Thursday, April 29, 2010

Water bill goes to governor but springs program could get cut


Ichetuckneee Springs State Park

A springs program launched in 2001 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush would be sharply cut by the Legislature in its proposed 2010-11 state budget even as the Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a bill aimed at protecting springs.

The Florida Springs Initiative has helped pay for work including research to map areas that drain to springs, educational materials such as videos and brochures and springs restoration projects including large-scale trash and sediment removal and construction of boardwalks and trails.

Gov. Charlie Crist recommended $1.9 million for the springs initiative again next year. But the Legislature proposes cutting it to $514,271, while retaining the programs two employees. The budget is scheduled to be voted on Friday.

The Department of Environmental Protection identified the springs program for cutting during a legislative budget exercise. "We didn't have the money -- nothing more than that," said Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis and chairman of the Senate General Government Appropriations Committee.

DEP Secretary Mike Sole said last week the funding cut that was shaping up for the springs initiative was "unfortunate." But he also pointed out that DEP is receiving money from the Legislature for its Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program that works towards reducing pollution in waterways including springs. "I'm hopeful you won't see a significant reduction in (water quality) effort because of the funding approved for TMDLs," Sole said.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 34-4 to approve SB 550 as amended by the House, which sends the bill to Crist for his signature. The bill would require septic tanks to be inspected every five years and prohibits the spreading on land of sewage sludge. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, after hearings were held by the Senate Select Committee on Florida's Inland Waters.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

PSC reform bill in doubt as session nears end, Atwater says

The outlook for a Public Service Commission reform bill passing this legislative session doesn't look good, Senate President Jeff Atwater said Thursday. And he added that passage of a renewable energy bill is in question.

The 60-day legislative session ends Friday. SB 1034 would extend a ban on lobbying to top commission aides and provides fines for prohibited "ex parte" communications with commissioners in pending cases. The Senate passed the SB 1034 on March 3, the second day of the legislative session.

The House version of the bill, HB 7209 (formerly EUP4), was filed March 31. That bill called for creating an Office of Regulatory Staff under the governor and Cabinet, removing staff from the PSC. It also required a bachelor's degree for PSC members in a move that commission Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano said was aimed at removing her for being "truthful." The PSC restructuring was taken out as the House replaced the Senate bill with the House version.

Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey and sponsor of SB 1034, has been in negotiations with Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando and chairman of the House Energy & Utilities Policy Committee. "It may not get done," Atwater said. "And I will be disappointed. Because we put that as a high priority … Here we are the night before finishing and it doesn't look like it will get completed."

As far HB 7229, which would allow major utilities to recover costs for renewable energy projects, Atwater said he can't make a prediction on its outcome. An on Friday attempt to amend portions of the bill onto another energy bill, SB 2322, led to the bill being temporarily passed. "I'm still hopeful but there are so many different players that are trying to -- I think regrettably -- weigh in," Atwater said.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Spill may be headed toward Florida as officials monitor


Oil could begin washing ashore on Florida Panhandle beaches as early as Monday, a federal forecast suggested Thursday. About 200,000 gallons of oil per day is leaking from an oil well under 5,000 feet of water off the Louisiana coast after an oil drilling rig exploded and sank last week.

The slick appeared to be more than 80 miles south of Pensacola on Wednesday, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) map. Another agency map released Thursday suggested that barrier islands south of Pensacola could be affected Monday and that scattered tar balls could reach the area sooner.

Forecasts beyond Monday lack confidence, a NOAA official said. "The longer we look down the road the greater the uncertainty is with that information," said Charlie Henry, an environmental scientist and scientific coordinator with NOAA. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said the agency had established an incident command center in Mobile, Ala. to coordinate the oil spill response in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission workers were responding to the area and DEP had representatives in the Mobile command center. FWC staff told the commission that the movement of the oil slick depends on currents and weather conditions.

"We're preparing for the worst and hoping it won't get to that point," Gil Nelson, director of FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, said according to an agency statement. Off Orange Beach, Ala., and Perdido, crews were deploying booms, a tubular material, to trap oil, according to the Pensacola News-Journal.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Ongoing oil spill prompts Democrat responses

Democrats on Thursday clamored for an end to talk about opening state waters to oil drilling in the wake of an ongoing spill off the Louisiana coast.

U. S. Sen. Bill Nelson Thursday sent a letter to President Obama telling him that he's filing legislation to block the expansions of offshore oil drilling announced by the president on March 31. Nelson said the spill could become an "environmental and economic disaster that wreaks havoc for commercial fishing and tourism along the Gulf of Mexico coast."

The Florida House Select Policy Council on Strategic & Economic Planning held hearings before developing draft legislation earlier this month that would allow drilling rigs within three miles of the coast. Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park and the committee chairman, said the House would not take up drilling legislation because there was no appetite for it in the Senate.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Sen. Dan Gelber, and agriculture commissioner candidate Scott Maddox and a pair of House Democrats were among those issuing statements against drilling. Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, said he gives Gov. Charlie Crist credit for supporting drilling but raising concerns now as a result of the spill. Kriseman issued a statement with Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota.

"I hope it would be as obvious to Dean Cannon and the rest of the Republicans supporting this idea that it's not a good idea," Kriseman told The Florida Tribune.

Cannon said in a response statement issued Thursday night: “I completely agree with Sen. Nelson’s call for a full investigation of all the facts and circumstances surrounding this accident. Until we have all of the facts and all the answers about what happened and why, we shouldn't move forward."

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Snakes bill passes House while FWC takes closer look


A bill that would ban Burmese pythons and five other snake species along with Nile monitor lizards was approved Wednesday by the House.

SB 318 by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, now goes to the governor. The bill was introduced in response to media firestorm created last summer after a pet python strangled a 2-year-old girl in her Sumter County home.Thousands of the snakes are believed to have been released and are breeding in South Florida and the Everglades, according to scientists.

The U. S. Department of Interior announced in January it was considering banning nine snake species, including the six that would be banned in SB 318. People would be allowed to keep the snakes they already have a $100 license from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. There was no opposition to the Senate bill or HB 709 as they sailed through committees. The House approved by the bill 16-0.

The bill was amended by the Senate General Government Appropriations Committee so that the ban would not apply to zoos or registered traveling exhibits.

The bill also requires the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to report by Dec. 31 whether iguanas should be placed on the commission's "reptiles of concern" list. The commission, meeting Wednesday in Havana, approved moving forward with an agency rule that would ban the six snakes and the Nile monitor as new pets but owners could keep those already licensed.

(Photo courtesy of FWCC. Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Crist calls view of oil spill "very disturbing"


Oil spill location map provided by The Response Group Wednesday evening.

Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday described as "very disturbing" an oil slick he viewed Tuesday on an aerial tour leaving from Alabama.

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank on April 22, causing a continuing leak of up to 200,000 gallons per day from an oil well in 5,000 feet of water, according to Associated Press. The Coast Guard is coordinating efforts to stop the leak and clean up a slick that was 23 miles from Louisiana and 94 miles from Florida. Crist toured the slick yesterday from Mobile, Ala.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection was monitoring the situation and coordinating with federal partners, a DEP spokeswoman said. The Coast Guard was considering burning the oil on the water's surface to prevent it from washing ashore.

