for development permits,
o eliminates the requirement that public marinas attain Clean Program Marina status in order to be exempt from review as developments of regional impact,
o instructs water management district (WMD) governing boards on how to rule in cases of competing Consumptive Use Permits (CUP),
o prohibits WMD from reducing an existing CUP because of the availability of water from a desalination plant,
o eliminates the ability of counties to regulate water wells,
o restricts sampling and testing for water quality standards,
o rescinds the ability of DEP and WMD to require that applications and other technical work be produced under the seal of a licensed professional, and
o provides for expedited permitting for projects to construct natural gas pipelines.
o both HB 999 and SB 1684 are inconsistent with the outcome of stakeholder negotiations on Senate Bill 948, the agricultural water supply planning bill.
On April 2, SB 1684, was heard and passed unanimously out of the Senate’s Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee. Please note that Charlie Dean from Citrus County is the committee chair and Jack Latvala, a prominent senate leader from Pinellas County, voted for the bill (See a list of all Senators on the committee HERE). For a while, I thought these two guys just might be on the side of natural Florida. That notion appears to have been premature. True colors are bleeding through.
On April 5, the FCC issued an alert summarizing the bills and asking for people concerned about Florida and its future to take action:
We need your help. The terrible “environmental train” we wrote you about earlier this week has gotten even worse. These Bills, moving quickly through the House and Senate, seek to change over 25 environmental regulations affecting water management, air quality, environmental resource permitting, development permitting and more.
· This week, not only was Senate Bill 1684 amended to incorporate many of the worst parts of House Bill 999, including a new amendment that strikes a major blow against sound resource management and water conservation.
This new amendment to the Senate Bill, eliminates the existing authority of water management districts and the Department of Environmental Protection to reduce groundwater allocations because of the availability of water from a drought resistance source (such as desalination, reclaimed water, aquifer storage and recovery, etc.) ; unwisely restricting their ability to review and modify permits to assure that water continues to be used in the public interest. The result would allow those wealthier counties and landowners who can afford to build desalination plants or reservoirs to "bank" natural sources of water and become the major suppliers in their areas. Conservation of precious groundwater continues to be ignored. The FCC will continue to vigorously protest these blatant attempts at privatization. These changes go against the result of months of work by stakeholder groups on related subjects during the Department of Environmental Protections Consumptive Use rulemaking. We have heard that the Department is trying to "negotiate" this one. We must also let them know that this will not do, they should hold their ground.
· Another of the most harmful of the many special interest giveaways in these bills is a section restricting the ability of the Department of Environmental Protection to regulate waters courses and wetlands as part of environmental resource permitting.
By defining “mean annual flood line” in a way that excludes currently regulated areas this section, being pushed by a major phosphate mining company, would reduce the area covered under environmental resource permits, leading to unmitigated habitat damage in and around our precious wetlands.
This action is nothing more than a continuation of the mindless servitude the legislature and governor gleefully pay to the monied special interests who are shamelessly and arrogantly pouring tens of millions into re-election coffers even as these bills are being considered. If this isn’t blatant political graft by our elected leaders to proffer their votes, nothing is.
Now, please get on the phone and email (both) and let your legislators and governor know how much you abhor what they are doing and how they are doing it.