Friday, January 29, 2010

Sink's opposition surprises "Hometown Democracy"

A supporter of the "Florida Hometown Democracy" amendment is expressing surprise at state CFO Alex Sink's opposition to the measure.

Amendment 4, which is on the ballot in November, would require voter approval of changes to local comprehensive growth plans. Supporters say the measure will help rein in growth and reduce developers' influence over local land-use decisions.

But Sink, in remarks to journalists on Wednesday, sided with opponents who predict it will halt economic growth in Florida. "It's a horrible idea," she said.

"You are kidding me," Ross Stafford Burnaman, co-founder of the Florida Hometown Democracy Inc. PAC, replied to a reporter.

"I'm surprised," he added. "I thought she had her hands full with the governor's race."

Earlier this week, opponents released an economic consultant's report that estimated between 106,652 jobs and 267,247 jobs would be lost if the amendment passes.

Hometown Democracy co-founder Lesley Blackner of West Palm Beach dismissed the report, saying she doesn't consider economics to be a science.

(Copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Crist: Land-buying is an investment in economy

Gov. Charlie Crist today paired environmental spending with education as both being necessary investments for moving Florida forward in tough economic times.

Crist's $69.2-billion budget recommendation for 2010-11 includes $50 million for Everglades restoration and $50 million for the Florida Forever land-buying program, which received no money last year for the first time since 1990.

This year, Crist said, it's important to "revive Florida's commitment to conserve our unique natural resources and wildlife." And he said education and environmental spending both are important to the economy.

"We know how important the tourist industry is to our state," he said. "About 85 million people a year visit Florida. That provides an incredible amount of jobs and economic opportunity. It's important for us to invest in protecting Florida."

The budget also includes $10 million for solar energy rebates, $167 million in matching funds for water and wastewater projects, $6 million for water quality programs, $283 million for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and $319 million for agricultural programs.

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

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Judge recommends issuing International Paper permit

A state hearing officer late Wednesday issued a recommended order favoring International Paper and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in a challenge to DEP's proposed permit for the company's paper mill near Contanment in Escambia County.

DEP had proposed a permit requiring the company to remove its discharge pipe from upper Eleven Mile Creek and build a 10-mile pipeline to lower Eleven Mile Creek and Perdido Bay.

The 23.8 million gallons per day of treated wastewater would be discharged into the 1,381 acres of wetlands owned by the company along lower Eleven Mile Creek

Residents Jacqueline and James Lane and Friends of Perdido Bay challenged the permit, saying it would harm the wetlands including Tee and Wicker lakes.

But in his findings, state Administrative Hearing Officer Bram D. E. Canter said the discharge would not be "unreasonably destructive" to the wetlands.

He also wrote that International Paper has no reasonable, alternative means of wastewater disposal other than into waters of the state.

Canter in 2007 had recommended against issuing a permit for the plant because he said the company had not conducted an assessment of the property. DEP then rejected that permit but proposed a new one in 2008 after the company evaluated the wetlands site and removed 103 acres containing threatened and endangered species.

After receiving exceptions to the recommended order and responses within the next 30 days, DEP Secretary Michael Sole will have 45 days within which to issue a final order.

Attorney Marcy LaHart, who represented James Lane and Friends of Perdido Bay, said she understands the judge's reasoning but disagrees with it. She said she doesn't know what action her clients will take at this point.

"It is very frustrating to have to continually fight the Department of Environmental Protection, who seemed far more interested in protecting International Paper than it seemed protecting the public interest," she said.

An International Paper spokeswoman said in an e-mail: "We’re confident that we addressed the issues raised with our last permit application by virtue of the judge’s issuance of a recommended order to grant this permit and look forward to fulfilling the commitment IP made to help improve water quality in the Perdido Bay system nearly a decade ago."

To read the recommended order or review the Division of Administrative Hearings docket, go on the Web to: .

(Editors note: This story was updated on Jan. 29 to include comments from International Paper, a photo of the plant and a map of the plant and wetlands site provided by the company.)

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

Cannon says oil lobby group's funding unimportant

Rep. Dean Cannon, chairman of a House council that is holding hearings on whether to allow oil drilling within 10 miles of Florida's Gulf coast, said today that he isn't interested in who's behind the firm that's been pushing for drilling legislation.

Drilling supporter say Florida waters should be opened to energy production to boost the economy and reduce dependance on foreign sources of oil. Opponents say drilling threatens the environment and coastal tourism economy.

Representatives of Florida Energy Associates, which has been pushing for drilling legislation, have declined to disclose the firm's backers.

The firm has nine registered lobbyists at the Legislature, down from the 35 it had in 2009 when the drilling legislation first emerged in the House.

Cannon, R-Winter Park and chairman of the House Select Policy Council on Strategic & Economic Planning, said today during a House issues briefing for journalists that he instead was interested in requiring disclosure from parties who will be conducting drilling activities.

