Thursday, February 24, 2011

Legislators pushing ahead with major rewrite of growth laws

The Florida House and Senate both are taking up major rewrites of the state's growth management laws, according to the key committee chairmen in each chamber.

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed eliminating the Florida Department of Community Affairs and laying off most employees while moving its planning functions to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Meanwhile, a coalition of groups, including the Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, is drafting proposed law revisions.

Last week, Sen. Mike Bennett, chairman of the Senate Committee on Community Affairs, told the Florida Tribune, "You will expect a major growth management bill to be coming out of the House and the Senate."

On Wednesday, the House Community & Military Affairs Subcommittee held a three-hour workshop on growth management, covering three major areas of growth management law: State review, schools and transportation.

Read more at The Florida Tribune:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

House panel passes three controversial bills

Three of the most controversial environmental and agricultural bills to emerge prior to the 2011 legislative session were approved on Tuesday by a House committee.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee approved bills dealing with septic tanks, local fertilizer regulations and agricultural exemptions from water management district permits.

HB 13 by Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, would repeal the SB 550 requirement in 2010 that septic tanks be inspected every five years. The Legislature voted in November to delay implementation from Jan. 1 to July 1 in response to complaints from affected homeowners.

Representatives of the Small County Coalition of Florida and Hillsborough County said they supported the bill. But a Sierra Club Florida representative said the group can't support the bill as written. The Florida Department of Health estimates 10 percent of the state's estimated 2.7 million septic tanks are failing, according to a bill analysis.

"We think it's important inspections for septic tanks," said David Cullen, a Sierra Club lobbyist. "However we would agree it make sense to target this legislation" toward areas where inspections are most needed, such as near waterways.

The Florida Onsite Wastewater Association and industry groups are working on alternative bill language to establish criteria for allowing local governments to have their own inspection programs. HB 13 was approved 12-1.

HB 457 would prohibit local governments from regulating fertilizer use unless they use a state model ordinance. A similar bill was filed last year in response to Pinellas County banning the sale of lawn fertilizer during the summer rainy season.

Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola and sponsor of HB 457, said allowing local governments to adopt their own regulations would create a "patchwork" that is difficult for businesses. The Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association and Associated Industries of Florida supported the bill.

But the bill faces opposition from the Florida Association of Counties, the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Stormwater Association, Audubon of Florida and Sierra Club Florida. Sixteen local governments out of more than 400 in Florida have adopted stricter regulations than the state model fertilizer ordinance, said Stephen James, representing the Florida Association of Counties.

"It's not like local governments are chomping at the bit to adopt these more stringent ordinances," James said. "The bill seems like it's trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer." The committee voted 10-3 to approve the bill.

Regarding HB 421, state law since 1984 exempted agriculture from permitting by water management districts for "normal and necessary" agriculture and forestry operations, according to a bill analysis.

In 2009, a court ruled in favor of the St. Johns River Water Management District in a case involving A. Duda and Sons Inc., one of the state's largest farming operations. The court said law changes had virtually eliminated the agricultural exemption as it relates to altering wetlands.

Rep. Leonard Bembry, D-Greenville, introduced HB 421, which would specify the exemption in state law dating back to 1984 for activities that divert water flow or affect wetlands.

Supporters include the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. A St. Johns Water River Water Management District representative said the agency is working with Bembry on its concerns about the bill.

Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper warned the committee that the bill would remove the districts' important environmental permitting responsibilities for draining agricultural land.

"Slow this one down for a minute and take another look at it and make sure you heard the water management districts," Draper told the committee. The committee voted 12-1 to approve the bill.

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

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cabinet agrees to reverse DCA stance on Volusia development

Two months after outgoing Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham determined that a 5,000-acre land use change in Volusia County was illegal, the DCA won Cabinet approval Tuesday for the development.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet approved an order for the proposed "Restoration" development on 5,187 acres in Edgewater west of Interstate 95.

An attorney representing a development opponent said DCA had improperly reversed its position under a new department chief and Scott, who has proposed eliminating the agency. But development supporters says DCA was moving back to its original position, which they said was reversed by Pelham in December.

New DCA Secretary Billy Buzzett told the Cabinet on Tuesday that the "incredible plan" deserved approval because it would set aside 75 percent of the property for conservation.

