Monday, January 31, 2011

Senator's spoiled beach trip leads to bill directing DOH to investigate


A senator whose summer beach trip was spoiled by high bacteria levels has filed a bill directing the state to investigate possible sources of beach water contamination.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, rented a hotel room at Hollywood Beach last summer to stay with visiting relatives. But when they went down to the water, they discovered that advisories against swimming had been issued by the local health department.

"I said, 'I can't believe the beach is shut down,'" Sobel said.

When she began asking local officials why the advisories were issued, she was told the cause of the contamination was unknown or there were a variety of causes, including droppings from birds.

Her SB 526 would require the Department of Health to investigate sources of beach water contamination and publish reports on the department's web site. DOH also would be directed to implement an educational program on human actions that can harm beach water quality.

Local health departments now test water weekly under a DOH program, and results are posted at floridashealth.com/beachwater. The state does not close beaches but instead local health officials issue advisories recommending that people not swim in waters with high bacteria levels.

In Florida in 2009, there were 248 advisories lasting less than six consecutive weeks for a total of 2,201 days, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. That total was up compared to the 2,067 days in 2008 but it's less than the three previous years.

"Just testing beaches for pollution isn't enough," said David Beckman, director of water program at NRDC. "It's critical when problems are identified, the sources of those water quality problems are identified and addressed. That is the only way to make beaches safer in Florida or anywhere else in the country."

State health officials have said in recent years that pollution sources usually are not easily identified. Bacteria are an indicator of fecal pollution, which can come from stormwater runoff, pets, wildlife and human sewage. A Florida Department of Health spokeswoman said Friday that the DOH is neutral on the bill for now.


Sobel said this week she would feel more comfortable knowing that Florida has state-of the-art testing. She said it's better for water quality problems to be diagnosed and fixed as quickly as possible.

"It is really, really very, very important to all beach communities considering tourism is, like, the number one industry in the state unless the beaches (are closed)," she said.

( Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Photo and story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Florida House members uneasy with proposal to close 53 state parks


Peacock Springs State Park near Luraville is one of the 53 state parks that would be closed.


A budget-exercise proposal to close 53 state parks drew concerns Wednesday from members of a House budget-writing committee.

State agencies last fall were asked to come up with 15-percent budget cut proposals for the upcoming fiscal year. State legislators are confronting a potential budget shortfall of $3.62 billion as they head into the 2011 session.

In response, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in October proposed measures including saving $6.5 million by closing 53 parks that are only open during daylight hours. Those parks represent one-third of the 160 state parks but they have combined attendance of nearly 1.1 million, or 5.4 percent of statewide park visitation. (To download the list, click here)

During a meeting Wednesday of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, called the possible park closures "heart-breaking" and said taking such action could affect Florida's tourism. Rep. Leonard Bembry, D-Greenville, questioned whether the cost to local economies would be more than the $6.5 million in savings to the state.

"I think it is a fair characterization to say the impact would far exceed the savings," said Jennifer Fitzwater, DEP's deputy secretary for policy and planning.

Several subcommittee members asked DEP to consider other options including raising fees or allowing local governments or civic groups to take over management of the parks. They also asked whether DEP would sell the closed parks.

Fitzwater said various options will be considered for keeping the parks open but noted that DEP had raised park fees in 2009. She also said DEP did not want to sell the closed parks because they could be reopened when revenues increase in the future.

DEP also proposed merging the Office of Greenways and Trails with the Division of Recreation and Parks, saving $1 million by eliminating 16 positions. DEP also proposes closing six field offices responsible for the management of 16 coastal and aquatic preserves.

Fitzwater also said new DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard had not been briefed on the budget exercise. "He may come back and say, 'You know what? This is a bad idea,'" she said.

Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers and subcommittee chairwoman, reminded the panel members that DEP had proposed closing down 57 parks as part of a budget exercise two years ago but was able to keep them open.

"Maybe this time around we will be looking more at keeping some [parks] only open on the weekends," she told subcommittee members. "Then again, we might not be looking at [closing] parks depending on what [Secretary Vinyard's] issues are that are most important."

(Peacock Springs State Park photo by James Valentine. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

House water panel hears differing views on environmental protection


This reservoir in DeSoto County was built with some state water supply funding.


Conservation and development of new water supplies must be part of Florida's future to attract industry and create jobs, panelists on Thursday told the House Select Committee on Water Policy. But there were differing views on how much the environment should be protected.

The committee was created in December by House Speaker Dean Cannon to study water issues over a two-year period and to make recommendations. The panel on Thursday heard presentations on water supply and will hear presentations in two weeks on water quality, said Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers and committee chairman.

The panelists on Thursday warned there will be increasing competition for water supplies in the next two years as Florida's population continues to grow.

Florida water use is expected to grow from 7 billion gallons per day in 2010 to 9 billion by 2025, according to a House staff presentation on Jan. 13.

Florida farmers need flexibility in water permitting and assurances that their water supplies won't be taken away for cities and other water users in the future, said Rich Budell, director of the Office of Water Policy in the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He also said that natural systems will be affected.

"We can't do everything we do on the planet and protect every square foot of wetland and river and stream that is out there," Budell said. "There will have to be decisions made in that arena at some point."

Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida, said there already are estuaries that have been severely altered, including Tampa Bay and the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida, because of water use and changes in water flow. Those estuaries, he said, are important to the tourism economy along the Gulf of Mexico.

"It's not just a matter of protecting pristine areas," Draper said. "It's a matter of recovering already-damaged areas."

Florida's economy won't rebound unless there is water available to attract industries that produce jobs, said Keyna Cory, representing Associated Industries of Florida.

The Water Protection and Sustainability Program Trust Fund received $100 million for water supply projects in 2005 after it was created. But the fund received no money since 2008, she said.

"We have got to focus back on that," Cory said. "If you are going to do any kind of growth, any kind of economic development in the state, you have to have water."

Representatives of the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties said that some of the state's five water management districts now are overstepping their authority and creating frustration with local governments.

Later in the meeting, Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota and a member of the American Water Works Association, said Florida's water management system is "envied by everybody" across the country.

"We need on this panel to take on the tools we have and the system we have and make it better -- not re-invent the wheel," he said.

There was no discussion Wednesday of the "local sources first" state policy that encourages conservation and more expensive treatment alternatives as opposed to piping water -- a touchy topic in some regions of the state.

Williams said earlier this month she wants her committee to have an open discussion on the policy. But on Thursday she said "it's too early to tell" what the committee will discuss.

(Photo excerpted from House committee packet. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Senators warn wildlife officials on hunting requirement

Members of a Senate committee said Wednesday they want state wildlife officials to explain at their next committee meeting why they are considering requiring deer hunters to report their kills.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will consider the reporting requirement when it meets next month in Apalachicola, said Tim Breault, director of the agency's Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. Some groups, Reault said, want reporting to improve estimates of white-tailed deer populations to possibly allow more hunting in some areas.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, reminded Breault that even though the commission is an independent agency established under the state constitution, the Legislature approves its budget. Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, said he wanted commission members to appear personally before the committee.

But Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, noted that other states have stricter reporting requirements, such as having to purchase tags for killing a deer.

After the meeting, Latvala said requiring the reporting in Florida is "a ridiculous overreach and the ultimate example of over-regulation by the government." But he denied he was threatening the agency's budget.

"I'm not in a position to threaten this agency," Latvala said. "I'm not a chairman of this committee or the budget committee. There is a constitutional balance that needs to be reminded. They [commission members] need to respond to citizens too."

The committee on Wednesay also passed SB 132, which expands reporting requirements for contamination to neighboring properties. The bill, introduced by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, was offered in response to groundwater contamination at the Raytheon electronics manufacturing plant in St. Petersburg.

And the committee heard briefly from Dean on his SB 130, which would repeal the requirement that septic tanks statewide be inspected every five years. The Legislature in November delayed the beginning date for the inspections from Jan. 1 to July 1 after opposition from rural residents in North Florida.

Dean said counties should be allowed to decide whether to participate rather than all state residents being subject to a "one-size-fits-all" law. But some other committee members said the problem of failing septic tanks and their effects on groundwater flowing to springs still needs to be addressed.

"I think we have a responsibility to make sure people have septic tanks that operate effectively," said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

House panel approves growth rewrite to address court ruling

A House panel on Wednesday passed three bills that are intended to address a court ruling that threw out 2009 legislation that revamped the state's growth management laws.

SB 360 in 2009 removed a requirement that developers pay for new roads and schools in designated areas and it removed state oversight of large developments in designated "dense urban land use areas." Gov. Charlie Crist signed the bill in 2009 despite opposition from environmental groups.

But a Leon County circuit judge threw out the changes in August when he ruled that SB 360 represented an unconstitutional "unfunded mandate" and that illegally dealt with more than one topic. A group of cities and Lee County filed the lawsuit.

The House Community & Military Affairs Subcommittee on Wednesday adopted CMA1, a proposed committee bill that dealt with the growth management changes. The committee also passed CMA2 dealing with affordable housing and HB 93, which prevents local governments from requiring businesses to spend money on security cameras.

Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne and subcommittee chairman, said those three bills covered the three major issues in SB 360, helping the Legislature resolve the legal challenge of having more than one issue in the original bill. He also said the new bills don't represent unfunded mandates, as the judge ruled in August. Instead, he called the cost to cities and counties just "fuzzy math" that doesn't consider some local cost savings.

But one of the bills -- CMA1 -- still touched off debate within the committee.

Several Democrats on the subcommittee said they were voting against it but they could vote for it later if the definitions were tightened to promote good growth management. The bill passed 9-5.

Workman said he didn't want to "muck up" the bill by changing the law as it had been passed in 2009. He said the court ruling throwing out the law had created uncertainty for developers, cities and counties.

"There is nothing in my soul that says don't continue to reform growth management," Workman said. "Just don't do it on these three bills because these three bills are needed to get done with the stupid lawsuit to give certainty to developers and municipalities."

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thirty-nine Florida groups seek to block federal water standards

Representatives of 39 utility, development and agricultural groups on Tuesday sent a letter to Florida's senators and congressional representatives asking them to deny federal agency funding to implement new water quality standards.

The industry groups seem to be taking a harder line against the federal standards than some state agency officials. One state agriculture official told a House committee on Tuesday that the federal rule offered a "glimmer of hope" for some agricultural producers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in November adopted standards for phosphorus and nitrogen in Florida's inland waterways. The agency says the specific numeric limits are needed to prevent toxic red tide at beaches and continued algal blooms in lakes and streams, costing the state tourism dollars.

But industry groups and wastewater utilities began fighting the standards more than a year ago -- before they were formally proposed. And on Tuesday, they asked Florida's senators and congressmen to deny funding for the EPA to enforce the standards, citing various studies suggesting that they will cost billions of dollars and will cause job losses.

"The rules will impact all of Florida’s citizens, local governments and vital sectors of our economy," the letter said. It was signed by representatives of groups including Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, the Florida Forestry Association, the Association of Florida Community Developers, the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

A Florida Department of Environmental Protection official in December told a House committee that the EPA had left enough flexibility in the rule to allow the state to decide whether to implement the standards. The EPA in November delayed implementation until early 2012, providing time for the state to work with industry and utility groups, said Jerry Brooks, director of DEP's Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration.

On Tuesday, Rich Budell, director of the Office of Water Policy at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee that the rule offers at least a "glimmer of hope" because it allows approval of alternative pollution limits for specific waterways.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

PSC approves Gulf Power conservation plan after initial rejection

The Florida Public Service Commission on Tuesday approved an energy conservation plan for Gulf Power Co. after initially rejecting a plan submitted by the utility last fall.

Gulf Power, the state's fourth largest investor-owned utility with more than 430,000 customers, was one of four utilities whose "demand-side management" conservation plans were rejected initially by the commission because they did not meet the state's conservation goals. The other utilities who were required to resubmit plans were Florida Power & Light Co., Progress Energy and Tampa Electric Co.

Gulf Power submitted a revised plan that forecast higher participation in conservation programs including one that involves using more energy-saving compact-fluorescent bulbs. The average customer could pay $5.06 more per month by 2014 for energy-savings programs, according to the PSC. The plan will save 183 megawatts of electricity over ten years, enough to power about 50,000 homes.

George Cavros, an attorney representing the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said conservation saves money for utility customers and is cheaper than building new power plants. But the group also has raised concerns that Florida utilities are over-estimating the cost of conservation measures.

"There may be considerable potential to reach the commission approved goals with more reliance on lower cost programs," Cavros said.

Gulf Power is eager to get started with its conservation plan, said Steven Griffin, an attorney representing the utility. The company also submitted a plan to reduce rate increases while meeting two-thirds of the PSC conservation goals.

"We are doing everything we can to minimize costs to our customers," Griffin said. "We obviously have an interest in doing that."

Commissioner Eduardo Balbis said he wanted to know how many jobs were being created through conservation. Gulf Power representatives said they didn't have such figures while acknowledging that those jobs would be created by customers having to pay more for the conservation programs.

Commissioner Ron Brisé said he hopes the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy will help the utility reach customers to encourage participation.

"It seems there is only one group [Gulf Power] that is burdened with making sure this happens," Brisé said. "I just hope this becomes a larger community effort so we gain as much as we possibly can from savings."

TECO's revised plan was approved in November and Progress Energy's revised plan is scheduled for review on Feb. 22. FPL must submit a revised plan next month. Plans for the Orlando Utility Commission, the Florida Public Utilities Co. and JEA were approved last year.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Another top Florida DEP official is on the way out


The resignation of another top staffer has been accepted at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, creating another high-level vacancy under new DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard.

Janet Llewellyn, director of the Division of Water Resource Management, was told Friday that her resignation had been accepted, according to sources outside of the agency. Resignations were requested from department heads and division chiefs in December during the transition for Gov. Rick Scott.

DEP officials on Monday did not respond to requests for confirmation. A woman who answered the phone in the Division of Water Resource Management said Monday that Llewellyn no longer worked there. Llewellyn, who remained listed in her position on the DEP web site, could not be reached for comment.