"We want to know more about the policy and who is going to do what rather than who is funding any particular (lobbying) group," Cannon said.

Cannon also has said that his committee is dealing with the fundamental question of whether the state ban on drilling should be lifted

But asked today when that question would be decided, Cannon said that would happen as part of the legislative process as drilling bills emerge from the House and Senat

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

Water coalition to EPA: Provide data, or extend deadline

A coalition of industry groups, utilities and other regulated interests is calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide the detailed science behind its proposed phosphorus and nitrogen limits for Florida lakes, springs and rivers.

After announcing its proposal earlier this month, the EPA this week formally published the specific limits that it says are needed to protect Florida waterways.

The numeric nutrient criteria replace a state narrative standard that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection agreed was insufficient. Industry and utility groups say the proposed limits could cost billions of dollars just for sewage treatment plant improvements.

Today, the Florida Water Coalition called on the EPA to issue the data and modeling used to propose the criteria or extend the 60-day comment period, which began on Monday.

Florida residents are at a "very serious disadvantage" in commenting on the proposal without the EPA science, said Cathy Vogel, a representative of the Florida Water Coalition.

EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said there are no plans to extend the comment period. EPA's web site links to the data and a DVD containing the data is provided to anyone who requests it, she said.

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gov. candidates cold toward drilling -- but not Crist, Rubio

Gov. Charlie Crist speaks to journalists at the Capitol

The three major candidates for governor today largely rejected the idea of allowing drilling off Florida's Gulf coast during remarks at the 2010 Associated Press Legislative Planning Session at the Capitol.

Attorney General Bill McCollum, running as a Republican, said an oil spill like the one that occurred last year off Australia would "completely terrorize our beaches."

"You've got to show me" that new technology will prevent a spill, McCollum said. "I'm not completely and unalterably opposed to it. But I'm not ready to jump in and be for it right now based on what I know.

Sen. Paula Dockery, McCollum's opponent for governor in the Republican primary, said she has concerns about oil spills, about how military training activities in the Gulf of Mexico would be affected by drilling and how "bad guys" would be prevented from acquiring leases.

"I'm concerned about a complete lifting of the ban (on drilling)," she said. "The devil is in the details."

State CFO Alex Sink, running for governor as a Democrat, said the House last year supported "near-beach drilling" within three miles of the coast. But she said her biggest concern is the secrecy of oil drilling supporters behind Florida Energy Associates, the firm that is lobbying to open Florida waters to drilling.

"I learned in business the first rule of business and doing deals is know who you are dealing with," she said. "There is some secret somebody out there who is promoting this notion."

In the U.S. Senate race, Gov. Charlie Crist reiterated his support for drilling -- with limits -- while his Republican opponent, former House Speaker Marco Rubio, expressed nearly unqualified support.

"It must be -- in my view -- far enough (from the coast), clean enough and safe enough before I would support it," Crist said.

Rubio said he is in favor of exploration, but he added that no one wants to harm the environment.

"With that said, I'm a believer that the technology today is advanced enough to be able to explore for our domestic sources of energy without being damaging to our environment," he said.

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

Gov. candidates warm on land-buying, but not House speaker

The three candidates for governor said today they support the Florida Forever program during remarks at the Capitol, but House Speaker Larry Cretul expressed reluctance toward resuming spending for land-buying.

The state since 1990 has purchased 2.4 million acres for conservation. But the $300 million in bonding authority that had gone toward the program each year was cut to zero last year by the Legislature.

During the 2010 Associated Press Florida Legislative Planning Session, Attorney General Bill McCollum, Sen. Paula Dockery and state CFO Alex Sink all expressed support for providing some amount less than $300 million in fiscal year 2010-11 because of the tight budget. Crist said last week he will recommend $50 million for Florida Forever in his state budget request.

Cretul, R-Ocala, said the state faces a projected revenue shortfall of between $1.1 billion and $3.2 billion in FY 2010-11.

"Florida Forever certainly is a great program," Cretul told reporters. "But it's hard to explain (that funding) to the folks back home . . . when people are experiencing a loss of their incomes (or are) changing their plans for the future. We'll have to see."

McCollum, facing Dockery in the Republican primary for governor, told reporters that the sooner the state can return to fully funding Florida Forever at $300 million a year, the better.

"I think very definitely you have got to have something this session for Florida Forever," McCollum said. "I can't speak to how much the Legislature will find but I personally support the full $300 (million)."

Sink, who is running as a Democrat for governor, said that some reduced amount compared to the previous $300 million a year, "is appropriate in these tough economic times."

"As soon as we are able to, I'd love to see the program fully funded again," she said.

Dockery said providing no money for Florida Forever last year "made absolutely no sense." She said issuing Florida Forever bonds requires a much smaller appropriation for debt service than the $300 million in bonding authority that had been granted each year by the Legislature.

During tough economic times, public lands provide "great, low-cost entertainment where families can go out and enjoy the 'Real Florida,' " Dockery said. "That's what Florida Forever is all about."

