Sunday, May 31, 2009

What next for Florida's springs after bill dies?

Former state biologist Jim Stevenson said he recently asked a teenager who had grown up in Tallahassee if he'd ever been to Wakulla Springs. The teen replied that he had never heard of the state park and popular swimming spot 15 miles south of Tallahassee.

To Stevenson, who is coordinator of state working groups for Wakulla Springs and for Ichetucknee Springs near Lake City, the teen's lack of awareness represents the lack of public understanding about springs and the threats to groundwater that flows from the sparkling watery jewels. And he says that lack of understanding is a large part of the reason why an ambitious springs bill died in the recent legislative session.

"We've tried to educate the public through all kinds of means -- you name it," Stevenson said. "I guess we have just not been effective enough or not reached enough people."

With Senate Bill 274 having failed to win Senate approval last session, the future of the more than 700 springs across North and Central Florida appears greener than ever. And green isn't good when it comes to springs.

Springs have become choked with weeds and algae as nitrogen levels in groundwater have increased during the past 10 years, scientists say. Sources of nitrogen include treated sewage, septic tanks, dirty stormwater runoff, fertilizer and manure from livestock farms.

SB 274 would have established "springs protection zones" in counties with major springs. The bill also would have set limits for nitrogen flowing from property with septic tanks and required that new developments with more than one home per acre be placed on central sewer.

The Florida Home Builders Association and the Association of Community Developers opposed the bill. They said the groundwater standard would require advanced septic systems that are too expensive to install and operate.

Along with not passing the bill, the Legislature approved a 2009-10 state budget that prohibits any state agency from conducting "nitrogen-reducing" activities. That led the Florida Department of Health to suspend rule-making to require advanced septic systems in the Wekiva River basin in Central Florida.

So what should happen now with our springs in Florida?

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Lee Constantine, said he's going to keep working on the measure so that he can bring it back next year. A Republican from Altamonte Springs, he is chairman of the Senate Committe on Environmental Preservation.

"I'm still going to try to forge some kind of consensus," he said. "Nothing is going to happen on its own. We have got to come up with a comprehensive plan to protect all of our springs. I'm committed to doing it before I leave (office in 2010)."

Stevenson, a former Florida Department of Environmental Protection biologist and namesake of an award bestowed annually on an exceptional state park employee, said the key is making people aware.

"The people of Florida have not made it clear to their legislators they want their springs protected -- that's the bottom line," Stevenson said. "At this point the influence of industry lobbyists carries more weight than the influence of the people of Florida."

The Florida Home Builders Association believes springs should be protected, said Keith Hetrick, the group's general counsel. But the group also says any required septic systems must be cost-effective, environmentally-proven, user-friendly and energy efficient.

"I get a little frustrated with (home builders) being assigned the black hat," Hetrick said, "when we're all trying to be part of the solution here."

The Florida Department of Health says "performance-based" septic systems cost from $3,000 to $10,000 more than standard septic tanks depending on site conditions. The tanks also cost about $30 per month for maintenance, a two-year permit and electricity to run a pump.

The home-builders group urged the Legislature to delay a proposed state rule to require the installation of advanced septic systems when homes are sold along the Wekiva River in Central Florida. The builders want a three-year, state-funded study of alternatives to advanced septic systems to be completed first.

Meanwhile, UCF researcher Martin Wanielista is testing a new septic drainfield system that includes the use of ground up tires, sawdust and sand to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus from the wastewater being discharged, according to an Orlando Sentinel article.

The new drainfield system could add about $4,000 to the cost of a standard septic system, Wanielista told the Sentinel. He could not be reached last week by

Hetrick said the new drainfield system would allow existing septic tanks to be retrofitted to reduce nitrogen, saving homeowners the cost of replacing septic tanks and advanced systems along with the cost of electricity -- estimated at $7.65 a month by state health officials.

If the state pushes advanced septic systems, other companies won't spend the money on research for the so-called "passive" technologies that cost less. And the cost, home builders say, is what's important to helping protect springs.

"The more affordable it is the more people will buy into it," said Dale Fuller, executive officer of the Tallahassee Builders Association. "And the more functional will be the solution."

Photo of Wakulla Springs by Kris Barrios courtesy of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.
Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Crist calls for federal support for Everglades, Apalachicola River

Following a tour of the Everglades today, Gov. Charlie Crist called on the U.S. Department of the Interior to take a "fresh look" at Everglades restoration and to conduct a comprehensive review of the downstream effects of water withdrawals from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system.

Crist toured the Everglades by airboat with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. In remarks and in a letter to Salazar, Crist acknowledged President Obama's request for $279 million for Everglades restoration in the 2009-10 federal budget, according to a statement from the Governor's Office. The 2009-10 state budget signed by Crist on Wednesday includes $50 million for Everglades restoration.

“It is especially important right now, to renew our commitment and cooperation to the federal/state partnership, and reaffirm our dedication to completing the projects needed to restore the River of Grass,” Crist said in his statement.

Salazar said today the Obama administration is committed to restoring the River of Grass, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Salazar said the administration has proposed "more than $600 million to fund ongoing projects and to generate good jobs in design, engineering, construction and rehabilitation work.”

Salazar’s trip to the Everglades was at the invitation of Nelson, who said it was important that the cabinet secretary see the "River of Grass" for himself, according to a statement from the senator's office.

“It really shows you something when the secretary of the interior comes down to South Florida to hear about why restoring the Everglades is so important, not just to Floridians, but nationally,” Nelson said. “And he didn’t just get to hear from us, we took him out on an airboat so he could see for himself.”

Crist also asked the Department of the Interior to measure the downstream environmental impacts caused by federal management of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been fighting in federal court since 1990 over water from the rivers.

“This is a tri-state problem which requires a tri-state solution, and it is imperative that we work toward a long-term solution, or else we will find ourselves facing a crisis every year,” Crist said. “Florida recognizes that a solution must include an equitable sharing of adversity.”

On Wednesday, Salazar said he told Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue he was willing to help mediate the states' water dispute. They toured the Lake Lanier reservoir on the Chattahoochee River north of Atlanta.

"I think the governor of Georgia has rightly pointed to the value of Lake Lanier to Georgia and the Southeastern part of the country," Salazar said, according to the Gainesville Times.

