Capitol Watch Week 8

Date 03/12/2012

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Capitol Watch – Final Week 2012 Session  
Jay Liles and Preston Robertson
March 9, 2012

During this the final week of session, our attention turns to passage of the state budget and to legislative “trains” – those bills considered so important to the members that they become the vehicle for a number of other issues, often containing things we would rather not see pass. Thankfully, most issues on the environmental agenda have been resolved to our community’s general satisfaction with a few glaring exceptions that we will continue to watch for. The regular session is scheduled to end March 9, 2012, but the Legislature will likely be called back into Special Session as to election redistricting and possibly PIP insurance reform.

Florida Forever Funding Secured!

The House and Senate Conferees agreed to $8.3 million for land acquisition from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (Florida Forever). From this appropriation, a conservation easement must be purchased over 721 acres in northern Jefferson County (the Joyner tract). Also, two lots must be bought behind the Grove in Tallahassee (this may be prior appropriation money and this line is simply directive to DEP). The remainder of the appropriation will go to fund conservation easements or “partnerships where the state pays no more that 50% of the cost”. Thus, there will be several million to spend on land protection. While not the $15 million requested by Governor Scott, it is a whole lot better than nothing.

Also included in the conference report is $3 million in funding from the Military Base Task Force that could potentially be used for land acquisition and $1 million from an economic development trust fund that could potentially be used for base buffering.

As we have already reported, Everglades restoration was funded at $30 million.

House and Senate Conferees reach acceptable agreement on SB 1986 Re: Water Management Governance

The Governor's Office and DEP held a briefing with environmental groups to explain that SB 1986 is now very much like the House offer which tracked the Governor's suggested amendments. This is the better bill we wanted. The bill removes the revenue caps, and gives the Legislature the authority to review and comment on Water Management District (WMD) budgets. The Legislature may set millage rates for WMD’s if they are dissatisfied with the preliminary budgets (as allowed under current law, and would require an act of the Legislature).

The Legislative budget commission is authorized to reject: (1) single land purchases over $10 million; (2) accumulative land purchases of over $50 million in one year; (3) issuance of debt; (4) expenditures for outreach or management and administration in excess of 15% of total budget; and (5) individual variances in WMD’s tentative budgets in excess of 25% from the preliminary budgets.

In summary, this legislation will largely place WMD oversight and management back under the model that existed prior to passage of 2011 legislation which so hampered their ability to carry out their mission.

A problematic amendment to SB 1986, sponsored by Senator Ellen Bogdanoff, that would have permitted the lease of conservation lands, commonly known as the Bird Drive issue, has been withdrawn. Environmental advocates argued successfully that the amendment would upset carefully crafted agreements between the Governor’s office, leadership and stakeholders regarding the governance and funding mechanisms of the WMD’s. The Governor and Cabinet purchased 302.79 acres at Bird Drive (Miami-Dade County) in 1999 for $3.5 million with Preservation 2000 funds under the Conservation and Recreational Lands program for the benefit of the Everglades.  Leasing conservation lands for a non-conservation purposes prior to a comprehensive analysis is premature and in conflict with the legal basis for the original purchase of the lands. These undeveloped lands help protect urbanized areas from flooding and play an important role in water supply.  The state of Florida, South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Department of Interior collaborated on the acquisition of East Coast Buffer lands, including those in Bird Drive, to provide Everglades restoration and water resource benefits. 

Fight for Cat Fund Reform Stalls

This past weekend, Sen. J.D. Alexander introduced an amendment to SB 1346 related to the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund (Cat Fund) which would shrink the hurricane fund from $17 billion to $15 billion, thus reducing the risk for Florida taxpayers.  The amendment was adopted and the bill passed out of the Senate Budget Committee.

SB 1346 is an important first step to help us move towards ending the practice of subsidizing reckless coastal development in low lying coastal areas of the state,  thus better protecting Florida's fish and wildlife habitats.  Furthermore, this bill would better protect all Floridians including homeowners, businesses, renters, charities, churches and automobile policyholders who are at risk of being affected by future “hurricane tax” assessments in the wake of the next major storm or series of storms to hit the state.

Supporters of our efforts to reform the state-backed insurance programs met this week to discuss our options and determine the feasibility of real reform in this session.  With time running out it was decided that our best strategy was to drop further attempts to add amendments to other insurance related bills that are considered “must pass” legislation. There is a general concern among members of the Legislature that premium increases on homeowners insurance would come back to haunt them in the upcoming elections. Apparently, our message that a major storm would send much more significant price-shocks through the insurance market and onto the backs of consumers did not outweigh this concern. We will try this election year to better educate policymakers and those who are running for office about this issue in hopes of gaining reforms in the next legislative session.