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

"Hometown Democracy" amendment will cost jobs, report says

Critics of Amendment 4 - which will be on the 2010 ballot - on Tuesday released a report concluding that the measure could cost the state hundreds of thousands of jobs and cause a steady decline in residents' quality of living.

The amendment, placed on the ballot by Florida Hometown Democracy Inc., would require voter approval of changes to city and county comprehensive growth plans. The ballot measure already faces opposition from business groups including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Home Builders Association.

The report was issued as the opposition groups announced their campaign against the amendment.

The report by Washington Economics Group, Inc. found that the amendment could cost between 106,652 jobs under a "moderate" impact scenario to 267,247 jobs under a most likely scenario.

"If you like the recession, you'll love Amendment 4," Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.

But Florida Hometown Democracy co-founder Lesley Blackner of West Palm Beach said the report assumes that all growth plan changes will be rejected by voters, which she said shouldn't be true if the proposals are in the public interest.

"They (opponents) don't like that Amendment 4 will make it harder to build where ever they want, whenever they want," she said.

To read the report, go to .

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

More than 100 manatees dead amid cold weather

Manatees float around a swimming platform at Wakulla Springs State Park on Jan. 2

More than 100 manatees have been found dead since Jan. 1 and state wildlife officials say the extreme cold weather earlier this month was to blame for most of the deaths.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking anyone who sees a dead or distressed manatee to call the agency's alert hotline at 800-404-3922.

"We are deeply concerned about these impacts on manatees and other fish and wildlife," Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto said in a statement.

The recent cold temperatures, marked in North Florida by 14 days of low temperatures below freezing, also has caused agricultural losses and coral bleaching.

Of the 107 manatee carcasses found between Jan. 1 and Jan. 23, wildlife researchers say at least 77 died of cold stress. The number deaths from cold stress is expected to rise as more carcasses are recovered and examined in the weeks following the cold snap.

The January number so far already exceeds the previous record of 56 for that category in a single year, set in 2009. Many of the manatee deaths this month have been in the Indian River and other waterways in southeast Florida, though an FWC researcher said the deaths have occurred statewide.

Martine Dewit, head of FWC’s Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory in St. Petersburg, said researchers will know more in the coming months whether the deaths are a threat to the survival of endangered manatees. The agency counted more than 5,000 of the sea cows during aerial surveys.

"I think it's too early to tell at this point," she said. They (manatee deaths due to cold stress) are record high numbers right now. Hopefully it is a one time occurrence."

(Photo and story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Florida springs rally slated for Capitol for Feb. 16

A rally for Florida springs protection to be held at the Capitol on Feb. 16, the Florida Wildlife Federation announced Monday.

Springs across the state are become choked with weeds and algae as nitrogen has increased in groundwater flowing from the springs. Sources of nitrogen include septic tanks, stormwater runoff, sewage treatment plants, livestock farms and residential and agricultural fertilizers.

On Feb. 16, local youth will collect a bottle of water from Wakulla Spring and deliver it by relay runners to the Capitol in time for the noon rally. Springs supporters from around the state also will be meeting with House and Senate member to request support for expected springs protection legislation.

Springs bills have failed to pass the Legislature during the past four years as opposition has arisen from agriculture and development interests. The Senate Committee on Florida's Inland Waters this year is holding meetings around the state to develop new springs legislation and is scheduled to meet Feb. 2 at Wakulla Springs State Park from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

For more information on the Feb. 16 rally contact, Jim Stevenson at (850) 556-3072 or at .

Monday, January 25, 2010

EPA to step up NO2 monitoring in Florida

To download a larger map, click here.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday established a new hourly nitrogen dioxide standard and proposed additional monitoring requirements for the pollutant.

Only Cook County, Illinois is now projected to be in violation of the new hourly standard of 100 parts per billion. But the EPA will step up monitoring near cities and along major urban roadways in areas including Jacksonville, Titusville-Melbourne, the I-4 corridor from Orlando to Tampa, Bradenton-Sarasota, Fort Myers and the south Florida counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

Nitrogen dioxide is formed from vehicle, power plant and other industrial emissions and contributes to the formation of fine particle pollution and smog.

A Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman said it's unknown whether any roadside areas will violate the new standards.

The new monitors will begin operating by Jan. 1, 2013. EPA intends to re-designate non-attainment areas after three years of data collection.

Frank O'Donnell, president of the Clean Air Watch environmental group in Washington, D.C., said the effect now of the announcement is minimal but that could change in the future.

"The idea is to put out the monitors and find out if people are exposed to higher levels of pollution we don't know about today," he said.

The announcement comes on the heels of an EPA announcement earlier this month that it is proposing stricter standards for ozone (smog) than were proposed in 2008. The proposed 2008 ozone standards would cause Pensacola, Panama City and six counties around Tampa Bay to be in non-attainment, according to DEP.