Asked about what he saw on his tour, Crist told reporters Wednesday, "Oh, it's very disturbing. I mean it was horrific, enormous, remarkable with its size."

On Tuesday, the governor indicated that the spill should make anyone rethink their support for oil drilling. On Wednesday he made a similar suggestion. "I think the impact that it could potentially have on Florida has to give us all a pause," he said. "I think only being prudent, wanting to protect our people in this state is appropriate."

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Water bill approved by House, headed back to Senate.

A Senate water bill won approval on Wednesday from the House despite opposition from legislators from the Wekiva River area north of Orlando.

SB 550 at one time had required that septic utilities be established statewide but the measure faced opposition from the Florida Home Builders Association. That requirement was dropped from the bill last week by Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, to win support from FHBA.

The bill now requires septic tank inspections every five years. SB 550 was amended Wednesday to conform with HB 7177, a House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee water bill. And HB 773, which calls for expedited permitting for biofuel projects of 1,000 acres or more, also was amended to SB 550.

Representatives from the Wekiva River region north of Orlando said they were concerned that the bill would encourage the Florida Department of Health to require nitrogen-reducing septic tanks in the region. DOH last year proposed a rule requiring those septic tanks as provided by the Wekiva Parkway and Protection Act of 2004.

But budget language in 2009 prevented the department from imposing the rule while an ongoing septic tanks study was continuing. There is similar language in the proposed 2010-11 state budget awaiting a vote by the Legislature on Friday. Audubon of Florida has criticized the study as a waste of taxpayer dollars and a delaying tactic.

Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, said Wednesay he was voting against SB 550 to send a "stark warning" to the Department of Health. "Do not implement these (rules) before we have a good, clear reading on that study or you will have group of very seriously upset legislators from Central Florida," Dorworth said.

Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers and the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee chairman, said for the past two years she had been fighting "fervently" against proposals to require advanced septic tanks and that the bill does not require them. "The Department of Health, we are watching them like hawks," she said.

Constantine said Wednesday night he had no objections to the amendments placed on the bill, which will be taken up again by the Senate.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gulf oil spill concerns Florida officials


An oil spill off the Louisiana coast drew the scrutiny from Florida officials Tuesday as it appeared the slick was moving closer to Florida. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew up and sank last week, causing 1,000 barrels (about 42,000 gallons) of oil per day to leak from the ocean floor.

The Coast Guard said Tuesday morning that a 600-mile circumference rainbow sheen of emulsified crude was approximately 21 miles from the Louisiana coast. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast showed the oil moving west, within about 80 miles of Pensacola. Gov. Charlie Crist Crist viewed the spill on Tuesday. A BP representative said four rebotic vehicles were working to seal off the oil well leak in water nearly a mile deep.


April 25 photo of oil slick by NASA/MODIS Rapid

Officials said the oil is not expected to reach any shoreline in the next three days and it is unclear where that could occur.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said she is considering burning the oil on surface of the Gulf of Mexico to prevent the slick from washing ashore. "This is something we are considering using in this constantly changing and dynamic environment," she told reporters on a telephone conference call.

Oil drilling opponents in Florida say the accident shows that drilling is inherently unsafe. Asked whether the incident is making him rethink his support for drilling, Crist said, "If this doesn't give somebody pause, there is something wrong I think."

He reiterated his position that he has supports drilling if it is far enough, clean enough and safe enough for Florida's coast. "I'm not sure that this was far enough and I'm pretty sure it wasn't clean enough and it doesn't sound like it was safe enough," Crist said.

U. S. Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., said the federal government needs to make the accident its no. 1 priority. "We need to move heaven and earth to stop this from becoming an environmental disaster," he said in a statement. Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday a joint investigation into the incident, Landry said.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Energy bill divides both GOP and Dems before passing House

A bill that allows utilities to charge customers separately for the cost of renewable energy passed the House on Tuesday. Supporters cited a Washington Economics Group study that said legislation similar to HB 7229 could produce up to 40,000 jobs in renewable energy industries. But opponents raised concerns about the cost to the economy of charging more for electricity from wind, solar and biomass.

The vote was 83-34, splitting members of both parties. Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, said the economic timing of the bill could not be worse. "You do not want to do this to your constituents especially at this time," he said.

The bill had drawn criticism from major utilities because it required them to pay more for renewable energy from independent producers. The bill was amended last Friday to remove the requirement. The bill allows the four largest utilities -- Florida Power & Light Co., Progress Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power Co. -- to recover 2 percent of their annual revenue, or $386 million, above the cost of traditional power generation.

Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, said the Public Service Commission still would have to approve the measure. "You can't have it both ways," he said. "If you want to do renewable energy in this state and do it in a cost-effective manner, push the green button."

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Senate rejects Crist's nominees to Florida PSC


PSC Commissioner David E. Klement

The Senate on Thursday rejected two of Gov. Charlie Crist's appointments to the Public Service Commission, widening the political divide between Crist and the Legislature's Republican leadership.

Saying he wanted "new blood" on the commission, Crist last year nominated David E. Klement, a former Bradenton newspaper editor, and Ben A. "Steve" Stevens III. But senators have questioned the appointees' qualifications to serve after the PSC in January rejected rate hikes requests by Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light Co.

Klement and Stevens were grilled earlier this month by the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities before they were approved. But the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee last week adjourned without a vote while Klement was being questioned.

On Tuesday, Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said the committee members had asked Klement basic questions about the PSC and that he answered them wrong. "He is not qualified to make very sophisticated economic (and) financial decisions for the state of Florida," said Haridopolos, Senate president-elect.

Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales and chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, denied rumors that utility lobbyists were leading the effort to kill the nominations. "These guys are not the right guys," Alexander said. The vote against Klement was 21-17 and the vote against Stevens was 23-14.

Crist said in written statement that the Legislature had sided with "powerful utility interests." The nominees "stood up for Floridians by blocking unjustified multi-million dollar rate increases," Crist said. "Removing them from the Public Service Commission only hurts consumers."


PSC Commissioner Ben A. "Steve" Stevens

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said after the vote that qualifications rather than rate hike rejections were the deciding factor in his vote against the two. "Finally the Florida Legislature realizes these are really important jobs and they ought to have qualified people," Thrasher said. Although Stevens is an accountant, Thrasher said, "Does that make him qualified? I think a lot of other things go into it."

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said the rejections were a win for the big utilities and a response to the governor's veto of SB 6, a teacher tenure bill. "I'm specifically disappointed with some of my Republican colleagues in the Senate right now," Fasano said. "I think it was more of a payback than anything."

PSC Chairman Nancy Argenziano said the Legislature, which she said is swayed by campaign donations from utilities, was "disgusting" for rejecting the nominations. "If everyone is not drinking Kool-aid from 55 gallons drums, they get ticked off and have tantrums -- and that's what happened today," she said.