Our thanks go to all who took the time to call, write and meet with your representatives about these and other important issues during the 2012 Session. We will have a final report and Session Summary for you soon!

Federal Actions -

RESTORE Act adopted in the U.S. Senate as part of the Transportation Package!

FWF, as part of a broad-based environmental and business coalition that has advocated for passage of the RESTORE Act, is delighted to report that the U.S. Senate adopted the Act on March 8, 2012, as an amendment to the Transportation Bill, thereby ensuring a significant portion of BP fine monies will come back to the Gulf states. Note that the US House must also approve the Transportation bill, which it is expected to do shortly Included in this amendment is additional funding for the Land and Water Conservation Trust Fund. Florida’s own U.S. Senator, Bill Nelson, deserves much of the credit for helping sponsor the original legislation (S1400) and crafting the final amendments.


Vote Follows Recent House Approval of Similar Amendment

(Washington, D.C.—March 8, 2012) A coalition of six Gulf Coast restoration advocacy groups praised the Senate today for its strong bipartisan approval of legislation that would dedicate 80 percent of the Clean Water Act (CWA) fines for the gulf oil disaster to restoring the gulf ecosystem and economy. The RESTORE the Gulf Coast States  Act was originally introduced by nine of the 10 gulf state senators, including Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and was also supported by Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Boxer. The RESTORE Act passed as an amendment to the Senate transportation bill by a vote of 76 to 22. 

“The Senate’s overwhelming vote in favor of the RESTORE Act reflects the broad nationwide support for revitalizing the Gulf Coast region by ensuring the bulk of the money collected in spill fines is spent in the area that suffered so much harm,” said a joint statement issued by Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Ocean Conservancy and Oxfam America.

“Faith leaders, conservationists and sportsmen, and strong majorities of voters from all sides of the political spectrum in Gulf states and across the nation agree that it just makes sense for the fines from the Gulf spill to come back to help repair the damage that has been done to the economy and the environment,” the groups added.

The legislation will ensure that penalties paid by BP and others responsible for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster are used to rebuild the economies of Gulf Coast communities that were impacted by the spill and to restore the natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches, barrier islands, dunes, coastal wetlands, that are the foundation of the Gulf Coast economy. 

The Senate’s approval of the RESTORE Act follows the House's recent approval of an amendment by the same name introduced by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.). Both the House and Senate bills affirm the principle that the penalties for the Gulf oil spill belong in the Gulf for restoration. 

“The next step is for the House and Senate to resolve the differences between these two amendments in conference and enact RESTORE into law to bring this victory home for the Gulf region,” concluded the groups.

“We look forward to working with House, Senate and Gulf Coast leaders to pass RESTORE into law to support the restoration needs of this critical ecosystem and its vulnerable communities.”

A nationwide poll of 1,006 likely general election voters conducted by the Democratic firm, Lake Research Partners, and the GOP firm, Bellwether Research and Consulting, showed that the vast majority of U.S. voters (84 percent) believe the Gulf Coast—including the Mississippi River Delta—impacts the nation’s economy. Nearly two-thirds of those voters (63 percent) believe this region impacts the economy in their part of the country. 

Numeric Nutrient Standards for Florida’s waters

National Academy
pans DEP for deceptive estimates of nutrient criteria impacts

National Academy of Sciences Report on EPA Pollution Limits

Dismisses Exaggerated Cost Claims

Today’s National Academy of Sciences report, Review of the EPA’s Economic Analysis of Final Water Quality Standards for Nutrients for Lakes and Flowing Waters in Florida, in a subtle way, chastised the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for allowing confusion regarding the difference between the incremental implementation costs that might be incurred with the EPA numeric nutrient criteria and the total long-term costs of restoring all of Florida’s impaired surface waterbodies. 

The report says that EPA’s focus on the incremental costs was the most appropriate approach to take and that the exaggerated cost claims made by opponents of the EPA pollution limits were unreasonable and “clearly a reflection of attempts to estimate the total cost, not the incremental cost.”  The report summarily rejects the assumption, upon which those over-bloated claims were made, that the most costly methods of water treatment (reverse osmosis) would be mandated under the EPA Rule.
The report suggested that FDEP should have clarified the incremental cost versus total cost issue for decision-makers when the EPA Rule cost analysis was first released.  The misinterpretation that followed could have been prevented by FDEP.

Tags: Capitol Watch, 2012 Legislative Session, Florida

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