Eight other top-level positions at DEP were vacant last week after their resignations were accepted in December. (See list in Jan. 19 story).

Vinyard, a former ship-building executive, began work at the department last Wednesday -- the same day his appointment was confirmed by the governor and Cabinet. Scott told reporters Wednesday that Vinyard still was assembling his leadership team at the department.

Meanwhile, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, told the Northwest Florida Daily News last week that he favors getting rid of, or at least gutting, the Department of Environmental Protection, according to a report.

Gaetz on Monday told the Florida Tribune that he didn't say he wanted to "gut" DEP. "I think we have to look at the functions of DEP and find out where we can combine those with job-creation functions," Gaetz said.

Gaetz also said he is working on a bill to eliminate the Florida Department of Community Affairs and move its emergency management functions under the governor's office. Scott's transition team in December proposed merging DCA, DEP and the Florida Department of Transportation, but the governor said last week he had not made such a proposal.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Florida senator files bill targeting nuclear fees

With the Public Service Commission next week holding hearings on revised charges for Florida Power & Light Co. customers, a Senate bill would eliminate a 2006 state law that allows utilities to charge for new nuclear plants even if they are never built.

SB 200 by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, would repeal a law that allows utilities to charge for building new nuclear plants and upgrading existing plants. The law has allowed utilities to collect more than $900 million from customers, according to the PSC.

"I'm not against nuclear -- never have been," Fasano told the Florida Tribune. "However I'm against the ratepayer having to build and pay for nuclear power plants."

The PSC next week will hold a three-day hearing on a request by FPL to collect various charges from customers including $62.6 million for nuclear projects.

The nuclear charges were approved separately the PSC last fall. The typical FPL residential customer would pay about 31 cents per month, down from 67 cents in 2010, according to the utility.

Projects include two new nuclear power units at FPL's Turkey Point plant in Dade County and upgrades to two existing nuclear power units there and two in St. Lucie County. The new Turkey Point units could go online in 2022 at a cost of up to $18 billion.

Progress Energy customers are paying $5.53 per month for nuclear projects, including a proposed new nuclear power plant in Levy County and upgrades at the Crystal River nuclear plant. The new Levy County plant could open in 2021 at a cost of up to $22 billion. But the utility won't decide until at least 2012 whether it will build the plant.

The PSC has approved $590 million in charges for Progress Energy customers and $314 million for FPL customers since 2008.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Green Party of Florida oppose "nuclear cost recovery." SACE is an intervenor in the FPL and Progress Energy cases before the PSC.

Susan Glickman, a consultant to SACE, said she couldn't comment on Fasano's bill because she had not seen it. But she said her group is concerned about the cost of nuclear energy compared to alternative energy sources, such as solar.

"There is concern from every quarter about how expensive the nuclear is," she said. "As evidenced by the bill by Senator Fasano, there may be many people who did not grasp how expensive a nuclear plant is to build."

Progress Energy supported SB 888 in 2006 that established nuclear cost recovery in state law, said Suzanne Grant, a spokeswoman for the utility. She said the utility could not comment on SB 200 because it has not had a chance to thoroughly review the bill.

Nuclear cost recovery allows utilities to plan for and build new nuclear plants for less than if the utilities had to borrow money and charge customers only after the plants were built, Grant said.

"Without nuclear cost recovery we would not be able to pursue the nuclear projects we are pursuing at this time," she said.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lawsuit says pesticides threaten Florida wildlife species

Two national environmental groups on Thursday filed a lawsuit claiming that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had failed to consult with wildlife agencies on regulating pesticides that are harmful to endangered species, including the Florida panther.

The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Pesticide Action Network, cites the regulation of pesticides that have been important to Florida farmers. A Florida Farm Bureau Federation representative said the lawsuit raises concerns for farmers.

The pesticides, according to the lawsuit, pose a threat to more than 200 species of endangered and threatened wildlife. They include the panther, the Key Largo woodrat, the Florida scrub jay, the piping plover, the Gulf sturgeon, the frosted flatwoods salamander, the eastern indigo snake and three mussels species found in the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee rivers.

The pesticides include the fumigant methyl bromide, which is used on strawberries, and atrazine, a weed-killer that is important to corn growers in the Midwest and sugar growers near the Everglades.

Atrazine, which has been banned in the European Union, has been found in 75 percent of tested streams and 40 percent of groundwater, according to the lawsuit. Atrazine also has been found in some residential lawn weed-killers.

“For decades, the EPA has turned a blind eye to the disastrous effects pesticides can have on some of America’s rarest species,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This lawsuit is intended to force the EPA to follow the law and ensure that harmful chemicals are not sprayed in endangered species habitats.”

An EPA spokesman said the agency doesn't comment on litigation.

Methyl bromide use is declining because of increased restrictions, according to the agency. And in 2009, the EPA launched a review of atrazine's use. A scientific peer review of the atrazine study findings is pending.

Kevin Morgan, executive director of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, said he could not comment in-depth on the lawsuit. But he did say wildlife receive thorough consideration in the regulation of pesticides and they are safe if used according to label directions.

"Any lawsuit that threatens the safe use of pesticides is always a concern to farmers," Morgan said. "That is a tool in our arsenal to feed the world."

(Photo courtesy of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Century Commission says it should develop Florida strategic plan


The Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida says it wants to help Florida develop a strategic plan as suggested by Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott in November told the Florida Council of 100 that the state "lacks a sufficiently focused strategic plan," according to a copy of a prepared speech.

The Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida was established by the Legislature in 2005 to recommend ways to accommodate population growth while maintaining the state's quality of life. In its annual report to the Legislature this week, the commission recommended that the state adopt such a strategic plan that provides for the state's social, environmental and economic future.

The commission also requested $1 million over the next two years to develop and complete the plan with public input. Upon completion, the commission recommends that the Legislature abolish the panel.

"The work of the commission could go on forever," said Tim Center, the Century Commission's executive director. "That is not technically its role. The commission felt by a date certain it should complete its work of helping the state plan for its future."

The Joint Legislative Sunset Review Committee last year nearly voted to abolish the Century Commission. Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, said other agencies now are overseeing growth management and water use. The Century Commission at the time also was working on a fact-finding report about offshore oil drilling.

Instead of eliminating the Century Commission, the Legislature continued reducing the commission's budget -- to zero.

According to Center, the commission received $450,000 in 2007-08 and $18,000 in 2008-09. Center said the Collins Center for Public Policy now provides staff for the commission and panel members pay out of their own pockets to attend commission meetings.

In addition to recommending completion of the strategic plan, the Century Commission recommended that the state develop an energy policy, citing the Legislature's failure to adopt comprehensive energy bills in recent years.

The Century Commission also recommended that priority recommendations from the 2008 Water Congress be adopted, including reinstating legislative funding for alternative water supplies.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Septic tanks inspection delay becomes law without signature

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday allowed a bill to become law that delays a statewide inspection requirement for septic tanks.

The inspection requirement was in SB 550, which then-Gov. Charlie Crist signed in June with support that included the Sierra Club Florida and the Florida Home Builders Association. Supporters said the requirement would protect public health and water quality.