Klement and Stevens will serve for another 30 days while the Joint Counsel on Public Counsel oversight develops a new list of nominees.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Groups rally for action on Florida DCA

Representatives of eleven environmental groups called on the House Monday to adopt legislation reauthorizing the state's land planning agency. The Legislature in 2006 established a "sunset review" process for state agencies to determine whether a need for them exists.

HB 7107 would reauthorize the Florida Department of Community Affairs but it has been stalled in the House Economic Development & Community Affairs Policy Council. The bill's Senate companion, SB 282, passed the Senate last week and is waiting to be taken up by the House.

Not taking action is a "formula for disaster next year" when legislators are not up for re-election and under the scrutiny of voters, Charles Pattison, president of 1000 Friends of Florida, said during a rally on the steps of the historic state Capitol. "The future of our great state," he said, "depends on taking action this week."

Jill Chamberlin, spokeswoman for House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, responded that the budget has been a higher priority issue right now. "It is not a question of being opposed (to reauthorization)," she said. "There is no reason to think there will be any change in DCA next year."

Supporters of Amendment 4, a state constitution amendment that requires voter approval of comprehensive land use plan changes, said after the rally that not reauthorizing DCA will generate support for the amendment, which business groups oppose.

To download a letter from environmental groups to Cretul, go to http://1000fof.org/reform/10dc .

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Innovative energy bill sails through Florida House


A bill that would allow local governments to loan money to homeowners for renewable energy and storm-resistance improvements passed the House.

HB 7179 by the Energy & Utilities Policy Committee passed after amendments that would extend the state solar energy rebate program were rejected. The bill establishes the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which allows homeowners to repay the loans with non-ad valorem assessments on their property tax bills. The bill has support from environmental groups and was pushed by House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Boca Raton.

"The biggest challenge most Florida homeowners face is paying the upfront costs to retrofit their homes with energy improvements," Hasner, R-Delray Beach, said in a statement. "PACE presents a common sense, innovative policy initiative that will remove this significant financial burden for homeowners and allow them to buy solar panels and implement energy efficiency in their homes."

Two amendments by Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, were not allowed. Her HB 1267 would have charged utility customers 25 cents a month to go towards a state solar energy rebate program that ran out of money last June. The bill was never heard by a committee. The rebate program is expected to have a backlog of $25 million in rebate applications by June 30. The PACE bill supported by the Republican leadership "does something for moving ahead with renewable energy but it does not go far enough" Rehwinkel Vasilinda told the House.

The Florida Solar Energy Industries Association supported the PACE bill and Rehwinel Vasilinda's amendments, said Bruce Kershner, the association's executive director.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

PSC reform bill passes Florida House, goes back to Senate

The House on Monday passed an amended version of Senate bill reforming the Public Service Commission. But Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey and sponsor of SB 1034, said he is concerned about some parts of the bill as amended by the House.

SB 1034 would define prohibited "ex parte" communications and extend a ban on lobbying by commissioners and their top aides. Fasano said Monday that the House version of the bill was troubling because it requires PSC members to have bachelor's degrees. That requirement, Fasano said, is a "slap in the face" to PSC Chairman Nancy Argenziano, who doesn't have a degree.

The House also amended the bill to remove a provision for fines against outside parties who communicate with commissioners on docketed issues. "It sounds like the utility companies convinced the House it's OK to fine the Public Service Commission -- but don't fine us," Fasano said.

Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando and chairman of the House Energy & Utilities Policy Committee, noted the House version with the degree requirement also counts experience "of a quality and duration substantial enough" to prepare someone for the PSC. And Precourt said the House didn't want to adopt the fines on ex parte communications by outside parties because it would be difficult to implement or "onerous."

Precourt said he hopes the Senate will accept the bill as amended by the House, noting that the House had dropped its proposal to removing the regulatory staff from the PSC. "I have no intention of further negotiating this," Precourt said.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Several environmental bills move in Legislature

There was significant movement Monday on several environmental bills. SB 550, a comprehensive water bill that includes a requirement for septic tank inspections, passed the Senate 30-3.

HB 7143 relating to recycling passed the House 115-1 after a requirement that airports recycle was removed from the bill. The Senate companion, SB 570, was amended and placed on third reading.

HB 1445, a Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services bill that includes a prohibition against local fertilizer ordinances, passed the House 74-37. The bill by Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, faces opposition from environmental groups, cities and counties.

HB 7229, a renewable energy bill, was temporarily postponed on third reading. A revamped version will be introduced, said Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando and chairman of the Energy & Utilities Policy Committee. The Florida Renewable Energy Producers Association said Monday it is concerned that the bill benefits only utilities.

Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs and sponsor of SB 550 and SB 570, was recognized by Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-Palm Beach, for being a champion of environmental legislation. Constantine is leaving the Legislature later this year after 18 years because of term limits.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

House, Senate close on septic tank language


Rep. Alan Hays, left, talks with Rep. David Rivera and Sen. JD Alexander, the House and Senate budget chiefs.

House and Senate budget negotiators on Sunday remained in disagreement on language that prohibits state agencies from requiring advanced septic tanks for another year.

Springs across the state have become choked with weeds and algae as nitrogen in groundwater from a variety of sources have increased. The House and Senate have agreed to spend $2 million in 2010-11 on the third year of a Florida Department of Health study of septic tank technologies.

Budget language last year forced DOH to halt adoption of a rule requiring landowners to install advanced septic tanks in the Wekiva River region when they are selling homes. This year, HB 5003 and SB 2702 both have language that would extend the ban through phase two of the DOH study.

But the Senate language would not extend the ban to agency rules or policies that "indirectly" require the use of the advanced septic systems.

Charles Lee of Audubon of Florida said the study is a waste of taxpayer dollars. "In a budget-short year, the waste of millions on unnecessary studies is inexcusable, particularly when the wasteful spending is intended to simply prolong polluting practices for which there is a remedy," he said in an e-mail.

Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said the study may point to alternatives to advanced septic tanks, costing $6,000 to $10,000 more than conventional systems. "Before we impose any new restrictions on the people of the (Wekiva) area we need to make sure it is based on solid science, irrefutable facts, not a bunch of hypothetical hoped-for stuff," he said.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Nelson calls for oil rig investigation


U. S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Friday asked the Department of Interior to investigate an oil drilling rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana.

The Obama administration on March 31 said it would allow exploration and drilling off the east coast south to about Titusville and in the Gulf of Mexico west of the Florida Keys. The House Select Policy Council on Strategic & Economic Planning held hearings on drilling but didn't take up a bill because the Senate was unwilling to take up the issue.

The Coast Guard on Friday gave up the search for 11 missing workers where the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank. Environmental groups said the tragedy emphasized the risks of oil drilling and the need for energy alternatives.

Nelson, D-Melbourne, sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar requesting an investigation into the past decade of safety and technology issues and industry practices. “The tragedy off the coast of Louisiana shows we need to be asking a lot more tough questions of Big Oil,” Nelson said in a statement. An Interior Department spokeswoman said an investigation with the Coast Guard has been launched but she did not elaborate on the scope of the review.

