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Saturday, Nov 18, 2017
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War on the environment

The disdain the Florida Legislature has for the environment was illustrated again last week. The House rammed through House Bill 991 in seven minutes without the slightest consideration of its long-term impact. Among other things, the bill curtails local regulation of mining, weakens wetlands protections and undermines rules designed to protect groundwater from landfill pollution. The bill would have been even more egregious if sponsor Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Panama City Republican, had not agreed to eliminate a prohibition on public challenges. Incredibly, that provision would have forced citizens to prove a project would pollute rather than requiring the developer to show a project would not be harmful. Such antics are all too characteristic of Tallahassee these days, where the primary concern is pleasing special interests.
State representatives this week also passed the equally lamentable House Bill 239, which would dramatically weaken water quality standards, including for the Everglades. These changes come at the same time state leaders are contesting tough new federal water quality regulations. Gov. Rick Scott insists the state is doing a good job of protecting its waters. With existing standards, he may have a point. But House Bill 239 makes a joke of that claim. It would allow far more water bodies to be degraded and would diminish the need for the state to clean polluted waters. The purported goal of such moves is to help the economy by streamlining the permit process and eliminating unnecessary regulations. But the state won't improve its business climate by ruining the natural resources that make it a wonderful place to live and work. Perhaps some regulatory revision is appropriate, but the safeguards under attack were developed to stop specific abuses, including pollution from runoff, underground tanks and mining operations. This Legislature, particularly the House, seems to put as little value on history as it does the environment. Lawmakers forget that before Florida adopted rigorous environmental protections, pollution-tainted water supplies, threatened fisheries, turned lakes into cesspools and made coastal waters a health threat. And citizens end up footing the bill or suffering the consequences when polluters are allowed to foul rivers, lakes and bays and otherwise destroy public resources. In the past, conservative Florida leaders such as Bob Martinez and Jeb Bush understood it was more expensive to clean up pollution than prevent it in the first place. The Senate should display similar foresight and recognize that becoming polluter-friendly isn't going to help Florida's economic prospects.
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