SB 2A was adopted on Nov. 16 by the Legislature during its special session after an outcry from some Panhandle residents and legislators over concerns about the cost of inspections.

The bill was sent to Scott on Jan. 4 following his inauguration, thereby avoiding a possible Crist veto. Scott had 15 days to sign or veto the bill before it would become law without his signature.

"By the showing of the tremendous bipartisan support of the six-month suspension of the inspections, a willingness to work together to form a non-burdensome process is almost certain," Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, said in a statement Wednesday.

The Florida Department of Health estimated that inspections would cost $150 to $200, according to a Senate bill analysis. Replacing failing septic systems could cost $5,000 to $7,000. DOH estimates that 10 percent of Florida's 2.6 million septic tanks are failing.

SB 2A delays implementation from Jan. 1 to July 1. But DOH already had delayed implementation in December pending action by the governor on the bill, a department spokeswoman said earlier this month.

Meanwhile, bills have been filed for the 2011 session that would repeal the requirement altogether. One of those bills, SB 130, was filed by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness and chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cabinet confirms Vinyard to DEP post; Eight top vacancies remain


New Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard, a former shipyard executive, was confirmed by the Cabinet Wednesday.

Vinyard thanked Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet for the opportunity to serve the state. He takes over a department that lost eight senior staff members last month when the Scott administration accepted their resignations.

Vinyard, who also served as a member of Scott's economic development transition team, recently served as director of business operation for BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards. He also serves on the Jacksonville Port Authority board and on a DEP board that is establishing pollution reduction practices for the lower St. Johns River.

"I look forward to working with each one of you to make Florida a better place to live," Vinyard said.

"Congratulations," Scott said. "You've got a lot of work to do."

Vinyard left the meeting immediately after it ended. In response to an interview request, a department spokeswoman later said he was in meetings.

Asked at an Associated Press forum about the availability to the media of his department appointees, Scott replied many of them had just started their jobs.

"They're not even in the office yet," Scott said. "They've got to get in the office."

"I know the media is important," Scott continued. "But really, their job is to fix these agencies. Herschel just got there. He's got to go over there and figure out his team. That's his first job."

Top officials throughout state government were asked by then-Gov. Charlie Crist to submit resignations in November as part of the transition. The eight at DEP whose resignations have been accepted were:

Jena Brooks, director, Office of Greenways and Trails
Deborah Getzoff, director, Southwest District
Joe Kahn, director, Division of Air Resources Management
Jack Long, director, Southeast District
Ken Prest, director, Northwest District
Deborah Poppell, director, Division of State Lands
John Willmott, chief information officer, Office of Technology and Information Services
Mary Jean Yon, director, Division of Waste Management

A department spokeswoman on Wednesday said the vacancies had not been filled.

Scott told reporters earlier in the day, "I believe in giving people information. The public has a right to know. I believe the public has a right to know more than what we give them. As a governor I'm going to do that."

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Scott: We "clearly need" better growth management


Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday said he supports growth management but says it needs to be improved.

Scott was among several Cabinet officials and legislative leaders along with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who spoke at the Associated Press Florida Legislative Planning Session in the Capitol. They answered questions on a wide range of topics.

Scott's transition team last month recommended merging the Florida Department of Community Affairs, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Transportation into a single "Department of Growth Leadership."

"I don't have a proposal today to merge those agencies," Scott said Wednesday.

"We are going to look at -- we clearly need -- growth management," Scott said. "But we ought to do growth management in a way that is not just merely slowing things down and killing jobs."

In an article published Sunday in the Ocala Star-Banner, former DCA Secretary Tom Pelham said claims by Scott and industry officials that growth management is killing jobs "do a disservice to DCA and mislead the public." He resigned prior to Gov. Charlie Crist leaving office on Jan. 4.

On Wednesday, Scott also mentioned hearing complaints about the state during a business roundtable Tuesday in Destin.

"A lot of people complained about DCA," Scott said. "And some people complained about the Department of Environmental Protection."

Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West and the House Democratic leader, said Democrats will consider supporting merger proposals. But he said merging DEP, DCA and DOT doesn't make sense.

"If you're just trying to save money, that is one thing," Saunders said. "If you are trying to eliminate the function and it is a good function, we have a problem with that. Growth management is good -- smart growth management is good. Just saying 'no' [to growth] is bad."

Oil drilling also was raised on Wednesday as an issue with several speakers during the AP session. Following the Gulf oil spill in April, House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos said the issue of allowing drilling in state waters won't come up while they are legislative leaders.

Cannon, R-Winter Park, on Wednesday reiterated that the issue won't be heard. He spearheaded a bill amendment late in the 2009 legislative session to allow drilling in state waters.

"That's off the table during my time," Cannon said.

But Scott, while recounting his meeting with former Gov. Bob Graham last week to discuss a federal commission's report on the oil spill, said the nation still must figure out how to safely drill offshore.

"We have to continue to look at offshore drilling," Scott said. "But again, we are not going to take a risk with our environment or our economy if drilling is not safe."

Saunders, the Democratic leader, said, "If they [Republicans] try to pass oil drilling again, we will fight them."

On the issue of water, Cannon has created the House Select Committee on Water Policy but said Wednesday he did not determine what issues the panel should take on. Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers and committee chairman, said last week the panel may examine water management districts and the state's "local sources first" policy.

"I have a lot of confidence in Rep. Trudi Williams, who is chairing that committee," Cannon said. "I'm generally going to look to her for guidance."

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, however, said that reconsidering the "local sources first" policy as a prelude to potential piping of water downstate would cause a great deal of dissension, especially among North Floridians.

Putnam said that building water pipelines would "put us on the brink of a civil war."

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bill would prevent Florida from implementing federal water standards

A bill introduced by the chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee would ban the state from implementing new federal water quality criteria that were adopted in November.

Utilities, industries and agricultural groups say the numeric standards will cost billions of dollars to comply with. But an attorney representing environmental groups says the bill would have no effect if it was adopted because the state can't ignore federal environmental laws.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in November issued new specific numeric standards for nitrogen and phosphorus in waterways, saying they were needed to combat toxic algal blooms along the coast and choked springs and waterways. The state Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit in December to block implementation of the federal rule.

HB 239 filed Tuesday by Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, would prohibit the Florida Department of Environmental Protection from enforcing the federal standards. The bill also directs DEP to implement its own numeric standards, something it was working on until August 2009 when the federal EPA agreed to propose federal standards to settle a lawsuit filed by environmental groups.

David Guest, managing attorney for the nonprofit Earthjustice environmental law firm, said the legislation appears to be based on misinformation. His firm represents the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, and St. Johns Riverkeeper in its lawsuit against the federal EPA.

DEP can adopt its own numeric criteria at any time, Guest said. But it chose not to in August 2008, when the department had its own proposal before the state Environmental Regulation Commission, because of industry opposition. He said industry groups misled Williams with their complaints against the EPA.

"In the end you can't escape federal law," Guest said. "No legislative enactment has the power to void federal law."