The governors of the three states failed to reach an agreement in 2008 when Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne tried to mediate at the direction of President Bush.

Photo by Tami A. Heilemann, DOI

Audubon's Draper to run for Ag Commissioner

Audubon of Florida representative Eric Draper says he's filing papers today to run for state Agriculture Commissioner as a Democrat.

Draper, 55, is Audubon's deputy director and has been with the group since 1995, previously having worked for The Nature Conservancy. He frequently speaks at the Capitol before the Cabinet and legislative committees on pending issues.

Although farmers and environmentalists are sometimes at odds on legislation, Draper said he's had good relationships with agriculture people to protect the environment. He said he helped write the Rural and Family Lands Protection Act to help the state buy conservation easements to preserve farmland.

"I've worked hard on policies that are good for agriculture," Draper said. "And I think the people are going to see me as someone with a balanced and cooperative approach."

Other Democrats in the race include former state Rep. Rick Minton Jr. of Fort Pierce and former Suwannee County Commissioner Randy Hatch of Branford. Republicans running include U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam of Bartow, state Sen. Carey Baker of Eustis and former Rep. Marsha "Marty" Bowen of Winter Haven.

Nelson, Crist to tour Everglades with DOI's Salazar

Gov. Charlie Crist will tour the Everglades today with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Kendrick B. Meek.

They will receive a briefing on invasive species control and the Burmese python and will take an airboat tour of Alligator Bay, according to a news release from Meek. Assistant DOI Secretary Thomas Strickland and Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole also will be along for the tour.

Burmese pythons, having escaped from or having been released by reptile enthusiasts and the pet trade industry, have increased in numbers across the Everglades. They can consume large mammals and could threaten populations of endangered Florida panthers and wood storks, according to researchers at Davidson University.

Meek said the House Appropriations Committee last year provided $195 million for Everglades restoration. On Wednesday, Crist touted a $50-million appropriation for Everglades restoration in the 2009-10 state budget.

"It will allow continued efforts to restore our natural water flow and improve water quality," Crist said. "It protects the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fee increases for parks, fishing in new state budget

Some anglers and state park visitors are among those who will pay more to enjoy the outdoors under the 2009-10 state budget signed into law today by Gov. Charlie Crist.

The $66.5 billion budget also includes $50 million for Everglades restoration but lacks money for the Florida Forever land-buying program for the first time since a predecessor program was created in 1990. Environmental groups earlier this month reacted with disappointment to the lack of Florida Forever money.

While defending the various fees in the $66.5 billion budget including a $1-per-pack tax on cigarettes, Crist praised legislative leaders for their efforts to reduce spending to meet declining revenues.

"We'd rather not do it (raise fees), everybody knows that," the governor said. "We'd rather not have the economy we have today, too."

Entrance fees to state parks, which now range from $2 to $5 per carload depending on the park, will increase by $1, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole said. The fee increase was supposed to raise $7.2 million when it was included in the governor's budget proposal in March.

Sole said the department proposed the fee increase to help make visitors cover the cost of park operations. But even with the increase, he said, the entrance fees don't cover the operating costs yet.

"We also want to protect what I call the 'affordability factor,' " he said. "I think that's critical in that the fact they (state parks) are affordable for us to go use."

For Florida residents who previously fished for free from the shoreline or piers along the Gulf or Atlantic coasts under what is known as the "shoreline exemption," they will have to pay $7.50 beginning Aug. 1 or buy a state fishing license for $17, said Lee Schlesinger, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The fee is provided for in SB 1742, which was sent to the governor for his signature on May 15. An exemption is provided in the bill for anglers using a cane pole or similar rod with no retrieval mechanism.

The shoreline exemption is being repealed to avoid a federal registration system that would cost $15 to $20 on top of any licenses that may be required, Schlesinger said.

Revenue from the shoreline exemption will be used for marine fisheries law enforcement, research and management, Schlesinger said. A revenue estimate was not immediately available.

The fee increases will provide opportunities for cost-savings in the future, said Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch in Tallahassee.

"When you add them (fees) all up they are a lot of money for a lot of families -- desirable or not," Calabro said.

Cabinet approves $24.3 million Harbor Branch land buy


The state will purchase 403 acres from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution under a $24.3 million deal approved today that will expand state protection of the Indian River Lagoon and bolster funding for the research facility now controlled by Florida Atlantic University.

Using money from a pair of financing sources, the governor and Florida Cabinet approved the purchase after presentations from state environmental officials and FAU president Frank Brogan, who said the infusion of cash will be pumped back into the institute’s research efforts, providing another steady stream of revenue for years to come.

Had the state not stepped in, Brogan said the institute was seeking private buyers to develop portions of the area to help the institute continue its work.

“It is a much better route to sell it to the people than to have it developed,” said Brogan, adding that both parties benefit. “Harbor Branch continues in perpetuity and the people have acquired a significant parcel of property that by all expert accounts is really beautiful, pristine and one of the last such parcels available on the Indian River Lagoon.”

Plans call for the state to purchase 135 acres for $18 million under the Florida Forever program, the state’s environmental land buying program. Included in the purchase is 300,000 square feet of warehouse, office and laboratory space.

Florida Communities Trust is purchasing the remaining 268 acres for $6.3 million. The acquisition will extend the county’s 880-acre Indrio Greenway and reconnect the tidal swamp to the lagoon system. Recreational improvements will include an observation platform, canoe launch, fishing pier and nature trails.

Mike Sole, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, said the purchase price is well below the $37 million appraised value in an area that would have undoubtedly been developed if the state hadn’t stepped in.

“The Board of Trustees will ensure that this property will be protected forever,” Sole said.

Founded in 1971, Harbor Branch is one of three U.S. organizations to run manned deep-sea submersible research vehicles along the ocean floor.

It merged with FAU in 2007 after falling on hard financial times following hurricanes and the founding family’s decision to stop paying between $4 million and $8 million a year to run it. University officials last week announced a $22 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Following the Cabinet decision Wednesday, the state will have purchased 4,012 acres of the 26,380 Indian River Lagoon system, about 15 percent of the total.

Crist raises concerns with bill as enviros seek veto

Gov. Charlie Crist this morning raised concerns about SB 2080, which would allow the heads of the state's five water management districts to approve permits without a vote of their full boards.

