Capitol Watch Week 6

Date 02/25/2012

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Capitol Watch Week 6

Week of February 13, 2012

Celebrating Florida Forever and working for funding
Florida Forever Day was held at the Capitol on Wednesday, February 15, 2012. The timing of the event could not have been better as the Senate began deliberations on funding priorities, including whether to fund the state's premier public lands program.  Earlier this month, the House passed its budget without any funding for Florida Forever. At this stage in the process the Senate Budget Committee has followed suit by also zeroing out the line item appropriation for Florida Forever. We continue to hold out hope that the Governor's recommendation of $15 million toward the program will be honored as the House and Senate meet in Conference Committee.

That Florida Forever remains a viable funding priority reflects the hard work many of you and our fellow advocates in Tallahassee have put forward during the Session.  It also shows how important protecting Florida's environment remains for many who live here and how vital it is to our quality of life and to our ability to retain and attract new businesses to our state.

Importantly, and in recognition of the important role Florida Forever plays in securing critical military buffer lands across the state, the Florida Defense Support Task Force recently let House and Senate leaders know that they also support the Governor's $15-million budget request for the Florida Forever program in 2012-13.

Projects on the Florida Forever priority list include conservation lands adjacent to Whiting Fieldnear Pensacola, Eglin Air Force Base near Destin, Camp Blanding near Starke, Patrick Air Force Base near Melbourneand the Avon Park Air Force Range. The Task Force said such base buffering "is critical to protecting the ability of our military to train effectively for combat. Funding Florida Forever enables leverage in an established process to prevent dangerous encroachment and protect Florida jobs connected to our military installations and defense communities."

Now is the time to call or visit Senate and House leadership and your state legislator to remind them that funding Florida Forever is still an important priority to you. Our thanks to all who have already voiced their support for Florida Forever and those who came to Tallahassee to participate in Florida Forever Day at the Capitol. Please contact:

Senate President Mike Haridopolos,, 850 487-5056
House Speaker Dean Cannon,, (850) 488-2742
Senator Don Gaetz,, (850) 487-5009
Rep. Denise Grimsley,, (850) 488-3457
Senator Alan Hays,, (850) 487-5014
Rep. Will Weatherford,, (850) 488-5744

Federal Judge Rules on Nutrient Criteria
A decade of delays in setting limits on sewage, manure and fertilizer contamination in Florida waters entered a new stage with a ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in federal court this week. The court ruled that enforceable new limits on this pollution cannot be delayed any longer and, in fact, must go into effect in three weeks, though this decision could be postponed or appealed.

"Florida political and environmental leaders have been struggling for 20 years to come up with a way to stop huge green toxic algae outbreaks that plague Florida lakes and rivers," said Earthjustice Attorney David Guest. "Today we finally turned the corner."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decided 14 years ago that limits on the pollutants that feed slime outbreaks on lakes and streams were necessary. Three years ago, EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection agreed that specific pollution limits must be quickly implemented - but efforts to establish limits were met by a massive campaign by polluting industries to stop or delay the new rules.

Sewage, manure and fertilizer spur toxic algae outbreaks that cover waterways with green slime and cause rashes, breathing problems, stomach disorders and worse. Health authorities have had to shut down drinking water plants, beaches and swimming areas. Toxic algae can kill fish, livestock and pets and green water diminishes home values.

The judge agreed that the EPA's approach-which is like a speed limit sign that gives everyone fair warning of the law-is good, practical and necessary. It replaces a 35-year-old Florida rule that required studies when algae outbreaks take place, but did nothing to prevent them.

After years of seeing toxic algae on Florida tourist beaches like Sanibel Island and at fishing destinations like the St. Johns River, Earthjustice filed a Clean Water Act federal lawsuit in 2008 in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John's Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club. In 2009, the EPA set numeric limits for the phosphorus and nitrogen that comes from sewage, fertilizer and manure in the water.