"I think the merits of this case are pretty amazing," Buzzett told the Cabinet. "I think this is the type of planning we need to see a lot more of in Florida."

Edgewater created a new land-use category for the Restoration property that would allow up to 8,500 housing units and up to 3.3 million square feet of commercial and office space.

Critics, including the Edgewater Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development, say the development represents urban sprawl and that it would be located far from existing urban services. But a representative of Audubon of Florida told the Cabinet that the proposal was a model for Florida development.

DCA had recommended that the development be found in compliance with state growth management laws and rules after initially objecting. In July, Administrative Law Judge Bram Canter agreed and recommended approval.

On Dec. 22, Pelham issued a final order reversing Canter's recommended order. Pelham agreed with petitioner Richard A. Burgess on that there were conflicting planning time frames in the land-use amendment and local comprehensive plan.

But last week, a DCA attorney filed a draft final order for the Cabinet that upheld the administrative law judge's ruling and found the land use change in compliance.

Attorney Ross Stafford Burnaman, representing opponent Burgess, said DCA's reversal effort before the Cabinet was a "gross procedural error" with no legal authority. Burnaman predicted the Cabinet's decision would be reversed on appeal.

"It's not fair for the department to flip-flop at the last minute without any opportunity for Mister Burgess or myself to make our case to the new agency head," Burnaman said.

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

Saturday, February 19, 2011

EPA regional chief, responding to critics, says pollution prevention is good investment

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming said Friday that investing in clean water is better than paying more to clean up dirty water and fight harmful algal blooms.

She held introductory meetings with state and local officials in Tallahassee amid concerns about new federal water quality standards. Those proposed federal limits on nitrogen and phosphorus face objections from agriculture and industry groups and wastewater and storm water utilities.

Opposition groups say the standards will cost the state billions of dollars when implementation begins in 2012. Asked by a reporter to respond to the critics, Fleming said the standards are needed to address decreasing property values from harmful algal blooms.

"What we proposed was a predictable way to set a minimum standard to address that problem -- do it in a way that is cost effective," Fleming said. "We think that certainly being able to make some investments on the front end as opposed to paying costly cleanup costs on the back end is certainly something we want (to do)."

She was in Tallahassee to sign agreements with Florida A&M University on green initiatives. Under the agreements, EPA will commit to enhance the university’s environmental policy and science curricula and offer career opportunities to students. EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental protection also will designate FAMU as a Center of Excellence for Watershed Management, the first such center in Florida.

DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard told a Senate panel last week that he'd like to tout Florida's existing pollution reduction program with the EPA.

Vinyard wasn't available after his meeting on Friday with Fleming, administrator in EPA's Atlanta regional office. Fleming said the numeric nutrient criteria was just one of several issues mentioned in her meeting with Vinyard.

She also met with Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, who is past president of the Florida League of Cities. Marks declined to name the issues raised in his meeting with Fleming because he said they were not discussed in detail.

The Attorney Generals Office and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are suing the agency in federal court to block the implementation of the new federal water quality standards

Earlier this week, U. S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., proposed language to block federal funding from being used to administer the new EPA standards. That move earned criticism from Environment Florida and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

"We are stunned that he would file legislation to prevent clean up of his own district's rivers and streams," said Conservancy President Andrew McElwaine "Fundamentally, his message to the waterways is 'Drop Dead.'"

But a coalition of 55 trade groups, companies and associations, including the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties, sent a letter to Rooney on Thursday thanking him for filing the amendment.

"We all share a common goal of ensuring the availability of clean water and recognize the importance that it plays in Florida’s economy," the letter said. "However, we remain strongly opposed to using unsound science to establish limits that fail to show appreciable and attainable environmental benefits and lack a true economic analysis."

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

Friday, February 18, 2011

EPA regional chief visits Tallahassee, may discuss water quality controversy

The regional administrator from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency today visits Tallahassee to meet with Florida officials and attend an event at Florida A&M University.

Gwen Keyes Fleming will have an introductory meeting with Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard, according to DEP. There's no word on what they may talk about but Vinyard hinted last week that he'd like to discuss federal water quality standards.