SB 2080 originally dealt with state landscaping requirements and received support from environmental groups. But it was amended late in the legislative session earlier this month to include the provision allowing approval of permits by directors with board votes only if the permit is denied.

Some environmentalists now are calling for a veto of the bill, which they say restricts public access to the permitting process. The governor will have 15 days to sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature.

Crist told reporters he is still taking a look at SB 2080 but went on to say, "It seems to me if you can have a panel of people weigh in that might be a better way to go."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reliability of state "healthy beaches" Web site questioned

Visitors crowd Shell Point Beach in Wakulla County on April 25 despite an advisory against swimming that was correctly posted on a state website:

Heading to the beach this summer? A good idea might be to check the Florida Department of Health Web site to see if there are advisories against swimming because of bacteria.

But a recent review by of DOH's database of swimming advisories found numerous reporting errors. Bacteria tests are an indicator of fecal pollution from stormwater runoff, pets, wildlife and human sewage, according to the department.

Much of the state, including the Atlantic Coast beaches, have not been under advisories this spring. But there have been advisories at some beaches in the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend, where most of the reporting problems also were found.

Some advisories weren't posted when they should have been, or they were lifted when there were no test results to suggest it was safe to swim. Testing wasn't done at Taylor County beaches for several weeks and some test results weren't reported in Gulf County -- therefore no advisories were issued.

David Polk, state healthy beaches coordinator at the Florida Department of Health, attributed the Web site inaccuracies to a variety of administrative, computer and clerical problems. He began correcting some of the inaccuracies last week after raised questions.

"I'm going to go back and review our policies to see if we need to make further improvements," he said.

At Dixie County's Shired Island, advisories were inadvertently lifted for 12 weeks when they should have been maintained, Polk said. He corrected the Web site last week.

At Taylor County's four beaches where water is tested, the state web site indicated that advisories were lifted when there were no test results to confirm swimming safety.

Polk said, "That was an administrative snafu by me."

He explained that advisories are automatically lifted by the computer software if there are no test results -- unless he takes action to maintain the advisory, which he failed to do. Department policy, he said, requires the advisory to be maintained until there are test results to show bacteria levels have dropped.

The Taylor County Health Department also failed to conduct testing between March 10 and May 5 that it was supposed to do, Polk said.

The Florida Department of Health allowed Taylor County to quit testing during the winter months when there are few swimmers and when low tides create mud flats that are difficult to cross to obtain water samples, Polk said.

Taylor County began retesting on March 3, and new advisories were issued on the state Web site for Dekle Beach, Cedar Beach and Hagens Cove. Then the advisories were lifted, according to the web site, after Taylor County Health Department quit testing from March 16 to May 5.

After testing resumed on May 5, new advisories were issued for Dekle Beach and Hagens Cove.

Taylor County Environmental Health Director James Rachal said in an e-mail to that beaches were not tested because of local flooding and other health priorities, but he couldn't be reached on the telephone to elaborate. He also said the advisories against swimming remained even while the Web site erroneously indicated they had been lifted.

Polk said he plans to meet with Taylor County officials to discuss the testing.

"We may have to re-evaluate how they continue the program," Polk said. But he ruled out the possibility that beach testing would stop in Taylor County.

In Franklin, Levy and Wakulla counties, there were single instances of advisories being lifted on the Web site when there were no test results to show that it was safe to swim.

And at Dixie Belle Beach in Gulf County, there was no health advisory issued on April 13 despite high levels of enterococcus bacteria. Polk said he would need to find out why there was no advisory issued. Test results also were not reported for at least three weeks this spring because sampling results were not provided by a laboratory, Polk said.

Polk said the DOH beach testing Web site still is a useful tool because residents and visitors can view water quality results at their favorite beaches even if an advisory isn't correctly posted.

"We still think the Web site is a credible means to determine whether you should or should not swim that day," he said.

Editors note: This story was updated on May 30 to include comments from Rachal, the Taylor County Health Department official.

Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Corps may release more water to Florida's Apalachicola River

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the agency probably will begin releasing more water in June from its dams upstream from Florida along the Chattahoochee River. But Florida officials say that's not soon enough.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been fighting in federal court over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system since 1990. Over the objections of Florida officials, federal agencies in 2007 agreed on a plan to restrict water flow to allow federal reservoirs along the Chattahoochee River to refill in the midst of a drought.

With near normal rainfall, Lake Lanier has risen 14 feet from a record low last December and now is at elevation 1,065, which is six feet below full for the summer.

"This is a good news story because that means the lakes are recovering from this long-term drought we are under," said Lisa Coghlan, deputy public affairs administrator with the Corps' Mobile, Ala. district office. "We are actually getting back to normalcy."

But Florida and Alabama officials have pressed the Corps throughout this month to suspend the drought operations, saying that the federal plan doesn't say the Corps can until the first day of each month to decide.

Alabama and Georgia want water for cities, farms and industrial users while Florida wants water to support fish and wildlife along the Apalachicola River and the seafood industry around Apalachicola Bay. Despite the drought plan, there was minor flooding along the Apalachicola River in April because of heavy rains along the Flint River and along the Chattahoochee River downstream from the major federal reservoirs.

Florida officials say fish spawning season this month is threatened by the continued drought restrictions. Florida sent letters to the federal agency on May 8 and another one 10 days later challenging the Corps of Engineer's decision to wait until June 1 to decide whether to lift the restrictions.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole stated in the May 18 letter that the drought plan calls for lifting restrictions automatically without regard to climatic conditions or any other "vague" factors being used by the Corps.

In response to the Corps' announcement that restrictions probably will be lifted on June 1, DEP spokesman Doug Tobin said in an e-mail, "DEP would have liked the Corps to have taken action sooner, say March 1."

Coghlan said the Corps' letter responding to Florida was mailed today. She said she couldn't comment on the Florida letters until state officials had a chance to review the federal agency's response.

In a telephone conference call on Thursday, an attorney representing Georgia in the water dispute said the Corps can legally wait until the first day of each month to decide. Another Georgia official urged the Corps to establish a process for slowly releasing more water from Lake Lanier.

Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Planning chief says "speculative" development requests filed

The head of Florida's land-planning agency said today the state is being kept busy with speculative development proposals because of concerns about a proposed ballot initiative to require voter approval of local land-use plan changes.

