This is turning out to be an abysmal session for the environment


Published: Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 8:39 p.m.

Florida may have the greenest state Legislature in America.

And that's the problem.

Most of us have come to think of green as the color of environmental stewardship.

But up in Tallahassee they still think green is the color of money.

As in “Look, the Santa Fe River is turning green. Why, it looks just like money.”

Florida's springs are dying, victims of over-pumping and nutrient poisoning. But lawmakers can't be bothered with that — springs protection legislation was DOA this session.

And why not? The real money in Tallahassee is coming from the pesticide and fertilizer industry lobbyists — the ones who put the nutrients in the groundwater in the first place. And from the agriculture, utility and developer lobbyists — whose clients profit from pulling water out of the ground like there's no tomorrow.

This is turning out to be an abysmal session for the environment.

Bills flying through the Legislature would put new shackles on the ability of local governments to permit development (including a sort of “don't ask, don't tell” restriction on asking too many questions), regulate lawn fertilizer use or inspect septic tanks. Bills would carve out a new exemption from wetlands protection, and sanction weaker water quality standards than Florida needs, and give the Department of Agriculture a stronger hand in water consumption decisions.

Message: Algae must be good. It's the color of money.

As Sonny Vergara, a former water management district executive, writes in his blog, SWFWMDmatters:

“My general impression of this legislative session is that there has never been such blatant servitude to moneyed interests and self-interests ... It seems to be their mission, their instructions, if you will, to return us to the pre-1970s when we first began to understand that rampant, visionless economic growth had an ugly, self-destructive downside.”

No question that the lawmakers and lobbyists are partying like it's the '70s again. Why, House Speaker Will Weatherford was positively giddy about it last week, when he cited a new Moody's projection that Florida is adding 1,000 new residents a day.

“We've all been feeling sorry for ourselves and hunkering down as if this long slowdown of growth was going to be stagnant for like 10 or 15 years,” he reportedly said. “I think it's over and we're going to see this massive influx of population over the next two or three years. It's going to be great.”

Talk about a sea change. I covered the State Legislature back in the “boom times” of the 1970s and '80s, when similar growth projections were playing out.

Lawmakers back then weren't anti-growth, but they were wary of the negative impacts of rapid, unregulated growth on the state's fragile environment. Hence landmark laws like the Growth Management Act and Save Our Rivers.

Now those earlier safeguards are being wiped out in favor of rampant, unrestricted, even mindless growth,

And small wonder.

If our lawmakers are militantly pro-special interest it's because they know there are no negative consequences to swearing allegiance to the despoilers.

Nobody gets thrown out of office in Florida for selling Florida's water quality — indeed, it's very quality of life — to the highest bidders.

Nobody.

And until somebody is ejected by the voters for being the wrong shade of green, they are going to continue to do “bidness as usual” in Tallahassee.

Here's an Earth Day resolution. Come the next election, let's throw some of these rascals out and replace them with lawmakers who don't equate green with the color of money.

Ron Cunningham is the former editorial page editor of The Sun.

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