For more information on the EPA nitrogen dioxide standard, go to .

For more information on the proposed EPA ozone standards, go to .

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

Friday, January 22, 2010

Crist budget includes land-buying, Everglades restoration

Gov. Charlie Crist today included $50 million for the Florida Forever land-buying program and $50 million for Everglades restoration in a $2.1-billion fiscal year 2010-11 environmental budget request.

Announced by Crist during a press conference in Naples, the budget request was welcomed by environmental groups who were disappointed last year when Florida Forever received no money for the first time since 1990. The state had been borrowing $300 million a year for Florida Forever.

The state since 1990 has purchased 2.4 million acres for state and local parks, state forests and hunting preserves, "working waterfronts" for commercial seafood and conservation agreements with owners of forest lands and working ranches.

In a written statement, Crist described his environmental spending request in economic terms.

"Florida's present and future economy depends on the stewardship of our natural resources and our continued efforts to set aside land for water resource protection, recreation and the enjoyment of Floridians and visitors to the Sunshine State," Crist said.

Environmental groups who had pushed for the full $300 million in past years were grateful for the $50 million requested by Crist for Florida Forever.

“We know this is just the beginning of another tough budget year," Jeff Danter, Florida state director of The Nature Conservancy, said in a statement. "But when the Legislature convenes this spring, we hope it will recognize that Floridians want to be stewards of their natural environment, even in difficult economic times.”

Crist's budget also includes $144 million to clean up soil and groundwater contamination from leaking underground petroleum tanks along with $29.2 million to remediate and restore other previously contaminated sites.

The budget request was welcomed by the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association, which opposed the Legislature last year when it voted to sweep money from a trust fund that used revenue from an oil tax to pay for cleanups. The Legislature eventually voted to issue $100 million in bonds for the cleanup program, said Jim Smith, association president.

"I feel good about what we've done today," Smith said of Crist's budget request. "I look forward to seeing it move through the legislative process."

Crist also proposed $10 million for solar energy rebates along with $176 million in federal stimulus funds for energy programs.

The governor also proposed $11.2 million for repairs and renovations to existing state park facilities. A detailed line-item version of the governor's budget request was not immediately available.

And he proposed $20 million in matching funds for wastewater and alternative water supply projects and $6 million for water quality programs to protect springs, rivers, lakes and wetlands.

Crist also requested $283 million to support the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and $319 million to support programs at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

To read a news release on the governor's budget request, go to .

(Copyright by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

11th Circuit allows Georgia water appeal to proceed

By the News Service of Florida
As Gov. Charlie Crist continues to try to navigate a long-standing water dispute with Georgia and Alabama, a federal appeals court has ruled that Georgia can move forward with an appeal.

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a move by Florida and Alabama to halt Georgia’s effort to appeal a July lower court decision requiring the states work out a deal to better share the water that comes from the Atlanta area through the Chattahoochee River and down into the Flint and Apalachicola Rivers. If an agreement is not reached within three years, the allocations for each will revert to 1970s levels.

Florida and Alabama had argued that the decision could not be appealed because it was not final, but the three-judge panel of the appellate court in Atlanta disagreed.

Judges Gerald Tjoflat, Susan Black and Charles Wilson wrote in a five-page opinion released late Wednesday that the July ruling resolved all the outstanding issues and so with nothing else left to decide, the ruling was final in essence.

The decision came as the neighboring governors are trying to work out a plan that solves a decades-long water-sharing dispute. Florida and Alabama have argued that Atlanta takes more water than it should at the head waters of the Chattahoochee, arguing that the immense growth of Georgia’s capital city did not obscure the need for water to head south for power and for keeping a healthy seafood industry where the system dumps into the Gulf of Mexico.

The district court gave the states three years to work out a more equitable agreement. All three states' populations have drastically increased as the water fight has dragged on, but metro Atlanta's has quadrupled in size, putting Georgia in a major water deficit.

Despite the continued legal wrangling, Florida officials say Gov. Crist will continue talking to Govs. Sonny Perdue and Bob Riley, his counterparts from Georgia and Alabama respectively.

“There’s no impact on our approach,” Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey told the News Service Thursday. “We’re still speaking with the two states and we still have the (July) ruling in effect that we can move forward with. Any decision to appeal by Georgia will be left to Georgia.”

Ivey said that he did not think Georgia’s water appeal would dampen the desire of the three governors who are now in their final year in office to reach a deal before they leave office.

“We’re going to continue good-faith discussions with Georgia and Alabama,” he said. “This has been an ongoing issue for 20 years, (but) I think we have three governors that want to get something done.”

Georgia Gov. Perdue had indicated recently that a deal might be able to be reached during his state's 40-day legislative session, which is already underway, but Florida officials said a deal would likely take a while because the tri-state talks were in the early stages.

DEP warns that Florida springs are being degraded

A Florida Department of Environmental Protection official on Wednesday warned a Senate panel that waiting to protect Florida's springs could cost more in the long run.