During a two-hour question-and-answer session broadcast over the Web, Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham also fielded concerns about SB 360, a growth management bill that would lift restrictions on development in areas with road congestion.

Gov. Charlie Crist has until June 2 to sign the bill, which some environmental groups and the Florida Association of Counties are calling for the governor to veto. Supporters say the bill will encourage development in designated "dense urban areas."

Pelham was peppered with questions about how the bill would affect local planning and he said the department is working to get answers.

"The department is not in a position today to answer every issue that may arise under SB 360 if it becomes law," Pelham told listeners. "We have hardly had time to do that. Like any substantial piece of legislation there will be isues of interpretation."

He opened the session by stating that the department is "very busy" considering land-use change requests despite the economic downturn. He said the requests for new developments from 10,000 to 100,000 new homes each seem to be in anticipation of the proposed Florida Hometown Democracy amendment to the state constitution.

If enough signatures are collected to put Hometown Democracy on the ballot in 2010, it would require voter approval of comprehensive land-use plan amendments. The proposal, which supporters say would rein in haphazard development approval by local governments, faces opposition from industry groups and some local officials.

"I think we need to do a much better job of basing our planning on reasonably projected future (population) needs (rather) than a purely speculative proposal," Pelham said.

This is Pelham's second stint as head of DCA, having served under Gov. Bob Martinez from 1987 to 1991 during which time the state's Growth Management Act was first being implemented. He said legislators at that time saw the need for growth controls but now many of them see a need for more growth to manage.

"Twenty years ago we had the challenge to implement new legislation," Pelham said. "Now we have the challenge of salvaging what's good about that legislation (while) also adapting to the times we are in and seeking new solutions to new problems. Things are very different. The problems are very different."

And asked what is the most important thing that can be done for planning in Florida, Pelham replied that local governments should "take ownership" of their comprehensive plans rather than sending development requests to DCA so that it can play the "bad cop" role in denying them.

"Far too often it appears local plans or local planning are being driven by individual landowners' development applications for plan amendments that are acted upon in a vacuum without any comprehensive evaluation as to how it affects the entire plan," he said. "Local government just becomes a conduit for transferring the applications on up to the department."

Crist won't be signing growth bill today

Stop the presses: Gov. Charlie Crist is not scheduled today to sign SB 360, a controversial bill that which would ease requirements on developers to pay for road improvements in designated "dense" urban counties.

Crist has scheduled events across the state today to sign bills that would provide expedited permitting for developments. SB 360 was inadvertently listed among the bills that would be signed, according to an Associated Press report.

Environmental groups and the Florida Association of Counties had urged the governor not to sign the bill, which was supported by the Florida Home Builders Association.

Crist expressed lukewarm support for the bill this morning, according to media reports.

“It’s hard to get unanimity on any piece of legislation,” the governor said, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

“I think there are some who are concerned about the impact it might have. There are others who are very concerned about the economy and how it might help it.”

Supporters said the bill would encourage development in urban areas where it is needed. Opponents said it would remove state oversight over larger "developments of regional impact" in those counties.

Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham had raised concerns about the bill but has not asked for a veto, according to his department.

Crist met with Pelham Wednesday and said he agreed the final bill was “a lot better than some of the other measures that had been headed toward our desk.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Obama vehicle announcement likely ends Fla. debate

President Obama's proposal today for a new fuel-economy standard probably ends the debate over whether Florida should adopt California's more stringent standard -- if the Florida Legislature hasn't already killed the issue here.

As part of his initiative in 2007 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Gov. Charlie Crist directed the Department of Environmental Protection to move towards adopting California vehicle tailpipe standards. But the Legislature in 2008 required that it give approval for any new vehicle standard, and then the House and Senate this year failed to take up a bill to adopt DEP's recommendation.

Obama, flanked by automobile executives and environmentalists at the White House, proposed setting a unified federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) fleet standard at 35.5 mpg by 2016 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. That's 8 mpg more than was required, Obama said.

DEP Secretary Mike Sole issued a statement applauding Obama's announcement and embracing a national standard. Sole said it would improve energy security while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and allowing Floridians to spend less on gasoline.

"We stand by the Obama administration's decision to adopt more stringent CAFE standards and share the belief that a unified national standard is the best solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and minimizing the effects of climate change in Florida and nationwide," Sole said.

California is the only state allowed under the federal Clean Air Act to adopt its own automobile emissions standards. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger attended Obama's White House ceremony to announce the proposal and later praised the new federal standard.

Tallahassee attorney Wade Hopping, representing the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said Crist's proposal to adopt California's standard is dead now because even California won't be using its own adopted standard, which had not been approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Automobile manufacturers had been critical of the Florida proposal to adopt California's tailpipe standards.

"It means people won't be able to run across the border form Florida to Georgia to buy cheaper cars, or they won't have any incentive to do that," Hopping said.

While praising Obama's announcement, environmentalist Jay Liles said the issue could be raised again in Florida if Congress waters down the federal proposal. He said Obama's announcement will help Florida drivers save on the cost of fuel.

"We'll have to see what transpires now," said Liles, policy consultant to the Florida Wildlife Federation. "But it is very encouraging."

White House photograph by Samantha Appleton.
Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not redistribute without permission.

Friday, May 15, 2009

With Crist's Senate bid, is his climate agenda dead?

Gov. Charlie Crist (left) visits the Renovalia Energy solar facility in Spain during a European trade mission in 2008.

Gov. Charlie Crist this week announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate -- raising the obvious question of whether his climate change initiative is now dead for all practical purposes.

Crist in 2007 delighted environmentalists when he signed executive orders calling for statewide reductions in greenhouse emissions.

But the Legislature in 2008 adopted a sweeping energy bill -- supported by Crist -- that required legislative approval of any new auto emissions standards or renewable energy requirements. And bills that would have accomplished both failed to win approval in the 2009 legislative session, which ended last week.

Crist's Senate bid announcement this week led reporters to begin questioning him on a variety of national issues. But Crist also said he doesn't think his climate agenda in Florida had been killed by the Legislature.

"I don't think so," he told reporters. "I think we press on. We've talked about trying to do some things maybe administratively. I think actually the Senate was rather favorable. We'll continue to move forward."