Those proposed limits on nitrogen and phosphorus face objections from agriculture and industry groups and wastewater and storm water utilities. Vinyard, who has not been available for interviews, told the Senate Budget Subcommittee on General Government Appropriations last week that he'd like to tout Florida's "Total Maximum Daily Load" program that already was in place before the federal water standards were proposed.

"I will tell you that I am very impressed with the science that has gone into Florida's TMDL, our solution to the nutrients," Vinyard said. "I wish we had a better opportunity to show the country, to show EPA, that TMDL will be a successful way to clean up our waterways."

At 3:30 p.m., Fleming will be at FAMU to announce an agreement with the university to support campus "greening" and sustainability.

As part of the agreement, EPA will commit to enhance the university’s environmental policy and science curricula and offer opportunities for students interested in environmental careers. EPA and DEP also will designate FAMU as a Center of Excellence for Watershed Management—the first of such centers in Florida.

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

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Facing elimination, DCA employees question Gov. Rick Scott

After hearing Gov. Rick Scott speak Tuesday during a visit to the Florida Department of Community affairs, department systems programmer Robab Fayazi said she remains worried about losing her job there.

Scott was peppered with questions by employees at the department, which he is proposing to eliminate.

DCA oversees local growth management decisions and it includes the Division of Emergency Management, the Division of Housing and Community Development and the Florida Communities Trust (FCT) parks buying program. Scott proposes eliminating FCT, cutting 48 growth management oversight positions and moving pieces of the department into other agencies. All but 40 of the department's 358 jobs would be eliminated.

Scott repeatedly has called DCA a "job-killer." However, since 2007, DCA has approved 1.5 billion square feet of new commercial and office space and nearly 600,000 housing units.

Asked by a reporter how he can apply the "job-killer" label to DCA, Scott responded, "What we've got to do is make sure the process we have here is a process that makes sense, that the people who want to expand in our state know how to do it [and] know what that time frame is."

"We always have to remember that we care about our environment. We care about building things in our state. We want to do it in a logical manner. But as a general rule, most of the decisions ought to be made locally," he said.

Scott last week described his 2011-12 budget recommendations as a "jobs budget" that cuts state spending and eliminates 8,958 state jobs. He told the DCA employees during his visit Tuesday that they were hard workers and that "no one knows all the good things you guys do."

"On the campaign trail, all they wanted to complain about was how fast you all do permitting -- or growth management," he said.

DCA employees asked the governor about budget performance measures and pension rules for laid-off employees. Fayazi reminded the governor that thousands of state workers were at risk of losing the jobs. "Do you consider that a problem?" she asked.

Scott replied that his focus was on building private sector jobs. "We're going to work hard to make sure that people have an opportunity to look at other agencies and to look at other jobs," he said.

After the governor left, Fayazi said she said she can't afford to wait for years while private sector jobs are being created.

"I don't feel any better about the situation than I did before," she said. "There was no real reassurance there will be immediate relief for people who are going to lose their jobs."

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

Federal takeover? Legislators aren't told of Florida's role in water standards battle

Florida legislators who made angry comments about new water quality standards for Florida weren't being told about the state's key involvement in the issue two years ago.

The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency last November adopted specific limits for nitrogen and phosphorus in Florida waterways. The move came despite objections from utilities, industry and agriculture groups and many state officials.

After a series of presentations on Thursday, members of two House committees lashed out at the EPA for what they view as a federal takeover of water standards.

But those presentations failed to note that it was the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that in January 2009 agreed with the EPA that new standards were needed.

Read more at the Florida Tribune.

(Photo by Chris Williams, GreenWater Laboratories/CyanoLab, provided by environmental groups involved in lawsuit. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

House, Senate to give closer scrutiny to budget this week

House and Senate budget writers this week will be looking for ways to cut environmental agencies' budgets after questioning some of Gov. Rick Scott's own recommended 2011-12 budget cuts last week.

Senate Budget Subcommittee on General Government Appropriations holds hearings Tuesday through Thursday. The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee meets Tuesday and Wednesday with a review of trust funds on Wednesday.

Last week, Scott recommended cutting state spending from $70.5 billion in 2010-11 to $65.9 billion, although some of the reductions are transfers and not actual cuts. The governor describes his proposal as a "jobs budget" that fulfills his campaign promises to reduce taxes and state spending to create a business-friendly environment.

