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Monday, Oct 16, 2017
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Threats to waterways and the economy

These days it is rare to hear the word "regulations" in Tallahassee without "job-killing" preceding it. It is virtual gospel for Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders that rules and regulations strangle the economy. Excessive bureaucracy and red tape do throttle the economy, but, contrary to the mantra of Scott and lawmakers, sensible regulations protect the public, help the economy and spare taxpayers costly future problems. Water quality illustrates this. Florida's rivers and springs are central to its appeal. Beyond the beauty, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities they provide, our waterways furnish much of the drinking water supplies necessary for the state's growth.
Yet Florida's waters are in serious trouble, and that scarcely seems a concern in Tallahassee. A yearlong Orlando Sentinel investigation reported that nearly half of the 22 rivers studied statewide are in decline "because of pollution from lawns, street runoff, wastewater and agriculture and because of shrinking flows caused by drought and the rising demand for water by cities and industries." Many of the state's springs also are badly polluted or experiencing reduced flows. The smart — the conservative — approach to such a looming crisis would be to take action to prevent further damage and avoid a costly disaster. But in the last couple of years Scott and lawmakers have slashed the state's water districts, eliminated state growth laws and cut back on regulations and regulators. At the same time they all but killed Florida Forever, the land acquisition program started by Gov. Bob Martinez. It enabled the state to protect wilderness areas and water sources for future generations without conflicts with landowners. History doesn't seem to matter much in Tallahassee. It is as if the widespread pollution and environmental destruction that caused lawmakers to adopt tougher regulations in the 1970s and 1980s never occurred. Scott and lawmakers ignored the facts and used the recession as an excuse for jettisoning rules that had little to do with the state's economic woes. Overbuilding and irresponsible lending — not environmental regulations — were largely the cause of the state's housing collapse. As we've pointed out before, every governor over the last 40 years, regardless of party or political views, has recognized the value of Florida's natural resources and sought to defend them. Scott — who is not from Florida — has been mostly indifferent. He's taken a few positive steps, advancing Everglades restoration and finally restoring some of the deep cuts he made to the water districts. But his administration has seemed mostly interested in giving regulated industries what they want. Scott, with his business background and bottom-line sensibilities, could have focused on showing that effective regulations do not have to be cumbersome or time-consuming. But his administration and the Legislature look to be more interested in weakening the regulatory system than in reforming it. Scott and lawmakers should reflect on whether this is the legacy they want to leave. Future generations are unlikely to look kindly on a political era that was so reckless with Florida's irreplaceable natural assets.
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