But Florida State University political science professor Lance deHaven-Smith said he doesn't think the climate agenda will go anywhere now with Crist running for the Senate.

"Without him pushing for it, it won't have any momentum," deHaven-Smith said.

"He's not going to let it die entirely because he's interested in it," deHaven-Smith said. "On the other hand, you only have so much time -- and he is going to have to focus on his campaign."

Asked this week how he would juggle his duties as governor with his candidacy, Crist replied, "Very carefully."

Crist appears to face a steeper uphill battle now to win House approval. Republican leaders pushed through an oil drilling bill at the end of the session that the Senate refused to hear while the House refused to hear the energy bills that Crist supported.

The governor last week said he was considering taking additional action through executive orders to advance his climate agenda. Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Amy Graham did not elaborate when asked this week what other new measures are being considered.

Last year, DEP adopted a rule restricting the idling of heavy trucks and other equipment in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, the department is proposing an emissions cap-and-trade rule, with a workshop scheduled for May 18.

The department also is keeping an eye on whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants California a waiver for its tailpipe standards, Graham said, even though Florida can't adopt those standards without the Legislature's approval.

Industry lobbyist Wade Hopping said he thinks it's unrealistic for any state to implement its own cap-and-trade system or auto tailpipe standards and that the new Congress will be taking action on both.

"I will give the governor a lot of credit -- I think the rattling around the state of Florida and other states did on energy policy caused movement at the federal level," Hopping said. "And for that, they are to be congratulated. The question is, 'What is going to be the result of that movement?' "

Renewable energy advocate Susan Glickman said Florida should want to have a say in the national cap-and-trade debate by moving ahead with its own rules. And she said she finds it hard to believe legislators don't want to expand the solar energy market in Florida by requiring more renewable energy.

"I think we (advocates) have some homework to do," she said. "No one is suggesting the Florida Legislature will not be a place where energy will move forward. We just have to create a new understanding."

Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office.
Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not redistribute without permission.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Groups call for growth bill veto

Environmental groups are calling on Gov. Charlie Crist to veto SB 360, a growth management bill that critics say will weaken state oversight of new development projects.

SB 360 lifts those traffic restrictions in designated "dense urban" counties with at least 900,000 people. The bill also removes the largest developments in those counties from a state review process.

Audubon of Florida today urged supporters to ask Crist to veto the bill, saying it "significantly undermines" good planning. 1000 Friends of Florida sent a letter to Crist Wednesday asking him to veto the bill and urging supporters to contact him.

"We're telling them they need to act fast," said Charles Pattison, executive director of 1000 Friends. The Florida Association of Counties also is preparing a letter requesting a veto, an association spokeswoman said.

Crist has not received the bill and will have 15 days to review it once it is received, said Sterling Ivey, the governor's press secretary.

"He expressed some concerns about the bill during the session and looks forward to reviewing the final product," Ivey said.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton and sponsor of SB 360, has been traveling this week and is not available for comment, an aide said.

Environmentalists and developers alike criticize transportation "concurrency" requirements in state law that require developers to pay for building in areas with congested roads. Critics say the requirement instead encourages developers to build in rural areas where there are fewer cars, but that gobbles up open space and creates longer trips to work, schools and shopping areas.

Environmental groups and the Florida Department of Community Affairs supported SB 360 until it was amended by the House on the last week of the legislative session. DCA said it is still reviewing the bill to decide whether it will ask the governor for a veto.

Rep. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange and sponsor of the bill in the House, said SB 360 will exempt only six counties -- Hillsborough, Broward, Pinellas, Duval, Orange, Seminole and Broward.

Dade County was exempted, she said, because Dade officials were concerned the bill would interfere with future phases of development that are planned there.

Land use changes still will receive state review, she said, though not through the "development of regional impact" (DRI) process.

"I can't imagine that what we have done in terms of these six counties will gut growth management throughout the state," she said.

Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not redistribute without permission.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Growth bill holds "blockbuster," DCA chief says

A Senate bill that supporters say will encourage growth in urban areas contains an "astonishing" provision that could prevent local governments from rezoning residential property, says the chief of Florida's state land-planning agency.

SB 360 allows local governments to waive restrictions on new development in specified "dense urban areas" with traffic congestion. Builders, environmentalists and the Florida Department of Community Affairs initially supported the measure because they said state law now encourages urban sprawl by discouraging new development in existing urban areas.

DCA Secretary Tom Pelham said SB 360 was amended on May 1, the last day of the legislative session to pass bills other than the budget, to possibly prohibit any decreases or increases in the number of homes allowed on residential property.

"It is a rather astonishing provision that has some substantial implications for planning," Pelham said. "I don't know who wrote that or what they are after, but it is a blockbuster."

SB 360 was sponsored by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, who also offered the conforming amendment (478902) to his bill on May 1. Bennett was traveling this week and was not available for comment, according to an aide.

Bennett was the owner of an RV park in Manatee County where inspectors in 2006 issued a stop-work order because permits were not obtained when there were modifications to RVs to make them look like log cabins, according to the Bradenton Herald.

It's unclear whether that dispute led him to file the amendment. It requires local governments to maintain the allowed number of homes on RV parks or residential property in unincorporated areas that have "sufficient infrastructure" and are not in flood-prone "coastal high hazard areas."

The amendment contained much of SB 1042 dealing with affordable housing, which died in a committee when the session ended. Bennett's Senate Committee on Community Affairs was co-sponsor of SB 1042.

Nancy Linnan, a land-use planning attorney in Tallahassee who represents developers, said she doesn't think SB 360 can be interpreted to prohibit density increases. She said it only prohibits decreases.

If the amendment was intended to limit increases in those coastal areas, Linnan said, that would presume that those increases are easily obtained now. The state, she said, often blocks increases in those high-hazard areas.

"It could have been more arftully written," Linnan said. "When I read the whole thing and understand how the pieces fit together, I get there. But that doesn't mean reading that language hasn't caused a few semi-heart attacks."

Charles Pattison of 1000 Friend of Florida said it may be appropriate for local governments to allow fewer housing units when an RV park is converted into a neighborhood or condominium with permanent homes.

"This is best left to a local government to decide," Pattison said.