Associated Industries of Florida supports drilling, and Jose Gonzalez, vice president of government affairs, said it was too soon after the tragedy to say whether such an accident shows Florida would be at risk if a drilling ban was lifted. "I don't think it will set it (the drilling issue) back," Gonzalez said. "At the end of the day we still need to work forward on getting to the resources we know are out there."

(Coast Guard photo. Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

House, Senate agree to $15 million for Florida Forever

House budget negotiators agreed Friday to provide $15 million in fiscal year 2010-11 for Florida Forever, the nation's largest land-buying program.

The program has received $300 million a year since 1990 but received nothing from the Legislature last year after the House declined to provide funding amid declining state revenues. During conference committee meetings earlier this week, House negotiators offered funding close to the Senate's $15-million offer. But the issue was left up to the budget chairmen for the House and Senate to reach agreement, which they did Friday.

Some Florida Forever supporters had hoped this week the state could bond $50 million. But Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales and the Senate budget chair, said the state couldn't dedicate recurring revenue towards land-buying. "I wish we could do more," he said. "It's just that right now we don't have the doc stamp revenues to underpin additional bonds there." Janet Bowman of The Nature Conservancy said the appropriation will help the program survive until the economy improves.

Some programs that received no Florida Forever dollars last year still will experience steep cuts compared to previous years. The Florida Communities Trust program, which had provided $63 million a year in state matching grants to cities and counties for parks, would get $3.15 million in fiscal year 2010-11. The Stan Mayfield Working Waterfronts program, which received $7.5 million in 2008, would receive $375,000 in fiscal year 2010-11.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Bill to return to public permit hearings is revised

A proposal to require again that water management district permits be voted on at public meetings has been revised.

Last year, SB 2080 was amended late in the legislative session to direct the districts to approve some permits without a public hearing. The Florida Home Builders Association said it supported the amended bill to help water management districts focus on other agency issues. Environmental groups asked Gov. Charlie Crist to veto the bill but he signed it.

This year, Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, introduced SB 142 in October to return to the status quo prior to SB 2080. Last year, Baker co-sponsored the bill but said he didn't know the bill had been amended to exclude the public. Last week, the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee revised SB 142 -- with Baker's support -- to require public votes only on water-pumping permits. Other "environmental resource" permits dealing with construction still would not be voted on under SB 142 and HB 7177.

Baker said the pumping permits were the biggest concern last year to opponents. But representatives of Audubon of Florida, the First Amendment Foundation and the Florida League of Cities said Friday they prefer that both permits be voted on in public. Baker said he remains hopeful SB 142 will pass this session.

Associated Industries of Florida prefers keeping the law as revised by SB 2080 to allow for expedited permitting, said Keyna Cory, the group's senior lobbyist. Another water bill, SB 550, was amended in committee earlier this week to remove the SB 2080 rollback language and avoid opposition, said Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs and sponsor of SB 550.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Water bill amended to address DEP concerns, senator says

A far-reaching Senate water bill will be amended to address concerns raised by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the bill's sponsor said Thursday.

SB 550 by Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, resulted from hearings held around the state as a Senate panel heard about threats of pollution and over-pumping to Florida's springs, rivers and coastal waters. The bill includes requirements for septic tank inspections, directs DEP to establish specific limits for nitrogen and phosphorus in waterways and would ban the land-spreading of sludge from sewage plants and septic tanks.

Constantine on Tuesday told the Senate Policy and Steering Committee on Ways and Means that the bill would serve as a "firewall" against the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency setting nitrogen and phosphorus limits in Florida that would harm the economy.

DEP Secretary Michael Sole said Thursday the bill language remains a "big concern" for the department. DEP officials have raised concerns about the EPA proposal but say the bill establishes a process for setting limits that would take too long to win EPA approval. "My recommendation is if we can't get it right we shouldn't do it," Sole said.

Constantine later said he has proposed amendments to remove that bill language. He also said he will propose other changes, including eliminating language that directs DEP to establish a new statewide stormwater rule. Audubon of Florida said the bill language provided loopholes for developers.

"Everything is still in play and everyone is still together" in support of the bill, Constantine said. The bill passed a committee earlier this week with support from the Florida Home Builders Association and Associated Industries of Florida.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Planning agency reauthorization remains stalled in House

A bill reauthorizing the Florida Department of Community Affairs received unanimous Senate approval Thursday, but the bill could face a challenge in the House.

The Legislature in 2006 established a "sunset review" process for state agencies to determine whether a need for them exists. DCA supporters have raised concerns that the department won't be reauthorized before the end of the legislative session on April 30, leaving the agency in limbo for another year. SB 282 by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton and chairman of the Community Affairs Committee, was approved 38-0 by the full Senate. HB 7107, by the General Accountability Act Council, has been awaiting a hearing in the Economic Development & Community Affairs Policy Committee since March 12.

Asked whether the House reauthorization bill is going anywhere, Rep. Dave Murzin, R-Pensacola and committee chairman, said Wednesday night, "Not as far as I'm concerned." Murzin said earlier this month there was plenty of time to pass the bill. But on Wednesday night, Murzin noted that the Department of Children and Family Services, the Department of Management Services and the Department of State are also awaiting sunset review reauthorization.

"They continue anyhow" even if the Legislature doesn't act, Murzin said. He described the sunset review process as flawed because the departments aren't abolished if the Legislature fails to act to reauthorize them.

Charles Pattison, president of the 1000 Friends of Florida growth-management group, said the House should pass the Senate bill. "Doubt about DCA's future is something that should not be on the table," Pattison said.

PSC restructuring appears dead in House

A House proposal to restructure the Florida Public Service Commission appears dead this legislative session.

HB 7209 by the House Energy & Utilities Policy Committee was amended Thursday to remove language that would have moved the PSC regulatory staff to the governor and Cabinet. The move was proposed amid what a House bill analysis says is public mistrust for PSC and uncertainty in Florida's regulatory climate.

But the House bill had differed substantially from the Senate version of the PSC reform bill, SB 1034. That bill would extend a ban on lobbying for commissioners and their top aides and define prohibited "ex parte" communications in docketed cases.

The House bill was amended Thursday to call for a study of agency restructuring rather than moving the regulatory staff. The House bill still requires a bachelor's degree for commissioners, which PSC Chairman Nancy Argenziano says is aimed at removing her because she's outspoken. Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey and sponsor of SB 1034, said Thursday he would not have agreed to moving the regulatory staff from the agency.

SB 1034 is on the House special order calendar for Friday. An amendment by Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando and chairman of the House Energy & Utilities Policy Committee, would replace the Senate language with the House version of the bill. "I am encouraged by what they are saying over there," Fasano said.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Florida Forever supporters want more for program than discussed


Gov. Charlie Crist celebrated Earth Day on Thursday by saying that residents have a duty to work together while Florida Forever supporters said they want more money for the land-buying program than is being discussed in the Legislature.

