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Depending on point of view, House moves bill to streamline or gut enviro protections

A developer-backed bill that would streamline rules to build new landfills, locate bio-fuel facilities in urban areas and limit citizen feedback in environmental permiting made its way through the first of five committees Tuesday, opening the door to what opponents warned is a substantial weakening of state environmental protections.

The measure by Rep. Jimmy Patronis and written with the help of develpoment lobbyist Frank Matthews was approved by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on a party line vote and will be heard in four more committees. Patronis said his goal with HB 991 is to take the subjectiveness and delay out of environmental permitting and "make it more of a black and white and less of an emotional issue."

"This bill is by no means perfect,'' Patronis said. "With four more stops left there will be plenty of time to correct some concerns." He said that Matthews wrote "about 30 percent of the bill." But the 64-page proposal includes input from cities, counties and other interest groups who met privately Monday with Patronis to help craft an amendment that revamp his original bill.

But several environmental groups said they were not invited to the meeting and warned that the bill needs much more work to earn their support.

"It is unraveling 30 years of environmental regulations,'' said Eric Draper of Audubon of Florida. "Nothing is repealed. It just makes it harder to enforce the law and to say no to a polluting industry."

The measure, for example, has the support of the solid waste association because it makes it easier to expand the number of landfills "in areas with vulnerable water,'' he said. The measure also makes is easier to locate a wood-burning and bio-fuel waste facility in urban areas by preventing local governments from writing restrictive zoning laws.

Patronis said the bill attempts to streamline environmental permitting to save money and resources. He said he hasn't spoke with Gov. Rick Scott, who has also called for the repeal of hundreds of regulations. But the governor supports anything that will create jobs and the ideas "come from members of the business community."