2018 legislative session: some wins, some losses for the environment

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By Save the Manatee Club

As in years past, the Florida Legislature considered but failed to pass a ban on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

The bipartisan Senate bill, SB 462, had unanimous support in the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation and the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources before stalling in its final committee. The House version of the bill was never scheduled for hearing.

Fracking is of particular concern in Florida because of the state’s karst geology and the enhanced risk that contaminants from the extraction process could migrate into ground and surface water, threatening both natural ecosystems and public drinking water supplies.

Two bills that did pass pose potentially significant risks to Florida’s springs and wetlands.

The first, HB 7043, authorizes DEP to assume responsibility for the federal Clean Water Act “dredge and fill” permitting program. On its face, this proposal sounds sensible, with the laudable goal of reducing duplicative application requirements.

However, the state has a record of rushing permitting decisions and being less willing to rigorously apply environmental protections as conditions of development. Moreover, there is some concern about the state’s ability to adequately enforce other environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The second bill, HB 1149, allows treated wastewater to be used to recharge Florida’s aquifers, risking polluting drinking and surface water with contaminants like endocrine disruptors, pharmaceuticals, and microplastics. Meanwhile, it facilitates additional withdrawals from depleted aquifers by authorizing substitution credits for water bodies projected to fall below minimum flows and levels. Finally, the bill provides for the reissuance of large project construction permits for up to three years post-expiration, even if ownership of the property has changed. These permits would be exempt from any new regulations adopted in the intervening time period, up to a decade or more in some circumstances.

Constituent activism forestalled a number of damaging proposals, including a last minute attempt to delay hard-won springs protections by indefinitely suspending requirements for septic system improvements.

Other bright spots included the establishment of the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area (though no supporting funding was included), and substantial (if not full) funding for Florida Forever programs and Everglades restoration. The Legislature also passed a resolution expressing support for an indefinite extension of the ban on leasing and drilling for oil within 125 miles of the Florida coastline.

Trends to watch going forward include troubling attacks on “home rule,” with the legislature attempting to preempt local regulation on issues ranging from tree trimming and public parks to single use plastics and fertilizer ordinances.

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Anne Harvey Holbrook is the staff attorney for Save the Manatee Club, where her work focuses on water quality and quantity and endangered species issues.  Anne also serves as Conservation Chair for the Big Bend Sierra Club. She has her JD from Georgetown Law and her Masters in Aquatic Environmental Science from Florida State University. 

Contact Save the Manatee Club at savethemanatee.org or call 407-539-0990.