Whether candidates or elected officials want to acknowledge it’s true, the environment always is important in Florida. From a statewide perspective, here are my top 10 environmental stories from 2014:
Gov. Rick Scott was re-elected over former Gov. Charlie Crist despite cutting the budgets of water management districts, dismantling of the state planning agency and vetoing spending for land conservation early in his first term. Scott adopted a green persona for re-election by pledging funds for springs, parks, Everglades restoration and Indian River Lagoon.
Amendment 1 passes
An amendment to the state constitution that provides an estimated $19 billion during the next 20 years for water and land conservation was approved by 75 percent of voters statewide. Now some environmentalists are worried that legislators will use the broad amendment language to help pay for local water projects and sewer plant fixes rather than land-buying.
Springs bill dies
A group of five Senate committee chairmen crafted legislation that would have required advanced wastewater treatment near springs and adherence to agricultural best management practices on farms. SB 1576 passed the Senate 38-0 but died without a vote in the House.
Indian River Lagoon funding
The heavy rains and “brown tide” from Lake Okeechobee fouled Indian River Lagoon in 2013, but funding solutions had to wait until the 2014 legislative session. The Legislature provided $172 million for restoration projects in fiscal year 2014-15 along with $30 million the next two years for raising the Tamiami Trail highway to restore water flow.
US Supreme Court takes up water wars
The U. S. Supreme Court agreed in November to consider Florida’s request to divide water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system among Alabama, Florida and Georgia. The court appointed Maine lawyer Ralph I. Lancaster to oversee the case, which could take several years to resolve while seafood workers worry about the future of Apalachicola Bay.
New leaders, new focus on water
New House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner say there will be a focus on water in the 2015 legislative session. But it’s not clear what problem they want to address much less how to achieve results.
Scott talks climate change, sort of
After having said earlier in his term that he wasn’t convinced that climate change is real, Scott tried to dismiss questions by telling reporters, “I’m not a scientist.” Scott later agreed to meet with climate scientists, but only after Crist had agreed to meet with them. Scott later said he was focused on solutions but environmentalists remain skeptical.
New leader at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection
DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. left as expected at the end of the governor’s first term and Jon Steverson of the Northwest Florida Water Management District replaced him. Steverson was at the district only 2 ½ years and previously was at DEP where he oversaw $700 million in budget cuts at Florida’s five water management districts.
Oil drilling and fracking
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said in April it was fining the Dan A. Hughes Co. $20,000 plus $5,000 costs for conducting a procedure that the Tampa Bay Times said is similar to hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. DEP also said it will seek legislative authority to request stiffer fines. In December, two Democratic senators filed a bill to ban fracking.
PSC and energy conservation
Environmentalists’ criticism of the Public Service Commission reached a peak in November as it approved scaling back conservation programs and eliminating solar rebate programs at major utilities. Legislation to revamp the PSC and repeal the law allowing utilities to charge in advance for future nuclear plants failed in 2014 but was filed again for the 2015 legislative session.