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Ron DeSantis’ environmental plans get legislative support

DeSantis is making progress on his environmental wish list

Gov. Ron DeSantis is making progress on his environmental wish list, as House members have joined senators in efforts that include setting up a statewide office focused on sea-level rise and creating more electric-vehicle charging stations.

Also, Palm Bay Republican Rep. Randy Fine and Sarasota Republican Sen. Joe Gruters filed bills (HB 1091 and SB 1450) this week that back a DeSantis proposal to boost fines against people, companies and local governments for environmental issues such as illegal raw sewage spills and damaging coral reefs.

Fine, contending about 3 billion gallons of sewage have been illegally dumped by local governments over the past decade, said the proposed penalties will send a “strong message” to local politicians about failing to maintain sewage systems.

“Florida can spend billions trying to clean up our polluted waterways, but if local governments refuse to join us in that fight by maintaining their sewer systems, all of our efforts are for naught,” Fine said in a prepared statement.

Fine backed a somewhat similar measure that did not pass during the 2019 Legislative Session. The proposal, a reaction to a 2017 spill into the Indian River Lagoon that lasted 35 days, sought to impose a $2 fine for each gallon spilled. The Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties argued the increased fines on governments would eventually come from taxpayers and delay needed sewage upgrades.

However, DeSantis in September called for a 50 percent increase in fines the state can impose for environmental violations. He labeled the existing structure a “slap on the wrist,” noting penalties for sewage spills are capped at $10,000 a day while pollutants are flowing.

DeSantis wants the fines to continue being assessed until environmental harm is considered fixed or plans are worked out with the Department of Environmental Protection to address the issues.

DeSantis’ request came as he also pitched $625 million a year for the next three years in environmental funding. The issues will be considered during the Legislative Session that starts Tuesday.

Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, a Saint Johns Republican, filed a bill (HB 1073) last week that would establish a statewide resiliency office under the governor. The proposal matched a Senate bill (SB 7016) bill that has already started moving forward and will be heard Monday by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee

DeSantis, who in August named Julie Nesheiwat as the state’s first chief resilience officer, has sought the creation of the resiliency office to help grapple with the potential effects of sea-level rise.

A Senate staff analysis said a Southeast Florida work group dealing with climate-change issues has projected Southeast Florida could see sea-level rise from 1 to nearly 3 feet over the next 40 years, while a Tampa Bay advisory panel estimates waters in that region could go up 1 to 2.5 feet in 30 years.

“In the U.S., sea level rise and flooding threaten an estimated $1 trillion in coastal real estate value, and analyses estimate that there is a chance Florida could lose more than $300 billion in property value by 2100,” the staff analysis said.

On Thursday, St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond also filed a proposal (HB 1239) that would require the Public Service Commission, in consultation with other state agencies, to come up with a plan for electric vehicle charging stations as part of the state highway system.

Diamond’s bill came after the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee advanced a proposal (SB 7018) on electric-vehicle charging station infrastructure that directs the Public Service Commission to work with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The proposals follow DeSantis’ announcement in August that 15 percent, or $24.9 million, of the state’s share of a settlement in a Volkswagen emissions scandal would go toward placing charging stations at Florida Turnpike service plazas.

A Senate staff analysis said increasing charging stations statewide would help in “facilitating mobility and commerce and reducing costs related to EV (electronic vehicle) travel time.”

“To the extent that increased EV use is encouraged, the state may realize reduced greenhouse gas emissions, thereby contributing to the overall health of the state’s residents and environmental resources,” the staff analysis said.

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