DCA hasn't decided whether it likes the bill, Pelham said. He said it has some good things in it but also contains other measures that DCA did not request. The department had opposed the House-passed version of the bill but the Senate removed some portions DCA had problems with, Pelham said.

Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not redistribute without permission.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Enviros say they'll miss Crist as he announces Senate bid

Some environmentalists say they'll miss Charlie Crist, dubbed by some as Florida's "green governor" who he announced today he'll run for the U.S. Senate.

Environmentalists liked Crist's environmental credentials when he ran for governor in 2006. But he won their loyalty in 2007 when he signed executive orders calling reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and he provided stronger state planning leadership at the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

"My initial reaction is we're sure going to miss his leadership as governor," said Jerry Karnas, "But he certainly has the potential to bring a very positive environmental world view to the United States Senate."

Crist also has been a supporter of the Florida Forever land-buying program supported by environmental groups. Although Crist last year opened the door for the debate on offshore drilling, he raised concerns this year when the Republican House leadership pushed through a bill this year to allow drilling in Florida waters. The bill died in the Senate.

Industry lobbyist Wade Hopping said Crist is a moderate Republican who is both pro-environment and pro-business. He said Democrats and Republicans will be scrambling to replace him, creating more openings on the Florida Cabinet.

Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson and Attorney General Bill McCollum are possible GOP candidates for governor. On the Democratic side, state CFO Alex Sink is a possible candidate along with announced candidates state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, and U. S. Rep. Kendrick Kendrick Meek.

"Talk about musical chairs -- we are going to have one of the greatest musical chairs game in Florida," Hopping said. "Everybody is going to be moving somewhere and somebody is not goign to have a seat."

Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller emphasized that Crist will remain governor through the 2010 legislative session. His group awarded the governor earlier this year for his leadership on environmental issues

"He has been a good friend on a number of our issues," Fuller said. "And he will be the governor for the next year and half."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mom on 1,000-mile paddling trip meets Crist

A 42-year-old New Jersey woman who is on a 1,000-mile paddling voyage on behalf of ocean protection met Gov. Charlie Crist today.

Margo Pellegrino left from Fort Pierce on April 15 in her outrigger canoe and stopped over the weekend in St. Marks, which is about the halfway point on her journey to Louisiana. She spoke with reporters at the Capitol today and met with Crist in what Pellegrino described as a positive meeting.

"I think he gets that Florida's economy really involves and depends on a healthy ocean and Gulf coastal environment," Pellegrino said. She describes herself as a stay-at-home mother of two who hasn't done a good job of staying at home.

Pellegrino told that her journey has been tough at times, especially when paddling against the wind on the open water.

She said there have been some foul spots along her trip, such as a sewage treatment plant discharge in Sarasota and the Fenholloway River in Taylor County, which receives industrial wastewater from the Buckeye Florida pulp mill.

And she said highlights have been the coastal Everglades and the "Nature Coast" area between Crystal River and St. Marks. The area includes at least 70 miles of coastline that is managed by state and federal conservation agencies.

"I definitely told him (Crist) that (the Nature Coast) was an amazing, surprising treasure and something I had not expected," she said.

"And everyone I met along that way was totally into the idea," she said. "They know what a treasure it is they have and they don't want to lose it. Their lives depend on it."

To learn more about Pellegrino's paddling trip, visit her blog at

Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Please do not redistribute without permission.

Environmentalists find bright spots in gloomy session

In a legislative session marked by major environmental losses, environmentalists say there were a few bright spots among the bills that passed.

The session was grim for environmentalists because no new money was provided for the Florida Forever land-buying program. And the House refused to consider Gov. Charlie Crist's proposals to require utilities to use more renewable energy and to adopt California's automobile emissions standards.

Still, a few bills that environmentalists supported made it through. They lowered taxes on conservation lands, closed a tax loophole that undermined the Florida Forever program and imposed penalties on boaters who damage sea grasses and coral reefs.

HB 7157 by Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, implements Amendment 4, approved by 67 percent of voters last fall. The amendment eliminates ad valorem taxes for lands of 40 acres or larger that are under permanent conservation agreements, though smaller properties can be exempted if they provide certain kinds of wildlife habitat.

Other property that is used for conservation but is not under a permanent agreement will receive its placed in its own lesser tax category the way agricultural property is now. House members had balked at agreeing to the provision, according to environmentalists.

"I think it was a good compromise product," said Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne.

"The proof of the pudding will be if people will avail themselves of this benefit," said Preston Robertson, general counsel for the Florida Wildlife Federation.

SB 2430 by Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, would close a corporate loophole related to the collection of taxes on real estate transactions. The bill establishes priority distribution of those documentary stamp tax revenues for Florida Forever and Everglades restoration bonds.

"This is language Wall Street will love and it will keep those (Florida Forever) bonds attractive to investors," said Lopez-Cantera, who supported the language in the House.

HB 1423, by Rep. Baxter Troutman and Rep. Paige Kreegel, allows vessel operators to be cited for a second-degree misdemeanor for damaging seagrass with their boat propellers.

For damage to coral reefs, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection can can collect fines starting at $150 for anchoring on coral and increasing to $300 per square meter for widespread boat damage.

"Coral reefs take millenniums to form but can be physically destroyed and degraded by careless boaters not familiar with their presences or importance in a generation," said Paul Johnson, president of Reef Relief.

Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Please do not redistribute without permission.

Friday, May 8, 2009

House speaker denies Crist energy bill rejected

The Florida House didn't reject Gov. Charlie Crist's environmental agenda during the Legislature's 2009 regular session, House Speaker Larry Cretul said soon after the session adjourned sine die.

The session ended today without the governor's proposed renewable energy bill being brought up in the House nor his proposal for Florida to adopt California's automobile emissions standards.

"No I don't think it was a rejection at all of the governor's energy agenda," said Cretul, R-Ocala, noting that the Senate also got started late in developing a renewable energy bill based on Crist's call for more renewable energy.

"One of the good things about this, we -- the House -- can come into a little clearer focus on what exactly we would like to roll out in the energy area next year," Cretul told reporters. "It will only be September when we start our (committee) meetings back up."

The House did adopt a bill to allow drilling for oil and natural gas in Florida waters as close as three miles to the shoreline, but it wasn't taken up by the Senate. The proposal, unveiled 50 days into the 60 day session, faced opposition from environmental groups and most Democrats.