The Select Committee on Florida's Inland Waters is working on consensus legislation to protect springs, said Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs and committee chairman.

Springs across the state have become choked in recent years with weeds and algae as nitrogen levels in groundwater have increased. Potential sources of nitrogen include fertilizers, septic tanks, stormwater runoff and industrial and sewage treatment plants.

Jerry Brooks, director of DEP's Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration, said the technology that would be needed to precisely determine how much pollution each source is contributing to problems at individual springs is not available and won't be in the foreseeable future.

"If we choose to wait until we have that level of precision, I tell you we will have lost that resource or we will be faced with a huge cost that is associated with remediating that resource," Brooks said.

DEP, he said, has worked with interest groups and stakeholders in regions to identify sources of pollution and practices that will protect groundwater.

His comments followed a presentation by David Still, executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District on the need to also protect the quantity of water flowing from springs. White Sulphur Springs along the Suwannee River was a tourist attraction in the early 1900s before it quit flowing in the 1970s.

Still said his district, because of lack of money, has halted work to identify the minimum amounts of water to keep springs flowing in the Suwannee region. But he said those springs and groundwater are important to the economies, heritage and agriculture of the region.

"We can't stand by and let those springs dry up," Still said. "If I have to come (tell you) every week or every month how important those springs are, we'll do it."

Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, noted that money provided for alternative water projects has been cut out of the state budget in recent years. In 2005, she sponsored SB 444, which provided $100 million of state money that was matched with $400 million from other governments.

"When we cut the funding from SB 444, it was the worst budget decision I've witnessed in my 13 years in the Legislature," she said.

The Select Committee on Florida's Inland Waters meets again Jan. 25 in Lake Mary, Feb. 2 at Wakulla Springs State Park near Tallahassee, Feb. 12 in Palatka, Feb. 22 in Punta Gorda and Feb. 25 (tentative) in Gainesville.

(Photo courtesy of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Feds propose to ban Burmese pythons, eight other species

The U.S. Department of Interior is proposing to ban the import of Burmese pythons and eight other snakes that it says pose a threat to the Everglades ecosystem.

Exotic snakes became a news sensation last July after a pet Burmese python smothered and killed a two-year-old girl in the Sumter County home where the snake got out of its cage.

The Department of Interior proposes to list the nine snakes as "injurious species" that can be banned from importation and interstate transport under the Lacey Act. They are the African python, reticulated python, green anaconda, yellow anaconda, the northern African python, the southern African python, Beni or Bolivian anacadona, DeSchauensee's anaconda and the boa constrictor.

Burmese pythons and boa constrictors already have established populations in South Florida, according to the Department of Interior.

SB 318 by state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, would ban six of the nine snake species for which Florida already requires licenses and identifying microchips.

Sobel said in an e-mail to that she's excited about the federal action but she will continue to push for her bill.

"We know that several of these species are non-native, harmful to our delicate environment and dangerous to humans," she wrote. "With the push at the Federal level still pending, I will continue my efforts in the Florida Senate to turn off the spigot of importation and intrastate commerce of these invasive and dangerous reptiles into Florida."

The federal proposal will be published in February and the public will have 60 days to comment. To read more about the proposed ban, go to the Department of Interior web site, .

To read a federal study on pythons in the wild, click here.

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

House panel considers Florida Forever funding

A House committee's budget exercise includes proposed new money for Florida Forever but the land-buying program may still face an uphill battle to get funded for the 2010-11 fiscal year.

Florida Forever - which had received $300 million a year in cash or bonding authority since 1990 - had its funding suspended in the current fiscal year. The program has led to the acquisition of 2.4 million acres since 1990.

The House Natural Resources Appropriations Committee on Tuesday considered a $1.9 billion base budget for agricultural and environmental agencies that includes $13.1 million in debt service for $200 million in new bonds for Florida Forever.

A Nature Conservancy representative said including Florida Forever in the base budget was a positive sign from the House.

But Rep. Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach and committee chairman, said the panel still must slice $300 million from the base budget to meet revenue projections. The agency budgets must be cut to $1.6 billion, he said.

"I don't know how much if any" Florida Forever will get, Poppell said. "That's why we're going through this process -- to determine what are the priorities of the people of the state of Florida."

(Photo of San Felasco Hammock copyrighted by James Valentine, used with permission from Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bill would require permit votes again

SB 142 by Sen. Carey Baker, R-Mount Dora, would reverse the Legislature's elimination last year of a requirement that water-management district boards vote to approve water-use permits.

Last year, SB 2080, co-sponsored by Baker, prohibited homeowners associations from banning "Florida-friendly" landscaping in yards.

The bill was supported by environmental groups until it was amended on the next to last day of the regular session to deal with the water-management districts.

"I just think that there are certain water issues," Baker said today, "that are so significant that they deserve a vote of the board, and not should be just (relegated) to staff approval."