Williams could not be reached for comment. But Kurt Spitzer, executive director of the Florida Stormwater Association, said he also has concerns about the bill. His group joined the Florida League of Cities last week in filing a federal lawsuit to block the new federal rule.

The bill is "overly broad" because it also prevents local governments from implementing the federal standards. That could prevent local governments from getting stormwater permits that are based on the numeric criteria.

"It sort of puts us between a rock and a hard place -- and maybe we can work some [bill] language out," Spitzer said. "Parts of the bill are good, parts are maybe over-reaching a little bit."

He also said the chances are slim that DEP would be able to implement the standards now. The ERC must approve any state regulations to implement them, Spitzer said, and they must be approved by the Legislature under HB 1565, the new law regarding rules that have a financial impact.

Asked for comment, spokespersons for DEP and EPA said they had not had time to review the bill. Last week, a DEP representative told the House Select Committee on Water Policy, chaired by Williams, that having the state -- rather than the federal EPA -- issue permits in Florida is good because it allows the state to control its own fate.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

House panel may reconsider firey water issue

The chairman of the new House Select Committee on Water Policy said Thursday that the state's "local sources first" policy that discourages water pipelines will be reviewed along with the role of water-management districts. But she also said doing away with districts in favor of a statewide water agency would be "crazy."

One of the most controversial aspects of Florida water law is the "local sources first" policy that was added in 1998. It requires the Department of Environmental Protection and the state's five water management districts to evaluate local water supply plans with an eye towards developing more expensive local water supplies as opposed to building pipelines.

Florida is divided by a water flow boundary that extends across the peninsula, creating a water-rich North Florida and a water-poor South Florida. Seventy-eight percent of the state's population lives in South Florida but only 44 percent of the rain falls there, said Michael Kleiner, staff attorney for the House State Affairs Committee.

The Florida Council of 100 created an uproar in 2003 when it recommended creating a statewide water authority and revisting the "local sources first" policy in favor of allowing water transfers. Some North Florida residents feared water pipelines would be extended from the region's lakes and rivers to Tampa, Orlando and other cities in Central and South Florida. (See Journal of Land Use article.)

The House Select Committee on Water Policy held its first meeting on Thursday after being created in December by House Speaker Dean Cannon. The committee heard presentations from state agencies on state and federal water law and governance.

There was no discussion among committee members about the local sources first policy. After the meeting, Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers and committee chairman, said that the committee still must determine what issues it will take up.

But she told the Florida Tribune that the "local sources first" policy should be reviewed.

"Absolutely, I don't mind looking into that," Williams said. But she said she doesn't think it should touch off fears about water pipelines.

"I'd like to have an open discussion on just about everything that's on people's minds," Williams said. During the committee meeting, she asked the public to submit by Jan. 25 papers on water issues that should be reviewed.

Honey Rand, author of "Water Wars: A Story of People, Politics & Power," said the issue will be as controversial now as it was in 2003 if it is brought up again.

"Perfectly rational people become raving lunatics when you talk about reallocating water," Rand said, "Everyone says the water is needed here."

The state's water management districts, established in 1972, have boundaries based on water flow. Williams said she didn't like the idea of replacing those districts with a statewide water board. "That's crazy," she said.

"What's good for the Caloosahatchee (River) is not necessarily good for the St. Johns River," Williams said. "Those basins were drawn because of water flows and they need to stay that way."

Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, said during the meeting that the Legislature should approve water-management district budgets and their board members, who are appointed by the governor, should be elected "so they are answerable to the people."

That's been a recurring complaint over the years, and Williams said the committee should take up the issue.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Estimates of federal costs of water rules vary widely, Florida DEP says


Uncertainty over how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to enforce new water quality standards continues to create wide-ranging cost estimates for meeting the new requirements, a state environmental official said Wednesday.

The EPA in December adopted new numeric nutrient standards for phosphorus and nitrogen in Florida waterways. The standards are needed to reduce the number of lakes and rivers that are choked with algae and beaches that are closed because of toxic red tide, the federal agency said.

But wastewater utilities, agriculture and industry groups say the new standards will be expensive to meet and are unnecessary. The Attorney General's Office along with the Florida League of Cities and Florida Stormwater Association have sued the EPA to block enforcement of the rule.

The Senate General Government Appropriations subcommittee took up the issue on Wednesday. Committee Chairman Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said he didn't know how the Legislature could influence the issue beyond its approval of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection budget.

DEP this year received $39.1 million for development of water pollution limits and pollution reduction plans for waterways statewide. But only 4 percent of that budgeted amount comes from the state general revenue with 37 percent coming from the federal government and the rest from state trust funds.

EPA has estimated the cost of complying with the rule at $135 million to $206 million. But the Cardno ENTRIX consulting firm estimated the maximum costs as ranging from $3 billion to $8 billion. The Cardno ENTRIX study estimates vary depending on whether the standard is applied at the end of a plant's pollution pipe or is applied overall to waterway receiving the pollution.

The numeric nutrient criteria is written so that reverse-osmosis or other expensive water quality treatment technology may be needed to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus, said Jerry Brooks, director of the DEP's Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. But he also acknowledged that EPA has indicated it will require only more cost-effective technologies rather than the most expensive treatment options.

"This is a very difficult issue to evaluate what the true costs are going to be," Brooks said.

Representatives of Associated Industries of Florida and the Volusia County cities of DeLand, Deltona and Orange City said the regulations would clearly cost their residents more.

DeLand will have to spend $48.6 million to expand its sewage treatment plant and $4.3 million per year to operate it, said Keith Riger, the city's public service director. Families there could expect to pay $673 to $726 per year more.

"Because Florida has been singled out by the EPA this kind of puts us at a competitive disadvantage compared to other states" in attracting industry, Riger said.

Hays said the costs are "enormous" while seemingly also agreeing with environmentalists who argue that value of clean water for tourism and recreation also is high.

"Because we are an appropriations committee our role is going to be somewhat limited," Hays told the Florida Tribune after the meeting. "Right now there are just too many questions unanswered before we can define the role of this committee."

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Florida utilities cutting back on power plants, including biomass, PSC says

Florida's electric utilities are continuing to lose customers and are delaying construction of new electric plants as less electricity is being used, according to a report approved Wednesday by the Florida Public Service Commission.

The report could play a role in the debate over new nuclear plants in the state and the economic viability of renewable energy in the future. Critics say new nuclear plants planned by Florida Power & Light Co. in Miami-Dade County and by Progress Energy in Levy County are not needed because of declining energy use and the potential savings of energy conservation.

The PSC on Wednesday approved an annual staff review of 10-year site plans submitted by 11 utilities, including FPL and Progress Energy. The approved plan will be submitted to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as required by Florida law.

For the second year in a row, utilities reported slow or negative growth in customers, according to the report. The reduced energy use equals 1,500 megawatts of peak summer demand -- about the size of two coal-fired power plants.

As a result, Tampa Electric Co. now is the only utility planning a new power plant within the next 10 years that is large enough to require PSC approval. That's a 970-megawatt natural gas plant that is planned in Polk County.

The utilities' 10-year plans call for an additional 5,600 megawatts of natural gas-fired power generation, down from 11,000 megawatts forecast in the 2009 plans. Those new nuclear plants are planned beyond the 10-year planning time frame, according to the PSC review.