But the budget also was full of grim news for environmental agencies. The governor proposes eliminating the Florida Department of Community Affairs, cutting 85 vacant positions at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and cutting 120 jobs at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. And the governor is requiring the state's five water management districts to reduce their property tax revenue by 25 percent.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, questioned whether the various cuts may hurt communities and make Florida less attractive to industry and tourists.

"Will business want to come here if our quality of life is affected -- ill-affected?" she said. "I wonder if there has been any analysis of that?"

Senators questioned why they weren't being no money was going towards beach restoration and the Florida Forever conservation lands program.

"What other things that were cut, zeroed-out or whatever that are major issues are not on the list?" said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg. "Those are two I just happened to think of sitting here. I have to believe there are a whole bunch more."

Scott visited the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Friday. While his budget does not include closing 53 state parks as previously identified by DEP during a budget-cutting exercise, Scott told reporters that the water management districts, like everyone else, will have to "tighten their belts."

"In that case, the water management districts will have to look at how they are doing their job," Scott said. "Most of us figure, if we do have to tighten our belt like most of the families are doing, we figure out how to do things less expensively. We really focus on high priorities. That's what they will have to do."

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Groups want panther back in North Florida, South Georgia

Environmental groups are asking federal wildlife officials to reintroduce panthers into North Florida and South Georgia to help save the endangered species.

Panthers once ranged across the southeast but are now limited to South Florida, where there are fewer than 130 living in the wild. Threats to their survival habitat loss, highways, lack of genetic diversity and human population growth.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission introduced western cougars into the Okefenokee in the 1990s and recaptured them at the end of the study. Biologists said the area could support panthers but there were protests from some Columbia County residents who said they feared predator's reintroduction.

Environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, said Thursday that scientists have identified the Greater Okefenokee Swamp ecosystem in South Georgia and North Florida, with an abundance of deer and feral hogs for prey, and a top prospect for reintroduction. Panthers also would aid regeneration of the region’s diminished longleaf pine forests by preying on feral hogs that eat pine saplings and seed cones.

“For the Florida panther to have any chance at long-term survival it needs more than one population in South Florida,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, the primary author of the petition. “Reintroduction of Florida panthers will aid their recovery and help restore the natural balance in some of the ecosystems in which panthers lived for thousands of years.”

A U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman said the Florida Panther Recovery Plan recommends exploring the potential for reintroducing panthers into parts of their historic range but suggests no timetable. The government would have to work with states and the public to determine if reintroduction makes sense, said Ken Warren a public affairs officer in Vero Beach.

Stephen L. Williams of White Springs, president of the Florida Panther Society, said a "limited number of small vocal interests" have prevented reintroduction in North Florida and that surveys show must people support the move.

"I'm saying people in their hearts would like to see this animal survive," Williams said. "There is good scientific reason that it must be done."

(Map by Karl Mussesr, via Wikimedia Commons. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Crist, Sink to lead drilling ban effort

Former Gov. Charlie Crist and former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink said Wednesday that banning oil drilling will help protect the state's tourism economy and environment.

They returned to Tallahassee to announce they will co-chair the petition drive to put a ban on oil drilling on the 2012 election ballot.

As the Deepwater Horizon oil spill sent oil onto Panhandle beaches last July, Crist called a special session of the Legislature to put the ban on the ballot last November. But the House and Senate adjourned without a vote on the issue with Republican leaders saying that a ban was not needed.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon, who were both drilling advocates, said after the spill they would not allow drilling to be brought up for a vote for the next two years. Both men have said in recent weeks their positions have not changed.

Crist said Wednesday that a ban on drilling in state waters still is needed because drilling remains a threat to Florida's beaches and tourism economy. State waters extend 10.3 miles into the Gulf of Mexico and three miles into the Atlantic Ocean.

"I love Florida, and I know you all do too," Crist said outside the historic Capitol. "And that's why this petition opportunity -- to protect our beaches, to protect our beautiful state, and protect the tourist industry that is so significant to protecting jobs throughout the state of Florida -- is a privilege for me to be here."

Sink said that as CFO during last summer's oil spill, she heard stories that "tug at your heartstrings" from business owners whose livelihoods were threatened because of lost tourism.

"The risk of an oil spill close to our beaches is something we absolutely cannot afford," Sink said.