Baker said at the time he was surprised by the amendment by bill co-sponsor Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Home-builders supported the bill last year because they said it allowed the districts to focus their time on issues other than permitting.

Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida, said Baker's bill is needed to restore public participation in the process. Draper said he didn't know of any bad permits that were approved by districts without a vote since the change was approved last year.

"Just because the world hasn't come to an end because they made the policy decision doesn't make it right to exclude the public from these (permitting) decisions," he said.

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

Friday, January 15, 2010

EPA issues nutrient standards for Florida waters

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this morning issued its proposed limits for phosphorus and nitrogen in Florida lakes and rivers -- a move anticipated by industry and environmental groups alike.

Springs, lakes and rivers have become choked with algae, fed by the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen, scientists say. Potential sources of nutrients include stormwater runoff from cities, sewage treatment plants, farms and fertilizer use.

The EPA last year said specific numeric limits are needed to replace Florida's narrative standard that prohibited discharges that created an "imbalance" of fish and wildlife. In response to a lawsuit filed by environmental groups, the agency in August agreed to set limits for the state -- despite protests from utilities, agriculture and industry groups.

Florida is the first state to receive federal numeric limits statewide for nutrients, according to the EPA. Don't Tax Florida, an industry and utilities umbrella group, criticized the proposal today while the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice praised the agency's action.

In its proposal today, EPA is dividing the state into four regions and is setting total nitrogen and total phosphorus limits for waterways in each of those regions. The EPA also is setting separate nitrate-nitrogen limits for clear streams and rivers.

Don't Tax Florida issued a statement saying that the proposed new standards represent a fundamentally-flawed approach by the EPA that will cost utilities an estimated $50 billion to comply with.

"It simply makes no sense to force Florida to spend billions of scarce dollars in excess of what is necessary to meet an arbitrary federal regulation," Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement from the group.

David Guest, managing attorney for Earthjustice in Tallahassee, said in a statement that the most cost-effective way to reduce pollution is to deal with its source. His firm represents the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper and the Sierra Club.

“These standards aren’t as stringent as we would like, but they are a huge improvement,” Guest said. “All you have to do is look at the green slime covering lakes, rivers, and shorelines during our warm months to know it is worth the investment to reduce fertilizer runoff, control animal waste better, and improve filtration of sewage.”

Representatives of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson, who has spoken out against the federal government rather than the state issuing the standards, said they had just begun their review of the EPA proposal today.

The public has 60 days to comment on the proposed limits. Workshops have been scheduled for Tallahassee on Feb. 16, Orlando on Feb. 17 and West Palm Beach on Feb. 18. For more information, go on the Web to .

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

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Key GOP leader likes oil rigs out of sight

Republican House members today expressed support for the idea of requiring oil rigs to be located out of sight even while they are pumping oil from beneath state waters near the coast.

A representative of the National Ocean Industries Association told a House panel that oil and gas production platforms could be connected by pipelines to wells as far as 50 miles away.

The House Select Policy Council on Strategic & Economic Planning is holding a series of hearings on possible legislation to allow drilling in state waters. The House adopted a bill last year to allow drilling in Florida waters within three miles of the coast, but the Senate refused to consider the bill.

Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park and council chairman, said allowing drilling but requiring rigs to be out of sight in federal waters is an appealing idea. Cannon is slated to be House speaker in 2011.

"As a fifth generation Floridian, I think not having permanent structures visible from the coast is an important priority to me and I think is shared by a lot of people," he said. "That is the kind of thing I would anticipate wanting to have in a final bill."

Also during the meeting, Cannon said three council meetings will be scheduled for February to outline oil production and accident responses, competing coastal activities including military, tourism and fishing, and the economic impacts of oil and gas production.

Drilling supporters, including Associated Industries of Florida, say drilling will create jobs and reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil. Opponents, including environmental groups and some coastal communities, say drilling threatens fishing and the state's beach tourism.

The Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation also is studying the issue at the direction of Senate President Jeff Atwater, who did not give a deadline for when the research should be concluded.

(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do no copy or redistribute without permission.)

House panel working on new state energy policy

The House Energy & Utilities Policy Committee Wednesday heard from speakers on what a new state energy policy should include.

The Legislature last year wrangled over energy issues as the House adopted a bill to allow offshore oil drilling in state coastal waters and the Senate adopted a bill to require utilities to use more renewable energy. But neither bill passed as the chambers refused to take up the other's bills.

On Wednesday, Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando and committee chairman, said conflicting Florida law and energy policies contributed to the divisions on energy issues in the 2009 session.

The committee, he said, would work towards reaching consensus on an energy policy that would guide future legislation. He also said he was meeting with a key senator today to discuss how the two chambers should deal with the issue in the upcoming legislative session, which begins March 2.

"Our intention is to move forward with energy policy in Florida this session -- a substantial step forward," Precourt said. "What forms that content is what we're debating right now."

The committee heard from representatives of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Audubon of Florida.