An additional 734 megawatts of renewable energy projects are planned through 2019, with slightly more than half coming from biomass plants that burn wood, agricultural waste or garbage.

Biomass energy production grew by 4.2 percent from 2009 to 2010, but the forecasted increase over the next 10 years has declined since the 2009 review. That's because Progress Energy in 2010 canceled two biomass projects totaling 100 megawatts, according to the PSC. The utility told the Florida Tribune it canceled in September two contracts totaling 80 megawatts because project deadlines were not met.

A Progress Energy spokeswoman said the utility is waiting until it goes through the federal licensing process to determine whether the new 2,200-megawatt nuclear power plant in Levy County still is needed. That process is expected to be completed in 2012.

"At that point we are going to look at the plant and all the factors that go into that project and decide how we will move forward with the project," spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said. "We still have that decision ahead of us."

(Photo of Turkey Point power plant provided by Florida Power & Light Co.. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New DCA secretary says he doesn't have marching orders on agency's future


Department of Community Affairs Secretary Billy Buzzett told reporters on Tuesday during his first day on the job that he had been given no specific orders by his boss, Gov. Rick Scott, as to the future of the agency. Buzzett attended a meeting of the Senate Community Affairs Committee but he did not address the panel.

The transition team for Gov. Rick Scott in December recommended merging DCA with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Transportation into a new "Department of Growth Leadership."

Buzzett, who served on the transition team, has said his sub-group looking at DCA didn't make the merger recommendation. He told reporters after the committee meeting that he had not been given any direction from the governor on what would happen to his agency.

"I think it's really important that we just kind of pause and see where we've been," Buzzett said. "My point is it's premature for me to tell you where we are actually going to go because I don't know. And really, the policy-makers will make that decision."

Buzzett also said he had no position yet on growth management reform legislation. But he said he was interested in presentations by the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties at the committee meeting.

The League supports revamping DCA to remove paperwork demands and scrutiny by cities of urban infill requirements, said Rebecca O'Hara, the League's general counsel. Cities, she said, need help updating their land-development codes to encourage new projects.

"We believe it is time to limit the state's involvement in local government comprehensive planning to matters of technical assistance and resolving inter-local disputes and intergovernmental coordination," she said.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Growth management legislation clears first committee

Three growth management bills that are intended to address a judge's ruling last summer passed their first Senate committee stop on Tuesday.

In August, Circuit Judge Charles Francis in Tallahassee ruled that the 2009 growth management overhaul in SB 360 was unconstitutional because they represented an unfunded mandate for cities and counties and because the bill included more than one subject. The ruling is being appealed by the House and Senate.

SB 360 removed requirements that developers pay for new roads and removed state oversight of growth management in newly-designated "dense urban land areas." Environmental groups opposed the bill, saying the designation includes rural areas and the measure would encourage urban sprawl.

Those same provisions are included in SB 174 by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton and chairman of the Senate Committee on Community Affairs. The bill passed out of the committee 7-2 on Tuesday after Bennett said they were needed to protect developers who had sought permits under SB 360.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, and Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, voted against SB 174. Storms said she opposed SB 360 in 2009 because it would exempt developers from having to pay for new roads and would allow development in rural areas.

SB 172, dealing with security cameras, and SB 176, dealing with affordable housing, passed the committee without opposition. Both bills were introduced by Bennett and dealt with issues that were in SB 360 in 2009.

Bennett said he does not expect other major growth management reform legislation to be proposed until local governments have had a chance to implement SB 360. But he said he expects to file a bill to address what he says is permitting duplication among state agencies and unnecessary scrutiny of engineers.

"I don't understand why we have government paid engineers who work for your agency reviewing government-paid engineers who work for his agency," Bennett said. "That's bull---- when you think about it."

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Florida Power & Light told to revise its energy conservation plan

The Florida Public Service Commission on Tuesday told Florida Power & Light Co. to resubmit its energy conservation plan to meet yearly goals established by the agency under state law.

FPL, the state's largest utility with 2.1 million customers, was the last among seven utilities to have its plans reviewed by the PSC as provided for by the Legislature in 2008 revisions of the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act.

The PSC has approved plans submitted by the Orlando Utilities Commission, the Florida Public Utilities Co., Tampa Electric Co. and JEA, formerly Jacksonville Electric Authority. But the agency has delayed action on plans submitted by FPL, Progress Energy and Gulf Power Co.

In a revised plan submitted July 1, FPL said increases for the average residential customer would range from $1.80 to $3.12 over the 10-year period covered in the plan.

On Tuesday, representatives of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Florida Industrial Power Users Group called for additional analysis of the FPL plan to ensure that utility customers are being protected. Both groups are intervenors in the case.

Vicki Gordon Kaufman, an attorney representing the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, said energy costs play a critical role in whether large utility customers expand or move to other states. She said PSC staff determined the FPL plan called for conservation costs that increase from 48 percent in the first year to 82 percent in 2014.

"Those are pretty big increases in our mind," Kaufman said. "And we would suggest to you in the current economic climate these kinds of increases may be a little too much to bear."

A Wal-Mart representative suggested that larger customers that have taken their own steps toward conservation be able to exclude themselves from the utilities' programs and their costs. Asked about that possibility by PSC commissioners, agency staff said allowing such an "opt-out" may prevent the state from meeting its conservation goals.

After the vote, FPL spokesman Mayco Villafana said the utility intends to revise the plan and resubmit it within 30 days as directed by the PSC.

"Our commitment is to address the commission's goals and meet them in the most cost-efficient manner for our customers," Villafana said.

The PSC is scheduled to consider Progress Energy's revised proposal on Feb. 22. Gulf Power's revised plan is scheduled to be considered on Jan. 25.

Commissioners, however, did vote unanimously to reject a staff recommendation to review whether FPL earned too much revenue last year.

The company was approved a base rate increase of $75.5 million last year, but in December the company reached a settlement agreement on the rate increase that stipulated the company would freeze utility rates through 2012 while maintaining the company's return on equity.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

SACE says it's hopeful with Duke-Progress Energy merger

The leader of a Southern regional environmental group that has been battling Progress Energy over energy conservation and a planned new nuclear plant in Levy County says it's hopeful that the utility's merger with Duke Energy will lead Progress to take more environmentally friendly positions.

Duke Energy and Progress Energy on Monday announced the merger agreement to combine the companies, though each will retain its own name. With 1.6 million customers in Florida, Progress Energy is the second largest utility in the state behind Florida Power & Light Co. with 4.5 million customers.

Progress Energy has proposed building a new nuclear plant in Levy County but faces opposition from local environmentalists and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. The Florida Public Service Commission has rejected Progress Energy's proposed energy conservation plan along with those submitted by Gulf Power and the Tampa Electric Co. (TECO). They were required under the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act.

SACE has no illusion that Progress will drop its plans for the Levy nuclear plant, said Stephen Smith, the group's executive director. That's because Duke Energy is "equally bullish" on nuclear energy and is trying to finish a new nuclear plant in Florida, Smith said.

