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Graham slams Legislature's environmental policies, USF Polytech

Former Gov. Bob Graham and former Sen. Lee Constantine criticized Florida's environmental policies and accused the Legislature of selling out to big polluters, at the University of Florida's Bob Graham Center for Public Service Tuesday night.

Graham discussed the accomplishments of the Florida Conservation Coalition, a group he formed in reaction to the "egregious" environmental policies passed through the Legislature in 2011. 

The coalition, which has several other environmental groups as members, helped take the teeth out of several key pieces of 2012 legislation that would have caused harm to the environment, he said.

For example, one bill that was eventually amended would have privatized the used water that citizens and private utility companies pay to clean.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, created the bill to give counties and companies an incentive to build water treatment plants.

The proposed measure caused an uproar from environmental groups, which said the change could lead to water being sold as a commodity rather than dispensed as a state resource.

Graham also urged the state to re-arm the state's five water management districts, which lost $70 million--or 40 percent of their budgets--in 2011.

Constantine, an Altamonte Springs Republican who termed out in 2010, said the environment is a low priority for many legislators, and he urged students to lobby on the issue.

The Legislature killed three key environmental bills he supported in 2010, including one that would have set recycling goals for the state, he said.

"We need to make it uncomfortable for Florida legislators to not be concerned about their environment," he said.

Constantine also praised several current senators, Democrat and Republican, for their commitment to the environment.

"Dennis Jones, who's leaving, Paula Dockery, who's leaving and Jack Latvala, who's not leaving" have all been good to the environment, he said. Constantine added that former Gov. Jeb Bush was also pro-environment.

Graham also condemned the creation of USF Polytechnic as the state's 12th university, which Sen. JD Alexander, the Republican budget chairman from Lake Wales, strong-armed through the Senate. The university system is facing too many cuts to tackle this new venture, Graham said.

"I hope 2013 will have a focus on reversing the damage to the state university system, just like 2012 had to be about reversing the damage to the environment," Graham said.