Rep. Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg, a House Democratic leader, is sponsoring HB 383, a joint resolution that would put the drilling ban on the ballot. He said he's received no feedback from the Republican leadership on whether they would allow the issue to be brought up.

A representative of a Florida group affiliated with the oil industry called the petition drive "short-sighted at best" considering the state's poor economic situation

"If we etch an indelible ban into our state constitution, we forever deny ourselves the possibility of reaping these economic benefits,” said Nicolas Gutierrez, Jr. chairman of FLA Energy Forum. The group's is affiliatd with the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry trade group.

Drilling ban supporters must collect nearly 700,000 signatures to be put on the ballot and have set a goal of raising $1 million to help with the effort, said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

New Florida agency chief calls for refocus on growth management

The new chief of Florida's growth management agency on Tuesday made some suggestions that sound like what some statewide environmental groups have been advocating -- an increased focus on long-range planning and less oversight of growth in urban areas.

Gov. Rick Scott has repeatedly called the Department of Community Affairs a job-killer and on Monday his budget recommendations included moving DCA's planners to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and substantially reducing their numbers.

DCA Secretary Billy Buzzett told a Senate committee on Tuesday that the state should "take the training wheels off" a pair of growth management pilot programs to help the state refocus on its planning priorities.

Ninety-three percent of the approximately 3,000 growth management plan changes submitted by local governments have been approved by the state, Buzzett told the Senate Committee on Community Affairs. That suggests the need for a less "top heavy" approach by the state toward growth management.

He said the Legislature should expand the use of the "alternative state review process" pilot program, created by the Legislature in 2007, to allow statewide participation.

The process reduces the length of time for review by the state and limits the focus of the review to regional issues. The program has been restricted to Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, Hialeah, Broward and Pinellas counties and the cities within those two counties.

The state, he said, also should require sector planning for areas greater than 5,000 acres to allow a longer planning time frame and provide incentives and predictability for both owners of large landholdings and environmentalists.

An optional sector planning program was created by the Legislature in 1999 for up to five development projects. Buzzett led The St. Joe Co. through its sector planning process on 78,000 acres at West Bay in Bay County.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for visioning. It's a great opportunity for a true holistic approach for planning," Buzzett said. "I would suggest it's time to take the wheels off that pilot."

Also during the meeting, land-use attorney Nancy Linnan offered a presentation on behalf of a Florida Chamber of Commerce effort to draft a proposal to reform state growth management laws.

The Chamber wants to limit the state's role in the review of local comprehensive growth plans, repeal DCA's rule 9J-5 dealing with growth management and revise the process for amending local plans.

"Essentially we think the top-down process has ended up stifling creativity in the local government," Linnan said. "The folks in Tallahassee -- and I've been one of them quite frankly -- don't know what it's like all over the state."

Charles Pattison, president of the 1000 Friends of Florida, said his group has concerns with some of the chamber's proposals, such as eliminating rule 9J-5 and state comment on local growth plan changes.

1000 Friends, he said, also is concerned that cutting the number of planners at DCA and merging them into DEP will diminish their growth management function. But 1000 Friends and other environmental groups do support shifting the state planning focus and expanding the pilot programs to allow that.

"We don't have any problem with that," Pattison said. "It's consistent with all the recommendations the conservation groups are making."

Asked by reporters whether he will be able to oversee growth management if Scott's budget recommendations are approved, Buzzett said, "I work for the governor and I'm going to do a good job for him -- I think so."

"I think it's really more important -- not me, but what's the state's role in community planning in the future, whether it's DCA or whoever it will be?" he said.

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Monday, February 7, 2011

Scott would reorganize DCA, DEP under proposed budget

Gov. Rick Scott is warning his supporters that unnamed "special interests" will his attack his 2011-12 budget recommendations and the cuts they include for growth and environmental programs.

Scott proposes substantially reducing the number of state planners who oversee local growth management decisions and would move them to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. He also recommends no funding for the Florida Forever land-buying program.

"There will be a lot of special interests that complain about the cuts to their favorite programs," Scott said Monday during a "tea party" rally in Eustis, where he unveiled his budget. "We have to remember we are doing this for the sake of our children and our grandchildren to get our state back to work."