Cretul said he wasn't sure oil drilling or anything else would be part of an energy bill next year, but he added that he has always been an advocate of reducing the nation's dependency on foreign oil.

But when pressed by a reporter on whether he'd support oil rigs that could be seen from the shoreline, Cretul balked.

"That could offend some people and it might offend me," Cretul said. "Again going back to what the distance is from the beach to the site -- I don't know that we got that deep into the discussion. We brought it up and started discussing it."

Actually, the issue was brought up during House floor debate on the oil drilling bill. Supporters of drilling said ships could load oil from undersea pumps that wouldn't be visible from the surface.

Also during the session, Crist proposed $300 million for the Florida Forever land-buying program. But the House refused to provide new money even after the Senate proposed cutting it to $50 million.

Florida has purchased 2.4 million acres since 1990 under Florida Forever and a predecessor program.

"I don't know if there is anything wrong with just taking a breath and taking a break," Cretul said. "Especially in these times when people are strapped right now, to go back and say we're going to buy land, take it off the tax rolls ... I would suspect the majority of taxpayers would understand that."

Photo by Mark Foley, Florida House of Representatives.

Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Please do not redistribute without permission.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sen. Alexander defends septic tanks budget language

Sen. JD Alexander is defending proposed budget language that would prevent the Florida Department of Health from implementing "any nitrogen reduction strategies" for a year until a septic tanks study is completed.

The measure is aimed at preventing the DOH from implementing a proposed rule requiring advanced septic tanks to protect groundwater flowing from springs along the Wekiva River north of Orlando. The measure faces opposition from some counties in the region because of concerns about the cost of the septic tanks.

Scientists say springs across the state have become choked with weeds and algae because of high nitrogen levels in groundwater. SB 274, which would have regulated nitrogen releases from septic tanks and other sources, failed to get out of committee, and an attempt to attach it to a bill was voted down as some senators raised cost concerns.

"So in my view it is clearly the Senate's intent we should go slow on the adoption of those new rules until we have more definitive information about exactly what the benefit level of the required spending on folks really means," said Alexander, R-Lake Wales and the Senate's budget chief.

Florida Department of Health spokeswoman Susan Smith said Wednesday in an e-mail that there are no other nitrogen reduction strategies that would be affected by the budget language.

DOH earlier this year launched a study of "passive" septic tank improvements. Former DOH official Mark Hooks said the passive measures could include techniques used now in treating drinking water.

The Legislature last year appropriated $900,000 toward a three-year study but less than $400,000 will be spent in this fiscal year, according to DOH. The budget language on Line 471 (SB 2600 conference report) provides for $540,000 from the Donations and Grants Trust Fund to be spent to complete the study by May 1, 2010.

There was no response from DOH officials to the question of whether the study could be completed within the required time-frame.

Environmental groups criticized similar rule delays proposed during the legislative session by Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, as bill amendments. Audubon of Florida and 1000 Friends of Florida described the study requirement as a delay tactic by builders and their allies.

The Florida Department of Health says the advanced septic systems, which are required in Wakulla County, cost $3,000 to $10,000 more than standard septic tanks.

Hays, who withdrew the amendments, said better science is needed to justify the cost. Alexander voiced similar comments, quoting one high-end estimate for the standard systems at $15,000 compared to a conventional septic tank costing $2,000. However, DOH says the new systems cost from $3,000 to $10,000 more than standard systems depending on site characteristics.

"For a lot of us that represent rural Florida -- to require us to spend $15,000 for a septic system that normally takes two (thousand dollars) when there is no documented evidence that it makes a meaningful difference in whatever nutrient leaching is occurring -- seems a little punitive to many rural communities," Alexander said.

Audubon's Charles Lee said studies have pointed to septic tanks as a threat to springs along the Wekiva River. He said his group is considering asking Gov. Charlie Crist to use his line-item veto authority to strip the language from the budget, though Lee said the wording is better than the earlier House proposals.

"It's still veto meat as far as we are concerned," Lee said.

Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Please do not redistribute without permission.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Groups bemoan loss of Florida Forever money

Shell Point Beach in Wakulla County was purchased with Florida Forever money through Florida Communities Trust.

Environmental groups this afternoon issued statements expressing regret that the state's land-buying program next year will receive no state money or bonding authority.

Florida Forever and its predecessor land-buying program received $300 million a year in bonding authority or general revenue since 1990. The program led to the purchase of 2.4 million acres of state forests and other conservation lands, water projects and city parks.

Gov. Charlie Crist proposed full funding for the program in his proposed fiscal year 2009-10 budget. But the House and Senate, grappling with a $6 billion budget shortfall, cut the program while providing $50 million for Everglades restoration.

The state still can issue $250 million in bonds next year that were approved this year but were not issued because of the state's declining bond rating, said Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales and the Senate's budget chairman.

The Florida Forever Coalition acknowledged this afternoon that the program won't receive new money next year. The Florida Wildlife Federation, The Trust for Public Land and Defenders of Wildlife also issued a statement jointly saying that the $250 million already is allocated to existing projects and that local governments won't get money through Florida Communities Trust or other grant programs.

"Sadly, not even a nominal amount of funding that would indicate the Legislature's ongoing commitment to land conservation will be made available," the groups said.

Alexander said Monday the Senate hopes to provide funding next year if revenue from real estate and other document stamp transactions becomes available.

Read the Florida Forever Coalition statement by going to .

Here's a breakdown of how the $300 million for Florida Forever is allocated:

Division of State Lands - $105 million
Division of Recreation and Parks - $4.5 million
Office of Greenways and Trails - Rails to Trails - $4.5 million
Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program (FRDAP) - $6 million
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission - $4.5 million
Division of Forestry, DACS - $4.5 million
Rural & Family Lands, DACS - $10.5 million
Stan Mayfield Working Waterfront, DCA, $7.5 million
Florida Communities Trust, DCA - $63 million
Water Management Districts - $90 million

Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Please do not redistribute without permission.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Money for Everglades, petro tanks but not Fla. Forever

Everglades restoration will receive $50 million under a proposed fiscal year 2009-10 budget agreed upon by House and Senate leaders, but Florida Forever will receive no new money.