Several businesses and partnerships announced initiatives to mark the Earth Day celebration at the Capitol as hundreds of schoolchildren listened to speeches and viewed environmental displays.

Florida Forever supporters said the Legislature should authorize $50 million in bonding in 2010-11 instead of $15 million in cash as the Senate has proposed or $14 million as offered by House budget negotiators.

The state could bond about $50 million with about one-third of the cash for debt service that the House and Senate have proposed, said Greg Chelius, state director of The Trust for Public Land.

"We could buy land now at prices we haven't seen in a decade," Chelius said in an interview following a news conference. "It is the best time to buy and protect land in Florida.

Earlier in the day, Crist praised the "teamwork" of business recycling efforts and the Lamar Advertising Co.'s announcement that it will use solar energy to light 1,300 billboards across the state. Florida Retail Federation and the American Chemistry Council touted the "A Bag’s Life" campaign, promoting the reducing, reusing and recycling of plastic bags..

"As Floridians, we have a duty -- we have a duty to be good stewards of this state -- to be good stewards of this beautiful state that we all love and care for so much," Crist said.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection earlier this week announced an environmental awareness campaign and blog at the department's web site, www.dep.state.fl.us/EasyAsOne .

The Florida Medical Association launched its "Green Doctor Office" program. MyGreenDoctor.org is a resource for physicians who seek to create more sustainable offices and open a dialogue with patients regarding environmental issues that can affect their health, according to FMA.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Septic tanks study gets $2 million as delay language looms

House and Senate budget conferees have agreed to provide $2 million to the Florida Department of Health for an ongoing study of septic tank technologies. Meanwhile, bill language looms that would prevent agencies from reducing nitrogen pollution from septic tanks while the study continues.

The study has been an issue for the past two years involving legislation to protect groundwater and springs from nitrogen pollution. Springs and other waterways across the state have become choked with weeds and algae as nitrogen levels have increased, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Florida Home Builders Association says the study is needed to point to cheaper alternatives to requiring nitrogen-reducing advanced septic systems, which cost $3,000 to $10,000 more than conventional systems, according to the Department of Health. The Legislature in 2008 provided with $1 million for the first phase of the study, which DOH said will last three to five years. Last year, the Legislature appropriated $540,000 and adopted budget proviso language prohibiting DOH from proceeding with any nitrogen-reduction activities prior to May 1, 2010. As a result, DOH delayed implementing a rule requiring advanced septic systems in the Wekiva River area north of Orlando.

This year, the Florida Home Builders Association opposed SB 550's requirement to establish septic tank utilities. Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs and sponsor of SB 550, amended the bill to remove the utilities requirement. The bill now directs DOH to develop a rule requiring septic tank inspections every five years. SB 1470 by Sen. Durell Peaden Jr., R-Crestview, would implement the 2010-11 state budget proviso language and prohibit any state agency from adopting a policy or rule to reduce nitrogen from new or existing septic tanks through July 1, 2011.

Charles Lee, Audubon of Florida's director of advocacy, said the study and rule delays represent a "never-ending saga of the septic tank industry insulating itself from improvements."

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

House adopts fisheries, climate and nitrogen resolutions

The Florida House adopted resolutions Wednesday calling on Congress to roll back federal environmental regulations or not adopt new ones.

The House adopted HB 1589, which criticizes the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed water quality standards. The EPA says nitrogen and phosphorus reductions are needed to reduce algae that is clogging waterways, but utilities and industry groups say the standards would cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars to meet. The memorial, by Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, calls on Congress to require that the proposal be reviewed by the agency's Science Advisory Board and either the General Accounting Office or the Congressional Budget Office.

HB 553 by Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, calls on Congress to consider "all available mechanisms" to reduce the impact of grouper and snapper fishing restrictions under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 2007. The Ocean Conservancy says reducing overfishing now will allow more fishing in the future as fish stocks rebound.

HB 1535 by Rep. Sandra Adams, R-Orlando, says calls on Congress to reject cap-and-trade regulation and other "over-reaching" actions relating to climate change. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, argued during debate that the United States should create jobs by promoting renewable energy to avoid the human costs of air pollution. All three resolutions passed by voice votes.

Groups raise concerns with nuke plants' design

Twelve national and southern environmental groups called on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to delay action on proposed new nuclear plants, including two in Florida, because of design flaws that raise safety issues. Florida Power & Light Co. has proposed expanding its Turkey Point nuclear plant and Progress Energy has proposed building a new nuclear plant in Levy County.

The twelve groups, including the Green Party of Florida and the Southern Alliance of Clean Energy, released a report by Fairewinds Associates about the risk of corrosion involving the proposed Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design that would be used in the plants. The groups called on federal agencies to suspend the proposed reactor from plant licensing and taxpayer loan consideration. The proposed AP1000 steel containment liner is susceptible to rust, according to Arnold Gundersen, chief engineer at Fairewinds Associates.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission already was reviewing AP 1000 issues such as those raised by Fairewinds as part of its routine design certification process, said Scott Burnell, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The design certification process must be completed before the license applications for the Florida plants are approved, Burnell said.

A Progress Energy spokeswomwan said the utility is confident the AP 1000 is safe and that it will be used in the Levy County nuclear plant. There was no immediate response from FPL or Westinghouse. The design review should not delay the Florida plants because NRC licensing is expected to extend in to late 2011 for Levy County and into 2012 for the Turkey Point plant, Burnell said.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Contamination notification bill passes Senate

A bill requiring expanded public notification of contamination sites passed the Senate on Wednesday.

SB 602 was filed in response to contamination at the Raytheon electronics manufacturing plant in St. Petersburg. Groundwater contamination was discovered in 1991 and the state was notified in 1995. But surrounding residents were not told until 2005 when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said contamination began to move away from the site.

SB 602, by Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, will require notification for residents living within 500 feet of the contaminated area along with elected officials and community leaders.

Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, said he has asked House leadership to withdraw his HB 207 from committees or have the House vote on the Senate bill. "It expands notification and it gives (notice to) people who otherwise aren't legally required to be noticed," Kriseman said.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Water bill passes with home builders support


A controversial Senate water bill won committee approval Tuesday after the sponsor won support from home builders.

SB 550 by Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, followed public hearings around the state last winter as senators heard concerns about algal blooms, pollution and overpumping of groundwater. Constantine told the Senate Policy and Steering Committee on Ways and Means that the bill was needed to create a "firewall" to prevent the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency from adopting "draconian" standards for nitrogen and phosphorus in Florida waterways. Those standards, Constantine said, would make economic development in the state "very, very difficult."

The Florida Home Builders Association had opposed the bill because it would have established septic tank utilities to manage the state's 2.3 million septic tanks to prevent springs pollution. But Constantine removed that measure from the bill this week to win support from builders and other opponents. The bill now directs the Florida Department of Health to develop a rule requiring septic tank inspections every five years, Constantine said.

The bill also has support from groups including the Audubon of Florida, Sierra Club Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida. But the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has concerns that the bill's direction to set water quality standards won't win EPA approval, Jerry Brooks, director of DEP's Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration, said after the committee meeting.