His group also has criticized Progress Energy for exaggerating the cost of conservation measures in an earlier plan filed by the utility before the Florida PSC.

Progress Energy said last year the cost for conservation would jump from $3.24 now to $14.08 the first year if the PSC yearly goals for utilities were strictly followed. Progress Energy had proposed a more gradual increase to $6.38 the first year and eventually to $30.17 in year 10. The PSC is scheduled to consider a revised plan on Feb. 22, an agency spokeswoman said.

Smith said his group is more hopeful that the merger will cause a shift at Progress Energy on energy conservation and renewable energy.

"Our hope comes from the fact that Duke, as a culture, has probably been a little bit -- not much, a little -- better on some of the bigger environmental and policy issues, embracing renewable energy and being forward-thinking on energy-efficiency," Smith said.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Groups back off merger criticism in growth recommendations

Environmentalists on Monday issued growth management recommendations to state leaders but stopped short of criticizing a proposal by Gov. Rick Scott's transition team to merge state growth management and environmental protection agencies into a new "Department of Growth Leadership."

Scott's transition team last month recommended creating the new agency by merging the Department of Community Affairs, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Transportation. Gov. Scott during his campaign also criticized DCA, the state's growth management agency, for being a job killer.

On Monday, groups including Audubon of Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida, The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club Florida, and the Florida Wildlife Federation issued growth management recommendations to Scott and to legislative leaders. The groups said growth management and environmental protection are essential to economic growth, sounding the major theme of Scott and top legislators.

The groups said they recognize that it may be appropriate to "unite growth management functions" at the state level with "other related and compatible government missions," according to a news release. Several representatives of the groups said combining the three departments would pose challenges but they stopped short of criticizing the idea.

"No one knows what form that [recommendation] might take -- what the details are," said Charles Pattison, president of 1000 Friends of Florida. "I think we are willing to wait and see what it looks like."


Environmental groups hold a rally in April outside the Capitol in support of reauthorizing DCA

The groups also stopped short of calling for preservation of DCA, although several of them rallied last spring outside the Capitol urging the Legislature to reauthorize the department -- which it failed to do. On Monday, the groups called for having an independent state agency to oversee growth management but they did not specifically refer to DCA.

"The state planning agency over the years has been in several locations and had several different names," said Charles Lee, director of advocacy with Audubon of Florida. "It probably would be counterproductive for us to cast this issue with the argument that DCA must be preserved at all costs in terms of its existing status and structure."

"Probably more important to us," said David Cullen, lobbyist for Sierra Club Florida, "is that the precepts of intelligent land use planning be preserved within the Growth Management Act regardless of what agency is tasked with executing that part of the law."

The groups recommended reducing state oversight in designated urban infill and redevelopment areas while increasing focus on rural and "edge" areas with significant natural resources. Their report also recommends that new development cover the cost of infrastructure and services so that taxpayers are not forced to pay for them.

Pattison said the environmental groups began working on the recommendations before the transition team issued its report. And the environmentalists said they believe the new governor is interested in what they have to say because Scott's transition team contacted several of them prior to issuing its recommendations to the governor.

"The point I think we were all trying to make is it is good for business and good for the economy to protect natural areas," Pattison said. "I think having the conservation and planning communities making recommendations we thought were appropriate would give them some understanding there is a way to accomplish that. We didn't want them to think it was an either-or type situation."

To download the groups' consensus paper on planning for quality growth, click here.

To download the group's economic development paper, click here.

(Photos by Bruce Ritchie. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story and photos copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Florida ag commissioner sees "common cause" in Everglades as new federal refuge announced

WESTON -- Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam at the Everglades Coalition Conference on Friday called for "smart" environmental restoration while the U.S. Interior Secretary announced a federal initiative with landowners to conserve portions of the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee.

Putnam is the first agriculture commissioner to speak at the conference, according to organizers. More than 500 people attended the conference in Weston.

With Gov. Rick Scott having taken office this week pledging to cut government spending and create a business-friendly climate in Florida, some Everglades supporters said they were uncertain about what role the new governor will play on the issue.

In Fort Lauderdale, Ken Salazar announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is conducting a preliminary study of 150,000 acres in the northern Everglades headwaters for a possible new national wildlife refuge. The area includes 50,000 acres of potential purchases and 100,000 acres of possible conservation easements, which involve paying private landowners to conserve their land.

"The partnerships being formed would protect and improve water quality north of Lake Okeechobee, restore wetlands, and connect existing conservation lands and important wildlife corridors to support the greater Everglades restoration effort," Salazar said in a statement.

Prior to the announcement, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson told the Everglades conference, "I'm very, very encouraged."

"Now is the time to demonstrate the importance of restoring the Everglades to folks around the country," he said, adding that the cause already has the attention of the Obama administration.


In his earlier remarks at the conference, Putnam said he is creating an office of water and energy within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The new office would combine the efforts of the Office of Agricultural Water Policy with bio-energy initiatives launched under former Commissioner Charles Bronson.

Putnam also said environmentalists and landowners share a desire to conserve the Everglades and can work together. His remarks seemed to be a contrast from Bronson, who had criticized some environmentalists and state land purchases in recent years.

Farms provide environmental benefits including wildlife habitat and water quality, Putnam said. Driving farmers out of business, he added, will cause farms to be converted to more harmful land uses.

"It is our common cause for Florida's $100 billion agricultural economy to remain strong, remain profitable, to remain sustainable so future generations of farmers will be able to provide the same stewardship practices," he said.

Outside the conference hall, Putnam told reporters he won't vote against all state land purchases as his predecessor had done for the past year.

Bronson had said he favored conservation easements that provided payments to private landowners. Putnam said he would weigh state purchases on a case-by-case basis.

Representatives of Audubon of Florida, a conference host organization, had invited Putnam and praised his appearance at the conference.

"His presentation was extraordinary," said Charles Lee, Audubon's director of Advocacy. "Of the whole crop of new elected officials in Florida my recommendation is watch Adam Putnam. He's got a grasp of the environmental land conservation issues up there that nobody else [in Tallahassee] has."

The Everglades Coalition announced its priorities for the coming year of establishing protected wildlife corridors between existing conservation lands, providing adequate state and federal funding for Everglades restoration and implementing protective water quality standards, including the controversial federal numeric nutrient standards.

Conference co-chairs Mark Perry of the Florida Oceanographic Society and Julie Hill-Gabriel of Audubon of Florida downplayed Scott's absence, saying that the new governor had just taken office this week and had a lot on his plate. Other environmentalists said they're uncertain of the new governor's stance on the Everglades and other environmental issues. Scott told reporters on Friday that he wasn't aware of the conference.

"I think we need to give Gov. Scott a chance in the starting block," said Frank Jackalone, senior field officer with the Sierra Club in St. Petersburg. "But when he makes the first mistake, Sierra Club will be there to jump on it."

(Top photo provided by the South Florida Water Management District. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Scott names former St. Joe exec to lead Florida planning agency


Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday evening announced that he was hiring Billy Buzzett, a former top executive at the St. Joe Company to take over the Department of Community Affairs.