Earthjustice is now challenging the ineffective standards to control this pollution proposed in rule by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Like the old rules, the proposed rules only require studies when an algae outbreak takes place. No corrective action is required until the studies are completed, a process that takes five to ten years.

Oil and Gas Exploration on State Lands
SB1158 by Senator Greg Evers appears dead for the 2012 session. The bill, which would have allowed energy companies to enter into partnership agreements with state land management agencies to explore and drill for oil and gas, was temporarily postponed in the Senate Environmental Preservation Committee on February 22, 2012. At this late point in the Session, another hearing is very unlikely. 
Protect Florida's Water Resources
As directed by the Legislature in 2011 legislation, the state's five water management districts streamlined their administrative costs. However, the cuts were so deep that many water resource protection activities are at risk.

Water management districts must be able to protect water supplies and natural systems. This requires science, regulation, and the ability to fund and build water storage and restoration projects and land conservation.

In 2012 the Florida Legislature is debating legislation (SPB 7092) that would further restrict Florida's five Water Management Districts from effectively carrying out their mission.

Let those who represent you in the Florida Legislature know that:
•  Water resource budgets need to be adequate and sustainable.
•  The water management district spending caps should be repealed.
•  Executive oversight is better than legislative micromanagement.
•  Science and regulation are critical to protect water resources.

Tell them to please lift the water management spending caps and allow the citizen appointed boards of the water management districts to do their job.
Contact information for your member of the Florida Legislature can be found by following this link -

Simply enter your zip code and you will be directed to the contact information for your representatives.

FWF, Defenders of the Environment join suit to remove Ocklawaha dam 
Earthjustice filed a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue Letter with the U.S. Forest Service today to protect imperiled manatees and shortnose sturgeon, two species which are blocked from migrating in the Ocklawaha River by a dam operated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. This dam turns a 16-mile stretch of the river into the unnatural Rodman Impoundment.

Earthjustice filed the notice on behalf of the Florida Defenders of the Environment, a group which has long advocated to remove the 44-year-old Kirkpatrick Dam (formerly Rodman Dam) and to restore the once free-flowing, spring-fed Ocklawaha River, and the Florida Wildlife Federation, whose members fish, boat and canoe throughout Florida and which has stood arm-in arm in the fight for river restoration.

The dam was part of the long-abandoned Cross Florida Barge Canal, which intended to connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Gulf of Mexico. Although that project was halted by President Richard Nixon back in 1971, the dam has stayed in place, impounding the Ocklawaha and flooding 9,000 acres of floodplain forest, including approximately 600 acres in the Ocala National Forest.

Over the years, numerous state and federal officials have recommended restoring the Ocklawaha River to its natural state.  The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (now FWC) and the U.S. Forest Service repeatedly expressed support for draining Rodman Impoundment, restoring the Ocklawaha River, and establishing it as a National or State Wild and Scenic River.  In the late 1970s, President Carter, Florida Governor Askew, and numerous independent scientists concurred with state and federal agencies' recommendations to restore the river.  In 2003, Governor Bush, sided with conservationists and supported efforts to restore the river.  In fact, every Florida governor since Governor Askew has favored restoration.

"It is time to get rid of this outdated and destructive dam once and for all," said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. "In this day and age, why is the Florida Department of Environmental Protection artificially blocking a waterway and harming the rare species that live in it? It doesn't make any sense."

"It is past time to restore the river and reopen passage to anadromous fish which used to be plentiful throughout the system; we are optimistic that the Forest Service will step in and do the right thing to protect species and restore this beautiful river," said Manley Fuller, President of the Florida Wildlife Federation.

Stephen Robitaille, President of the Board for Florida Defenders of the Environment, said: "Forty years after the Barge Canal was declared a failed boondoggle and halted, removal of the dam will finally help restore biological and economic vitality to this historic Florida river." 

Tags: Capitol Watch, 2012 Legislative Session, Florida

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