Audubon representatives said the bill has troubling provisions regarding the numeric criteria and establishing a state stormwater rule that would create "huge loopholes" for developments. The bill is tentatively placed on the Senate special order calendar for April 22, which is Earth Day.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

PSC nominee left standing at podium unconfirmed


PSC Commissioner David E. Klement

A Senate committee adjourned its meeting Tuesday before voting on two of Gov. Charlie Crist's nominees to the Florida Public Service Commission.

The decision left the fates of two appointees in limbo although Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said that there would be another chance to decide whether to confirm David E. Klement and Ben A. "Steve" Stevens III.

Atwater said he did not "personally" see any reason to disqualify the two nominees.

But that opinion was not shared with other GOP legislators. Stevens never was questioned Tuesday and Klement was left standing at the podium when the Senate Ethics and Election Committee voted to adjourn. Alexander repeatedly questioned Klement over PSC decisions that Alexander said had led to a declines in bond ratings for some state utilities. The PSC in January denied rate hike requests by Florida Power & Light Co. and Progress Energy.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, asked whether it was appropriate for a motion to confirm Klement. But then the committee adjourned on a motion by Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami. Fasano told Alexander that the motion was inappropriate. "You have a gentleman standing here who wants to serve the state of Florida and you rudely allow a motion to rise without a confirmation vote on the gentleman," Fasno said.

Alexander told reporters after the meeting that that the committee ran out of time and that the committee wasn't sending a message to Crist. "I think we need more time to consider whether these folks are qualified," Alexander said. "I don't particularly consider them qualified." Alexander said they lack training and financial backgrounds, although Stevens is a licensed certified public accountant and former CFO for the Escambia County Sheriff's Office. Klement is a former newspaper journalist from Bradenton.

Crist on Tuesday repeated that he picked Klement and Stevens from the list that was sent to him by a legislative panel. But he stood by his position that "new blood" was needed at the PSC.

Atwater said that he would call another meeting of Alexander's committee for later this week.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Photo and story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

House agrees to provide funding for land-buying program

The House agreed Tuesday to provide money for Florida Forever, ending a year-long funding drought for the state land-buying program.

The House agreed Tuesday to provide money for Florida Forever, ending a year-long funding drought for the state land-buying program.

Florida Forever is the largest land-buying program in the nation with 2.4 million acres having been conserved since 1990. After receiving $300 million annually in bonding authority since 1990, the program received no new money from the Legislature in 2009. The program, which continued receiving revenue last year from bonds approved in 2008, was at risk of running out of money by the end of this year. House Natural Resources Appropriations Committee members had said this year during meetings that the state's budget is too tight for land-buying.

The House proposed Tuesday to provide $14 million for Florida Forever after initially designating nothing for it. The House also agreed to spend $11 million on Everglades restoration. Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis and chairman of the Senate General Government Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday night an agreement was not finalized because legislators the possibility of adjusting either amount to take advantage of federal matching dollars. The Senate had allocated $15 million for Florida Forever and $10 million for Everglades restoration.

Rep. Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach and chairman of the House Natural Resources Appropriations Committee, said earlier in the day he favored spending money on Everglades restoration rather than Florida Forever because the Everglades brings in federal matching dollars. "I think before we start spending too much on Florida Forever, I think we need to get a handle on what (land) we have and what we need it for," Poppell said.

Although Florida Forever is receiving less than 5 percent of its previous annual funding, some supporters of the program are pleased that it's getting money. "I think that's fantastic," said Janet Bowman, director of legislative and conservation strategies for The Nature Conservancy. "A month ago we were worried about not getting any funding."

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Photo and story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Biomass opponents nearly derail recycling bill


A Senate recycling bill on Monday was amended and passed by a committee after it was nearly derailed by biomass energy opponents.

SB 570 by Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, lays out a path towards reaching the state's goal of recycling 75 percent of waste by 2020. The state now recycles about 28 percent of its waste, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The Senate General Government Appropriations Committee amended the bill to lift a state ban on yard trimmings from being disposed of in landfills if the landfill gas is used to produce electricity. A representative of Waste Management Inc. said the amendment would allow trucks to pick up both trash and yard trimmings rather than having to separate trucks.

Representatives of the U. S. Composting Council, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Advanced Disposal Services and Strategic Materials opposed the amendment, saying that yard waste should be converted into beneficial compost. Associated Industries of Florida and the Sierra Club Florida are among the groups supporting SB 570. The bill also allows waste used to produce renewable energy to count towards recycling in some counties, which is similar to language that the Sierra Club opposed in the House.

With time running out at the committee meeting Monday, two Tallahassee doctors and other biomass energy opponents argued that SB 570 would increase air pollution by encouraging biomass energy plants. "This is the first time I've heard anything about this in all the months and all the years we have been working on this bill," an exasperated Constantine told the committee. The bill passed 3-0 and the next stop is the Senate floor.

Dr. Tom Termotto of Tallahassee said after the meeting that his group of opponents has fought proposed biomass plants in Tallahassee, Gretna and Port St. Joe and is concerned about the bill.

"Our whole thrust is we know what biomass incineration is all about," Termotto said after the meeting. "It's not green, it's not sustainable, it's not renewable, it's not carbon neutral, it's not environmentally-friendly and it's not ecologically sound. This is how it's being advertised by the ... big players in the industry."

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

House energy bill moves despite wood supply concerns

A House energy bill was passed Monday by a committee despite concerns about biomass energy raised by a pulp and paper industry representative.

HB 7229 allows utilities to recover $386 million from customers for 735 megawatts of renewable energy over the next three years. Chris Broome, general manager of the Smurfit-Stone container board mill in Panama City, said the bill would encourage the conversion of two coal-fired power plants within 60 miles of his plant. Rather than using simply waste wood, Broome said the new biomass plants encouraged by the bill could drive up the cost of wood supplies that are used to make paper, build homes or make other products.

Although the Florida Panhandle is in the middle of a "wood basket," Smurfit-Stone faces competition from other paper mills for trees and the Green Circle Bio-Energy Inc. wood pellet plant in Cottondale, Broome said. "We're in an extremely competitive industry," Broome said. "We are competing not only against mills in other states but mills overseas."

Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando and chairman of the House Energy & Utilities Committee, said committee members are discussing the issue with the industry. "It is not our intent to raise the prices of consumer products or put anybody out of business," Precourt said.

The House Full Appropriations Council on Education & Economic Development approved the bill 14-0. Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Orlando, and Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, indicated they would raise the issue on the House floor if the industry's concerns are not address.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

House budget proposal includes Everglades, not Florida Forever

The House on Monday did not include money for Florida Forever in its conference committee budget offer but it did offer $10 million for Everglades restoration.

Florida Forever is the nation's largest land-buying program but the program received no money from the Legislature last year and could run out of money this year.

The House has adopted a 2010-11 state budget of nearly $70 billion, which is almost $3 billion more than the House version. The Senate plan is higher because it counts on $400 million from gambling as well as a higher matching rate for Medicaid that has yet to be adopted by Congress.