The groups agreed that renewable energy projects are needed and should help create jobs, but an Audubon representative said the group opposes offshore oil drilling while the Chamber representative said the business group supports it.

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

Whooping cranes arrive in St. Marks

Ten endangered whooping cranes being led by ultralight aircraft on Wednesday arrived at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge south of Tallahassee while another 10 continued towards Central Florida.

The birds were being led by Operation Migration pilots under an effort to re-establish a migrating population of the whooping cranes east of the Mississippi River.

Whooping cranes, standing nearly five feet tall with striking white plumage, were nearly wiped out by hunting and habitat loss in the middle 1900s with only one wild population left, migrating between Canada and Texas.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, which includes the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, began the effort in 2001 to raise crane chicks in captivity in Wisconsin and lead them to Florida.

On Wednesday, between 600 and 700 people were near the city of St. Marks to see the birds and ultralight aircraft pass overhead on their way to the refuge, refuge volunteer Carol Phillips said.

"To know that they are here and they are safe and hopefully they will make their flight north to (Wisconsin), it's just fascinating, totally fascinating and awesome," Marilyn-Sue Walsh told WCTV-TV. She drove from Brooksville to see the fly-over.

Another flock is heading towards the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Crystal River. The birds will be kept in pens at the refuges but return north on their own in the spring.

(Photo by Lou Kellenberger. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Riverkeeper not consulted as judge grants confidentiality

The talks among Alabama, Florida and Georgia over water-sharing are confidential now under an order entered last week by a federal judge -- despite an objection from an environmental group involved in the litigation.

The three states have been battling in federal court since 1990 over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. Alabama and Georgia want water for industries, farms and cities, including the Atlanta area, while Florida wants water to support fish and wildlife in the Apalachicola River and the seafood industry around Apalachicola Bay.

The states last week requested an order granting confidentiality and stated in their motion that other parties in the consolidated lawsuit did not object. But Apalachicola Riverkeeper says it is a party but was never contacted by the states.

"We didn't want it to be confidential," Andy Smith, the group's executive director, said Monday. "We felt that (talks in private) has been a problem all along. We felt if it was going to be confidential, we want to be there."

A response was requested on Monday from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection but none was provided. A DEP spokeswoman said last week that input from interested stakeholders is welcome.

U.S. District Judge Paul A. Magnuson ruled in July that Atlanta and other cities were illegally taking water from the Chattahoochee River. He gave the states until 2012 to win congressional approval for a new water-sharing agreement before the taps are shut off in north Georgia.

Last month, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist met privately in Montgomery, Ala. with the governors of Alabama and Georgia. The governors afterward told reporters they had agreed on an aggressive schedule for developing an agreement.

On Jan. 4, the states filed a joint motion saying that confidential talks were needed to help reach an agreement.

In his order filed last Thursday, Magnuson agreed, saying that settlement "of a complicated and inflammatory case such as this can occur only if some negotiations, whether among all parties or among only some of the parties, are conducted privately."

Apalachicola Riverkeeper was considering last week what action to take on the motion when the order was issued three days later, Smith said. The group is concerned that the states will cut a deal as they almost did in 2002 that would have left Florida with only minimal flows amid "man-made droughts."

Officials with the city of Apalachicola, which also may be a party to the litigation, could not be reached for comment.

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

Friday, January 8, 2010

State planners enforcing climate, energy requirements

State planners increasingly are requiring cities and counties to show that proposed new developments include features to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, a Department of Community Affairs official said today.

HB 697, adopted by the Legislature, in 2008 required cities and counties to have energy-efficient land use patterns and greenhouse gas reduction strategies in their growth plans. The Department of Community Affairs is holding a workshop on Jan. 29 to receive comment on developing standards for those requirements.

State planners are raising concerns about energy use and greenhouse gas emissions as they review a wave of proposed new land-use changes for developments, said Charles Gauthier, director of DCA's Division of Community Planning. But those state planners, he said, often are not able to provide cities and counties with the guidance they are clamoring for.

"This is a major new dimension to planning in the state," Gauthier told a "Climate Change and Public Health" workshop in Tallahassee. "I feel that in some ways we are all feeling our way along."

The Florida Department of Health and 1000 Friends of Florida coordinated the program for the workshop, held at the Capital Circle Office Center in Tallahassee. Other workshops will be held through March in Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Sarasota, Jacksonville and Pensacola.

Workshop participants were told that climate change could result in more vector-borne diseases and higher temperatures in cities caused by the "heat-island effect." Children and senior citizens could be most affected as the senior population doubles within the next 10 years, with much of the increase occurring in urban areas.

More than 40 percent of Florida's greenhouse gas emissions come from motor vehicles, Gauthier said. He and other speakers said communities can reduce greenhouse gases by placing stores, employment centers and housing closer to one another while offering transportation choices that encourage walking, bicycling and mass transit use.