Scott's "Jobs Budget" would move the Division of Community Planning at the Florida Department of Community Affairs to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. DEP would retain only 10 of the 61 planning positions now at DCA as it focuses less on overseeing growth management decisions by local government, according to the governor's budget staff.

The governor also calls on the state's five water management districts to reduce their property tax rates by 25 percent. An implementing bill would require the districts to get approval for their budgets from the governor.

Scott has called the Department of Community Affairs a "job killer." On Monday, he said in Eustis that he will save $120 million over two years by consolidating and reorganizing state government and another $150 million by eliminating programs that are not "core functions" of state government.

"State agencies are not, you know, personal fiefdoms," Scott said. "Just because we have it there today doesn't mean it should be there tomorrow."

The state has purchased more than 2 million acres since 1990 in what has been the largest land buying program in the nation. The Legislature provided $300 million per year for the program from 1990 to 2009 but provided $15 million during the past two years.

While not mentioning the Florida Forever program by name, Scott said, "We can't say we started this (program) five years ago and we are going to keep funding it forever and ever."

Scott also proposes $17 million for each of the next two years for Everglades restoration. The Everglades Foundation noted that the request is down from $50 million received each year for the past four years.

"We are pleased the Governor included a modest investment for Everglades restoration," Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham said. "However, to prevent private sector layoffs and maintain Everglades project construction currently underway, the legislature will need to avoid a 66-percent cut in the Everglades restoration budget."

Scott also proposes moving the Division of State Lands from DEP to the Department of Management Services, which manages office buildings and state lands other than conservation lands.

That recommendation suggests that Scott thinks the role of managing Florida's "vast" public lands for people and wildlife is unimportant, said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida.

"I would say taking it (Division of State Lands) and putting it over with the people who run office buildings its a recipe for neglect," Draper said.

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Bennett says he's glad Scott moved to fill PSC posts

Sen. Mike Bennett says he's glad Gov. Rick Scott "put to bed" without disruption the issue of who will be serving on the Florida Public Service Commission.

The governor on Friday reappointed four PSC members whose appointments he had withdrawn two days earlier.

Scott on Wednesday withdrew 154 appointments made by Gov. Charlie Crist, including four of the five PSC members. In 2007, Crist withdrew 283 appointments when he took over after Gov. Jeb Bush.

On Thursday, Scott would not say how quickly he planned to put in his new appointments, only saying that he was going "go through quickly" to get the appointments finished.

On Friday, he announced the reappointments of Chairman Art Grham and commissioners Eduardo Balbis, Julie I. Brown and Ronald Brisé along with three other reappointments. They now face Senate confirmation.

"I just felt the governor did the right thing," said Bennett, R-Brandenton and chairman of the PSC Nominating Council. "He wanted to send a message he wanted to review all appointments. I had a funny feeling he would act quickly on the PSC people. Obviously he did, much faster than I expected."

Balbis said Friday he looked forward to "striking a fair balance between the needs of utilities and rate-payers."

"I was not surprised the governor wanted to make a thorough evaluation of myself and others for this important position," Balbis said.

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Scott withdraws appointments to PSC, other enviro panels

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday withdrew 154 appointments to boards across the state including four of the five Florida Public Service Commission members.

Scott withdrew the appointments in a memo to Sen. President Mike Haridopolos. The appointments were awaiting Senate confirmation.

Gov. Charlie Crist withdrew 283 appointments in 2007 when he took over after former Gov. Jeb Bush, according to the Associated Press.

Scott withdrew the PSC nominations of Chairman Art Graham, Ronald Brise, Eduardo Balbis, and Julie I. Brown.

Graham and Brise were appointed by Crist in July to fill seats left vacant when the Senate refused to confirm Ben A. "Steve" Stevens III and David E. Klement. Balbis and Brown were appointed in September after the PSC Nominating Council passed over Chairman Nancy Argenziano and Nathan A. Skop for reappointment.

Graham had pledged to improve collegiality on the commission after some members of the nominating council raised concerns about infighting among commission members. Skop and Argenziano had complained that the agency, like the Legislature, was dominated by utilities.

In addition to withdrawing the PSC members, Scott withdrew the appointments of Rhoda Glasco-Foderingham and Cari Roth to the Environmental Regulation Commission, Steven C. Bassett and Kathy Baughman McLeod to the Florida Energy and Climate Commission.