Conferees met for the first time on Monday. In the natural resource subcommittee, the House agreed to the Senate Everglades allocation but not to the Senate's $15 million proposed for the Florida Forever program.

The program had received $300 million in bonding authority in previous years. The Senate budget proposal would cut $2 million from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's springs initiative, while the House countered Monday with an offer to cut only $1 million.

The House on Monday proposed spending $2 million for continuing a septic tanks technology study that stems from a Florida Department of Health proposal in 2009 to require advanced septic tanks in the Wekiva River basin. The Senate version of the budget provides nothing for the study.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Senate ag bill amended to remove fertilizer prohibition

A Senate agriculture bill was amended Monday to remove a prohibition against local governments adopting stricter fertilizer amendments than an adopted state standard. SB 382 would have established criteria for local governments to meet if they wanted stricter ordinances than the state "model" fertilizer ordinance adopted by the Legislature in 2009.

A late-filed amendment (140990) by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, R-Hollywood, that removed the requirement passed the Senate Health Regulation Committee by a 4-3 vote. Sobel said the bill had required local waterways to be impaired by fertilizer pollution before local governments could act.

Representatives of Sierra Club Florida and the National Parks Conservation Association and Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton said preventing waterways from becoming polluted is cheaper than cleaning them up afterwards. Sierra Club representative Cris Costello said fertilizer contributes to algal blooms and harmful red tide in the Gulf of Mexico. Another Sierra Club representative said the bill would rescind fertilizer ordinances adopted by 42 local governments.

But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, told the committee that the opponents hadn't come to him with their concerns and he called the amendment "unfriendly." After the meeting, Dean said that he didn't believe there is a connection between algal blooms and fertilizer use. And Dean said he didn't know whether he would try to get the prohibition amended onto another bill.

"I think they are trying to insert a water quality issue onto an ag bill to circumvent certain things they don't like," Dean said of the amendment supporters. The next stop for SB 382 is the Senate General Government Appropriations Committee.

The House version of the bill, HB 1445, includes the prohibition on local fertilizer ordinances.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Florida Tribune: Drilling comes up empty this year


Legislation to allow drilling in state waters won't be voted on by the House this year, Rep. Dean Cannon on Friday told the House Select Policy Council on Strategic & Economic Planning.

The council chaired by Cannon, R-Winter Park, held 10 hearings and workshops last winter and spring towards developing legislation to lift the state's 20-year-old ban on drilling.

Supporters said drilling could bring jobs to Florida and revenue to the state while opponents said it poses a risk to the state's coastline and tourism industry.

On Wednesday, Cannon told reporters that the council that he chairs could vote as early as Friday on a draft committee bill to lift the state's 20-year-old ban on drilling.

But Friday, Cannon opened the council meeting by saying that the committee would not vote on the bill and instead only would consider forwarding to the House speaker a report that included the draft bill.

The Senate, Cannon said, showed no appetite for taking up drilling legislation this year.

Read more at The Florida Tribune:
http://fltrib.com/articles/oil-drilling-comes-empty-year

Photo courtesy of Photoseverywhere.com. Some rights reserved, click here for details.

State panel hears Florida Forever pleas


Northeast Florida Blueway Project, St. Johns County

City and county officials, ranchers, conservationists and a Florida National Guard representative on Friday pleaded for their favorite land-buying projects and for support for the state's Florida Forever program.

The statewide land-buying program is the nation's largest but it's in jeopardy. Florida Forever received no money from the Legislature last year and it could run out later this year if it doesn't get money in the 2010-11 budget. The Senate has proposed $15 million in cash for the program in 2010-11 but the House has provided no money in its budget.

On Friday, the state Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) held a public hearing in Tallahassee as part of a new process to rank the more than 100 acquisition projects in five purchase categories.

Council members saw photos of thin coastal barrier islands, river floodplain swamps, expansive saltwater marshes and a ranch surrounded by development. Almost 30 people spoke for protecting drinking water supplies, ranches, historic and cultural sites, wildlife habitat, shellfish, waterways, tourism spots and forests to buffer military training bases.

St. Johns County Commissioner Cyndi Stevenson pleaded for protecting the saltwater marshes and streams where she caught fish, clams and crabs while she was growing up. "They support the health and well-being of people and serve as a refuge for native and transitory wildlife," she said. "Please support -- please -- the highest ranking so we can support these (projects)."

The ARC Council will hold another hearing May 6 in Arcadia before meeting in June to recommend the project rankings to the governor and Cabinet. For more information on ARC and the state program, go to www.floridaforever.org.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Draft oil drilling legislation would direct Cabinet to sell leases




Images from report by the Collins Center for Public Policy report on oil drilling to the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida. To download the report, click here.





A draft proposed House council bill would open Florida's waters to oil drilling but would ban permanent rigs and platforms above the water's surface within six miles of the coast.

The House Select Policy Council on Strategic & Economic Planning has been holding hearings towards developing a bill to allow drilling in state waters extending 10.36 miles from shore. Drilling supporters say oil and gas production could stimulate the economy and reduce dependence on foreign oil while opponents say drilling threatens fishing and the state's tourism economy.

The 41-page draft council bill requires the governor and Cabinet twice a year to offer lease sales for oil and gas exploration, according to a bill summary. The Cabinet must defer to the U.S. Secretary of Defense to determine if there are potential conflicts with current or future military activities.

The bill intends to prevent rigs from being visible from the shore by banning permanent structures within six miles. Temporary rigs would be allowed for up to one year within three miles of the shore.

Sub-sea drilling and production would seemed to be allowed within one mile of the shore or an aquatic preserve if the bill were adopted. Local governments appear to be prohibited from restricting drilling in coastal waters.

The bill also requires a $1 million fee for the nomination of a lease area and a $500-million surety bond or line of credit is required for producing oil and gas. Before an exploration or production permit is issued, companies must submit environmental assessments that include commercial fishing, sensitive biological resources including sea turtles and marine mammals, and threatened and endangered species.

Companies also must submit plans for dealing with waste processing and oil spills. The council is scheduled to meet today to discuss the draft bill. To download a copy of the bill as part of the committee meeting packet, click here.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

House drilling legislation to be heard on Friday


A House panel is expected Thursday to receive a draft committee bill that would lift the ban on drilling for oil and gas in state waters.

The House Select Policy Council on Strategic & Economic Planning has been holding hearings on whether to allow drilling in state waters within 10.4 miles of the coast. Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park and committee chairman, said Wednesday he expects the proposed bill to be discussed Friday and that a committee vote could occur then. The bill would not authorize drilling but would establish parameters for where the governor and Cabinet could permit drilling, Cannon said.

His council heard a presentation from Willis Structured Risk Solutions on a 177-page report that examined the risk of oil spills. The House paid $200,000 for the study. Willis representatives described the potential reserves as uncertain and the risks as minimal compared to the 275 million barrels of petroleum products shipped each year into Florida ports. "I was reassured by the fact that they assessed the risk of energy exploration as much less -- a fraction of a percentage less -- than the oil shipping we do every day in and out of Florida's ports and the other risks we live with and manage successfully every day," Cannon said.