Daniel Parker, assistant director of DOH's Division of Environmental Health, said reducing greenhouse gas emissions through better land use planning would provide the added benefit of improving public health by reducing obesity and its related diseases. He showed photographs of expansive parking commercial parking lots and barriers to walking on sidewalks.

"These are really, to me, the easy things we are going to have to get right if we are going to be serious about climate change," Parker said.

Pre-registration is required for the upcoming workshops. For more information go to the 1000 Friends of Florida web site,, or click here.

For more information about DCA's Jan. 29 workshop in Fort Lauderdale, click here or click on the public notices link at the DCA web site, .

Click here for more information from DCA about HB 697.

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Florida joins with Ala., Ga. in seeking closed water talks

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have agreed to at least one issue in their dispute over water -- that their talks on a water agreement should remain confidential.

The three states have been in federal court since 1990 fighting over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. Alabama and Georgia want water for cities, agriculture and industry while Florida wants water to maintain the seafood industry in Apalachicola Bay.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and the governors of Alabama and Georgia met Dec. 15 in Montgomery, Ala. and the states have agreed on to hold more meetings towards reaching a water-sharing agreement.

Earlier this week, the states asked a federal court to issue an order maintaining the confidentiality of the talks. Such an order "may encourage the open exchange of information and proposals necessary to address the issues at bar, and discourage the improper dissemination of the same."

The request, submitted by Attorney General Bill McCollum on behalf of Florida, does not say when the talks should be reopened or when the order should be lifted. Both McCollum and Crist launched open government initiatives in Florida after taking office in 2007.

David McLain, policy advisor to the Apalachicola Riverkeeper group, said a confidentiality order would restrict public participation by groups and individuals who would be affected by an agreement.

"We believe that is a mistake," McLain said. "It denies the fundamental premise we have always adhered to -- that is, good decisions are made with consultation to the stakeholders, those most directly affected by the outcome of the decisions."

"Once you bar public involvement and public openness to those views," he said, "you are on a slippery slope for sure."

The states' request indicates that outside interest groups could be brought into the process if they sign a confidentiality agreement. But McLain said such agreements also are not helpful to public participation.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller responded that a confidentiality agreement "allows for free and open discussions without the fear of compromising ongoing litigation."

"We continue to seek stakeholder input and communication on the issue," she added.

Former Florida State University president Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association, said confidentiality sometimes is needed in such talks. In 2001, D'Alemberte was appointed as mediator by the states during closed talks in the water dispute when there was a legal compact requiring open meetings.

"If you had all that discussion in open proceedings and open negotiations and it was reported, it would just not be the candid exchange you want to have," D'Alemberte said. But he also added that there remains a danger of a deal being cut without the public being informed or having the opportunity to object.

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

Monday, January 4, 2010

DEP says incineration, innovation can help reach 75-percent recycling goal

Florida can increase its recycling rate to 75 percent within 10 years by requiring more recycling at construction-waste landfills, implementing innovative new programs to reduce waste disposal and by counting waste-burning as recycling, according to a state report issued today.

The Legislature in 2008 established a statewide recycling goal of 75 percent by 2020. The goal, included in a comprehensive energy bill in 2008, also required that DEP produce a report by Jan. 1, 2010, with recommendations on achieving the goal.

Florida now recycles 28 percent of its waste statewide. The Legislature in 1988 set a 30-percent recycling goal for the state's larger cities and counties.

In its 35-page report issued today, DEP recommends that the new 75-percent goal be applied to counties with populations of more than 100,000 and cities with more than 50,000 people.

One of the largest gains in recycling could be controversial: Counting the 12 percent of waste burned each year in waste incinerators. That 12-percent has not been counted as recycling in the past but is allowed under the law setting the new recycling goal, DEP said.

The department also recommends that construction-waste landfills remove recyclable materials before they are buried. The statewide recycling rate could increase by 12 percent with increased recycling at construction-waste sites, the report says.

“The 75-percent recycling goal is the highest of any state,” DEP Secretary Michael W. Sole said in a department news release. “It will be a challenge to achieve, but it can be reached through partnerships among state government, local governments, trade organizations, schools, businesses and industries as well as the people of Florida.”

"Pay as you Throw" programs also could increase recycling statewide by 10 percent, according to the report. Such programs allow customers to pay less if they throw away less and have been used in Plantation and in Gainesville, where recycling increased by 25 percent in its first year.

Another 10 percent statewide increase could come from having more "single-stream recycling" facilities where recyclable materials are pulled out of the trash. Such facilities exist now in Orange County, Pembroke Pines and in Collier County, which increased recycling by 55 percent in 2005.

DEP also recommends requiring commercial recycling in large counties and cities to include apartments and condominiums and institutions including schools and hospitals. The department also recommends creating a recycling grants or loan program to help local governments reach the 75-percent goal.

Several waste industry representatives who attended DEP workshops on the recommendations declined to comment today because they had not yet read the report.

To view the report, go on the Web to .

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