(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Senate bill would scrap Florida's climate program

A bill filed by Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, would eliminate Florida's greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade program before one was ever adopted.

Climate change and regulation of greenhouse gas emissions was a priority of Gov. Charlie Crist soon after he took office in 2007, but it dropped as a priority after 2008. Gov. Rick Scott, who took office last month, said last summer that he didn't believe in climate change.

HB 4117 by Plakon would eliminate the provision in 2008's HB 7135 that allowed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to establish a cap and trade program. Such a program would cap emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and allow companies to buy and sell emissions credits. DEP was authorized by the 2008 legislation to adopt the rules after Jan. 1, 2010 and submit them to the Legislature for ratification.

Plakon told the Florida Tribune that Crist's own turn away from the climate change issue and the "climategate" e-mails controversy of 2009 shows that science is unsound. He also said that such a cap-and-trade program would be a job-killing regulation such as those opposed by Scott.

"Until we have a better grasp of the science, I don't think this belongs in the Florida statutes," Plakon said.

In 2009, then-DEP Secretary Michael Sole disputed a report from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility saying that DEP had shelved the initiative because of a retreat by Crist on environmental issues as he ran for the U.S. Senate as a Republican. In March 2010, Sole said DEP was delaying the initiative because there wasn't time to develop a proposal for the 2010 legislative session.

On Tuesday, a DEP spokeswoman said the department is not engaged in cap and trade rulemaking and is not working on a submittal for the Legislature.

Jim Murley, chairman of the Florida Energy and Climate Commission, said Tuesday he didn't know what decisions had been made at DEP about the program since his commission was briefed on it in 2009. Murley said the state now needs a broad assessment of what its energy policy should be.

"We need a reset," Murley said. "The Legislature and administration need to decide how we want to go forward."

Susan Glickman, a consultant to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, says the governor and legislative leadership hasn't shown any interest in the climate change issue as the issue has become more politicized.

"To put their heads in the sand -- to be influenced as if this was some sort of political issue rather than a scientific issue to be dealt with -- is really short-sighted, especially when Florida is as vulnerable as it is," she said.

(Photo courtesy of the University of Florida TREEO Center. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Scott plans realignment of Florida's growth management agency

Gov. Rick Scott said Monday he plans to cut $1 billion in government spending over two years by consolidating and streamlining government including the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

Scott's plan -- which included only a few details -- would remove all regulatory functions from DCA and move them to other state agencies. Scott also said he planned to move the collection of alcoholic beverage taxes to the Department of Revenue from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation while moving regulation of drugs and cosmetics to DBPR to the Department of Health.

The governor's press office did disclose that the $1 billion in savings proposed by Scott would also include other consolidations and reorganizations that have not been announced yet. Scott does not have to present his budget recommendations to state lawmakers until Feb. 7. The governor, however, is expected to recommend more than $5 billion in cuts to the entire state budget.

Eric Draper of Audubon of Florida said it sounded like Scott was telling DCA to ignore growth management laws. But Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton and chairman of the Senate Committee on Community Affairs, said it sounded like the governor was proposing a new mission for DCA rather than dismantling the agency.

Scott has called DCA a "job-killer" despite the fact that the agency approved nearly 600,000 new housing units as requested by local governments. The governor's transition team in December recommended consolidating DCA, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Transportation into a new "Department of Growth Leadership."

Scott made an appearance at The Villages in Central Florida to announce his budget proposal.

"The fact is that Florida burdens job creation with one of the worst regulatory frameworks in the country," Scott said. "To grow jobs we must reduce unnecessary costs that government places on Florida businesses."

Bennett said the governor isn't proposing to eliminate DCA, rather he wants the department, DEP and the state's five water management districts to quit reviewing each others' work.

"I think the governor agrees with me we need a DCA type organization," Bennett said. "The Department of Community Affairs should be enhancing growth and enhancing development. It shouldn't be perceived as a hindrance."

Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida, said DCA is directed under law to review land-use changes submitted by local governments to ensure protection of natural resources and planning for roads and other services. And Draper said it sounds like Scott is directing the agency to ignore the law.

"Lawlessness is not the solution to job growth," Draper said. "We're not going to grow jobs by saying we're going to ignore our laws."

Gary Fineout of the Florida Tribune contributed to this report.

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