Environmental groups emphasized the report's recommendations for environmental studies and maritime planning. "Before they consider any additional authorization by the governor and Cabinet, I think we have to get into the details of how we make it safe," said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida.

To download a copy of the report, as part of the House Select Policy Council's meeting packet, click here.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Renewable energy bill with business backing clears committee

A bill that would allow utilities to charge customers in advance for renewable energy projects cleared a Senate committee Wednesday. SB 1186 received backing from several business groups and firms that said the bill would quickly spur the growth of solar and other renewable energy technologies in Florida.

The Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities adopted the bill by an 8-1 vote. Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, voted against the bill, saying utility customers will pay the cost for the renewable energy investments by utilities. Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton and the bill's sponsor, responded that the bill's committee substitute contains caps that limit rate increases to 2 percent the first year and 1 percent in the following two years.

Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., IBM, Kitson & Partners and Advanced Green Technologies were among the companies and business groups that were backing SB 1186 as more viable than other bills that face opposition from Florida's largest utilities. Renewable energy legislation could produce 40,000 jobs for the state, according to a Washington Economics Group study released earlier this week.

"We've been sort of frustrated by the Legislature not adopting favorable renewable energy policy," Rich Paul-Hus, of Hypower and Associated Builders and Contractors, told reporters on a conference call. SB 1186, he said, "would allow for companies like mine to hire a significant number of workers."

The committee didn't have time to consider proposed committee substitute for SB 992 by Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami and committee chairman. That bill contains renewable energy incentives that the major investor-owned utilities are objecting to in HB 7209 by the House Energy & Utilities Policy Committee.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

DEP passes along cash to schools for green programs

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is using federal dollars to help some schools in north Florida get greener.

DEP announced Thursday that it had completed a $250,000 federal grant project that allowed for 199 buses in 10 rural school districts to be refitted with devices that reduce harmful tailpipe emissions. The diesel oxidation catalysts reduce children's exposure to diesel exhaust and reduce pollution from diesel school buses by about 50 percent, according to DEP. The counties that participated were Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty, Wakulla, Walton and Washington.

On Wednesday, DEP presented Leon County school officials with a ceremonial check for $90,000 from U. S. Environmental Protection Agency programs. Of the total, $50,000 will pay for students at Nims Middle School to participate in DEP's Learning in Florida's Environment (LIFE) program. Another $40,000 will be used at two other Leon County schools to reduce lighting and water used in irrigation.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Hometown Democracy" opponents raise nearly $1 million


The new group opposing Amendment 4, the "Florida Hometown Democracy" amendment to the Florida Constitution, raised nearly $1 million in its first quarter of existence with most of its contributions coming from business and development interests.

Voters statewide in November will be asked to decide whether the state will require referendums for changing local comprehensive land use plans. Some environmental groups support the measure as a democratic means of regaining control over growth decisions from development interests, while business groups say the referendum process will be difficult for voters, expensive for local governments and will cripple the state's economy.

Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy Inc., the main opposition group, raised $986,080 in the first quarter of 2010 with $487,289 coming from Citizens for Smarter Growth, the predecessor opposition group to Amendment 4. Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy Inc., based in Tampa, was created on Jan. 25. The group also received $150,000 from Florida Mainstreet Merchants, a 527 organization, $125,000 from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, $70,000 from the Northeast Florida Chapter of the Commercial Real Estate Development Association and $50,000 each from Waste Management of Houston, Texas and Regency Realty Group Inc. of Jacksonville.

Ryan Houck, executive director of Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy, said businesses contributed to his group because they are concerned that the amendment could cause delays and uncertainty that will lead businesses to locate in other states.

"It's no surprise that Florida's business community is against an idea that is going to permanently damage Florida's economy," Houck said.

Florida Hometown Democracy Inc., the Amendment 4 support political committee based in New Smyrna Beach, raised $23,689 in the first quarter of 2010 after raising more than $900,000 in 2007 and early 2008. During the most recent reporting period, Florida Hometown Democracy co-founder Lesley G. Blackner of Palm Beach contributed $6,398 towards banners, posters and flyers for the group. The only other contributions over $1,000 were $2,000 from Kenneth Laroe of Eustis and $1,000 from Sara Case of Hollywood.

Blackner said the other side is raising money from members of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the "over-development machine."

"These people have not learned the lesson of the housing bubble collapse," she said. "I guess they are just programmed for destruction. They will not change."

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Wekiva River amendment withdrawn but still lurking

An amendment that would have removed language in state law directing the Florida Department of Health to consider requiring advanced septic tank systems in the Wekiva River basin was withdrawn Tuesday.

The DOH last year proposed a rule that would have required homeowners in the area north of Orlando to upgrade their septic tanks before they sold their homes. The proposal sparked opposition from the Seminole and Orange County commissions because of concerns about cost.

The advanced systems cost $3,000 to $10,000 more than convention septic tanks, DOH said last year. The Florida Home Builders Association supported state budget language in 2009 that delayed nitrogen-reduction efforts by state agencies while a state-funded study of alternative septic tank technologies was continuing.

Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis and chairman of the Senate General Government Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday he withdrew the amendment to SB 776 at the request of Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs and the bill's sponsor. Constantine told him he would include similar language in SB 550, Constantine's water bill, Baker said. And if the issue isn't addressed, Baker said, the language could be amended to another bill during the legislative session.

"We need a good statewide policy and particularly not have something rushed through that may provide a tremendous cost and no proven benefit," Baker said. Constantine was meeting with staff and was not available for comment. SB 550 also faces opposition from the Florida Home Builders Association because it would establish utilities to maintain septic tanks.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Twenty-year-old deadline extended by bill amendment

A petroleum tanks cleanup bill in the House has been amended to extend the deadline for tank site owners to replace older tanks that could leak.

In 1990, Gov. Bob Martinez and the Cabinet directed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to require that petroleum tanks above ground and underground have secondary containment by 2010 to prevent leaks that could contaminate groundwater. Underground tanks installed prior to 1984 were required to have secondary containment by 1999. Tanks installed between 1984 and 1992 were required to have secondary containment by Dec. 31.

Of the 8,691 underground tanks, 91 percent had complied with the requirement, DEP reported to the Legislature in January. Of the 11,249 above ground facilities, 97 percent were in compliance, DEP said. The department said it intended to conduct enforcement sweeps during the winter and spring after having repeatedly written to tank owners instructing them of the deadline.

HB 1385 was amended Friday by the House General Government Policy Council to extend the deadline until Sept. 30, 2011 for facilities that have legal agreements in place with DEP by July 1, 2010. Rep. Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach and sponsor of HB 1385, said the extension helps tank owners continue to survive and provide jobs while work with DEP.

The Florida Ground Water Association and the Florida Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association supported the bill. The Florida Petroleum Council supports the bill but favors keeping the existing deadline, council Executive Director David Mica said. DEP is neutral on the bill, a department spokeswoman said.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)