Buzzett will take the place of Tom Pelham, who criticized Scott's statement that DCA is killing jobs. Pelham maintained that land-planning agency had approved plenty of development in recent years but that the financial collapse had stopped them from going forward.

"Billy is focused on helping me make government smaller, less intrusive and consistent with efforts to increase investment in Florida and make spur job creation,'' Scott said in a statement.

One of Buzzett's main jobs will be to look at possibly merging DCA into other state agencies. Buzzett was on the transition team that recommended that DCA be folded into a new agency that includes the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Protection. He said his group that examined DCA did not make the merger recommendation

Buzzett, an attorney from Santa Rosa Beach, told the Florida Tribune last month that his group looked more at the role of the state in planning rather than any particular agency. He said some local governments now have sophisticated planning staffs and that the state could play a broader role in planning over a longer timeframe.

"You've got a lot of land that is held by a few of the large corporations or families," he said. "Does it make sense that more concentration and more focus be placed on that and to see if there is an opportunity for common ground between those [interests] and the state and the environmental community?"

Buzzett had been vice president of strategic planning for St. Joe and had worked on the plan to bring a new international airport in Panama City that was legally challenged by environmental groups. St. Joe is one of the state's largest land owners but its development plans have been slowed by the recession and the collapse of the real estate market in Florida. Buzzett was executive director of the 1998 Constitutional Revision Commission.

Buzzett steps in while the department remains involved in 23 legal challenges to comprehensive plan changes in cities and counties. But five rule changes, including those affecting building codes and the Florida Communities Trust grant program, have been placed on hold as directed on Tuesday by Scott in an executive order issued to all agencies.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Septic tank delay bill goes to Gov. Rick Scott

A bill that would delay implementation of a statewide septic tank inspection requirement was presented Tuesday to Gov. Rick Scott -- after agency rule-making already had been halted.

A Senate spokesman declined to say whether the Legislature had delayed sending the bill to avoid a veto by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. He signed SB 550 in June, which contained the inspection requirement. Supporters, including Sierra Club Florida and the Florida Home Builders Association, said the requirement would protect public health and water quality.

SB 2A was adopted on Nov. 16 by the Legislature during its special session after an outcry from some Panhandle residents and legislators over concerns about the cost of inspections.

The bill "was given to the governor in a timely manner," David Bishop, the Senate's director of communications and information technology, said Tuesday. Scott has 15 days to sign or veto the bill or allow it to become law without his signature.

The Florida Department of Health estimated that inspections would cost $150 to $200, according to a Senate bill analysis. Replacing failing septic systems could cost $5,000 to $7,000. DOH estimates that 10 percent of Florida's 2.6 million septic tanks are failing.

SB 2A would delay implementation from Jan. 1 to July 1. But DOH already had delayed implementation in December pending action by the governor on the bill, Michelle Dahnke, a department spokeswoman, said Tuesday.

Furthermore, Scott on Tuesday issued Executive Order 11-01 halting rule-making by agencies under the direction of the governor. Any proposed rules must be reviewed by his new Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform for consent.

Dahnke said that executive order would not appear to affect rule-making on the septic tank inspection requirement because action already had been halted until the governor could act on SB 2A.

Meanwhile, bills have been filed for the 2011 session that would repeal the requirement altogether. One of those bills, SB 130, was filed by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness and chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Scott's inauguration speech raises concerns among some enviros


Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday vowed to create the "most favorable business climate in the world" in Florida and issued an executive order to suspend government rule-making.

While not specifically blaming environmental permitting during his inauguration speech, he said regulation, taxation and litigation together form the "axis of unemployment."

"Unless they are approved, regulations grow like weeds," Scott said. "While there are some regulations that are essential for health and safety and others are essential to the protection of our priceless environment, it's past time to demand that every regulation be re-evaluated."

Some environmental group representatives said after the speech they were concerned. But some Republicans said the state excessive permitting can be reduced while the environment is protected.

Scott said during his inauguration speech, "All I heard during the entire campaign was the unbelievable time it took to get permits in the state. That doesn't many any sense -- and it's going to stop."

Eric Draper, Audubon of Florida's executive director, said he was concerned after listening from the VIP seating outside the historic Capitol. Few other environmental group representatives attended while business and industry representatives were prevalent.

Draper said he kept listening for balance when Scott talked about getting regulations out of the way of business and job growth -- but Draper said he didn't hear that balance.

"I'm concerned -- what does that mean?" Draper said. "Does that mean we're going to change the rules? Does it just mean somebody is going to be able to get a permit faster, or (be permitted to) build a casino in the middle of a wetland?"

"That's the stuff I'm paying attention to," he said. "I didn't hear a lot that gave me assurance."

Former Gov. Jeb Bush said after the speech that environmental regulations can be enacted "thoughtfully" without killing jobs.

"There is a broad bi-partisan tradition in support of the environment," he said. "It's an integral part of who we are as a state. I don't think Rick Scott is going to do things or propose things that go against that tradition."

Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

Incoming governor Scott taps shipyard executive for Florida DEP post

Governor-elect Rick Scott on Monday named Jacksonville shipyard executive Herschel Vinyard Jr. to lead the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, calling him a man of "deep environmental knowledge and practical business experience."

Vinyard, who also served as a member of Scott's economic development transition team, recently served as director of business operation for BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards. He also serves on the Jacksonville Port Authority board and on a DEP board that is establishing pollution reduction practices for the lower St. Johns River.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce applauded the appointment by saying that Vinyard would balance environmental protection and free enterprise. Meanwhile environmental groups provided mixed views on the appointment of an industry official to lead the department, which oversees regulation of wetlands, water and air quality and manages Florida's state parks.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said Vinyard is a former law partner and "great friend" who has served Florida "with honesty and integrity." In a statement announcing the appointment, Scott said Vinyard had represented a myriad of clients while serving as an environmental attorney.

"Herschel is a man of deep environmental knowledge and practical business experience," Scott said. "He has a love for our great state's natural resources and a passion for job creation. He will effectively balance those interests for the benefit of all Floridians."

On the other hand, Linda Young of the Clean Water Network of Florida said Scott had chosen "a capable man to make easy work of clearing the path for monied interests that find natural resource protections getting in the way of quick profits." Other environmental group representatives said they would have to wait to find out Vinyard's impact on the department.

"Putting a business person in charge of enforcement of laws doesn't change the law," said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida. "It doesn't change the mission of the agency."

Kirk Fordam, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, sounded an optimistic note about Vinyard even though Scott has said he was opposed to the state purchase of land from U.S. Sugar for Everglades cleanup.

"Vinyard recognizes both the ecological and environmental value of Florida's remarkable natural resources,'' he said in statement. "He has demonstrated a commitment in both the private sector and on a personal level, to implementing sound, innovative practices and policies to conserve our waterways, lakes, estuaries and all of the environmental treasures of this state."

The appointment requires confirmation by both the Florida Senate and the Cabinet. Vinyard replaces Mimi Drew, who was initially named interim secretary this past summer and was later named permanent secretary by Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet. Drew said she wanted to stay in the job but she would have had to resign from state government by July 2011 since she was enrolled in the deferred retirement option program.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)