The proposed budget also includes borrowing about $100 million to pay for cleaning up petroleum contamination sites. But a group representing gasoline station owners said the money isn't enough to prevent cleanup firms from going out of business.

And there is budget proviso language that would prevent the Florida Department of Health from proceeding with any nitrogen reduction activities until a septic tanks study is completed. The language is aimed at preventing DOH from implementing a rule that could require more expensive advanced septic systems in the Wekiva River area, said Rep. Marcelo Llorente, R-Miami and a lead budget negotiator for the House.

Florida Forever and its predecessor program led to the purchase of 2.4 million acres since 1990 for state parks and forests, urban parks and water projects. Gov. Charlie Crist proposed $300 million again for 2009-10 but the House and Senate could not agree on spending for the program.

The Senate proposed $50 million both for Florida Forever and the Everglades but the House indicated that it could accept only $50 million for the two combined, said Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales and the Senate's budget chairman.

The Everglades was considered a higher priority, Alexander told reporters. He said the state also will be able to keep Florida Forever alive through next year by extending authority to issue $250 million in bonds that were approved in this year's budget.

"We do support Florida Forever," Alexander said. But a steep drop in revenue from documentary stamp tax collections made it so revenue was not available and hurt the bond rating.

The Legislature also adopted a bill to close a loophole that allowed some tax revenue used for Florida Forever to go uncollected, Alexander said.

"If that fix works, then this time next year when we write the next budget it would be our hope to get the plan fully back on track," he said.

Echoing the comments of environmentalists this session, Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, said the lack of funding for Florida Forever was "devastating."

"Now is the time to be buying these lands," Altman told "Prices (for land) have dropped. You'll get a bigger bang for your bucks. It's a critical need there."

The Senate and House last week were ready to slash the Inland Protection Trust Fund from the more than $100 million it has received in recent years for petroleum tanks cleanup to only $10 million. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection confirmed that effectively eliminating the program would put at risk groundwater, which provides drinking water for much of the state.

The Florida Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association is unhappy with the plan to bond $100 million for the program, said Jim Smith, the group's president.

He said $130 million is the "absolute bare minimum" needed to maintain the cleanup program. The House and Senate propose sweeping revenue from an 80 cents-per-barrel tax on petroleum into a state reserve account.

The state, Smith said, will spend $100 million a year just to pay for electricity to run equipment that's being used to clean up groundwater contamination at sites scattered across the state. And he said more money is needed to address new leaks as they are discovered.

"The program in essense is going to shut down" with $100 million, Smith said.

The House and Senate also have proposed language preventing the DOH from implementing "any nitrogen-reduction activities" and requiring the department to report on passive strategies for reducing nitrogen from septic systems by May 1, 2010.

"There is definitely a contingent down there that would like to see it studied even longer rather than moving forward with nitrogen reduction to clean up the Wekiva," said Julie Wraithmell, wildlife policy director for Audubon of Florida.

Springs protection was a major environmental issue in the session with homebuilders and developers opposing SB 274 because they said it could require the more expensive septic systems. A Florida Department of Health spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Please do not redistribute without permission.

Crist considers unilateral action on energy

Gov. Charlie Crist said he's still hopeful that there can be action in the legislative session on energy. But he also said he is considering again taking unilateral action on the issue.

The House refused to consider a bill he supported that would require utilities to produce at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2020. The legislative session was extended until Friday only to approve a budget or to resolve bills already approved by the House and Senate and assigned to a conference committee.

"There may yet be an opportunity," Crist said. "I don't know enough about it to tell you. You never give up hope."

Crist in 2007 issued executive orders requiring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change.

He directed the Public Service Commission to develop a rule requiring utilities to produce at least 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources. He also directed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to propose a rule adopting California's automobile emissions standards.

The PSC recommended a 20-percent renewable energy requirement in January. But it was scaled back to 15 percent in SB 1154. The Senate passed the measure but the House never took up the energy bill or legislation to adopt California's auto emissions standards.

Asked whether he would consider taking unilateral action, Crist said. "I've considered that. Sometimes executive orders can be pretty effective too. We are trying to review that possibility."

Although the Legislature rejected two main segments of his 2007 executive orders, Crist said, "I think we've moved a long way."

Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Please do not redistribute without permission.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Environmental bills die as House, Senate adjourn

No renewable energy bill.
No money for Florida Forever land-buying or Everglades restoration.
No California auto emissions bill.
No springs bill.

That's how the 2009 legislative session effectively ended tonight as far as environmental legislation goes. The Legislature will reconvene next week to vote on a 2009-10 state budget, but no environmental bills will be taken up.

The bill that would adopt California's auto emission standards was practically dead before session began, according to some senators. And the springs bill that would regulate nitrogen releases to groundwater faced opposition in the Senate, and would have likely had an even tougher time in the House.

Environmentalists and Gov. Charlie Crist held out hope this week for the renewable energy bill, SB 1154. But it was never taken up by the House.

And there was a late deal in the Senate to put language in HB 55 to provide $50 million for Florida Forever and another $50 million for Everglades restoration. But that bill wasn't taken up by the House by the time the Senate and House adjourned at about 7:30 p.m.

The House earlier this week proposed lifting the ban on oil drilling in Florida waters as close as three miles to the coast, but Senate President Jeff Atwater said his chamber didn't want to deal with it so late in the session.

SB 360 dealing with growth management was adopted but apparently without some of the easing of state oversight that the House wanted.

"This session has been about defending Florida's environment rather than advancing environmental policy," said Eric Draper, policy director for Audubon of Florida.

"We support a comprehensive energy policy in the House," Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach and House majority leader, said after the session ended. "We support a renewable (energy) portfolio standard. But we would prefer one that is sound policy and not political sound bites."

Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Please do not redistribute without permission.

Swine flu cases confirmed in Florida

Two cases of H1N1 (swine) flu have been confirmed in Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist said.

The cases, confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were a student in Lee County and another in Broward County. One student recently traveled to Mexico, where the flu is thought to have originated.

State Surgeon General Dr. Ana Viamonte Ros said six other possible cases are pending confirmation by the CDC. All appear to be mild strains of the virus, she said.

She urged Floridians to take precautionary measures such as washing their hands, coughing into their arms rather than their hands and staying home if they have flu-like symptoms.

For more information, go to the Florida Department of Health web site at or call 800-342-3557.
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