June 22, 2015

Environmentalists sue state over Amendment 1 conservation spending

Environmental group Earthjustice is suing the Florida Legislature and its leaders over their budget's use of money set aside for conservation by Amendment 1.

The lawsuit filed in Leon County on Monday against Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli alleges that almost half of the Amendment 1 money in the budget is being used for purposes that aren't permitted under state law.

“The Legislature did not do what the amendment requires,” Florida Wildlife Federation president Manley Fuller said in a statement. “Seventy-five percent of Florida voters approved this amendment last November, and they were clear that they want the state to buy conservation land. Instead, the Legislature took the money and used it for things it should not be spent on. This is a slap in the face to Florida voters, and it should not stand.”

The issue has drawn significant controversy since 75 percent of voters supported Amendment 1 last November. The amendment directs more than $700 million to be spent on conservation.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.

Two Florida agencies, two approaches to climate change

From the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a steering committee to address climate change. The commission maintains computer modeling programs that show how climate change will affect water and land crucial to wildlife. It holds regular seminars to educate staff on the latest climate science.

On its website, the commission has a “Climate Change 101” page that addresses key challenges the state faces.

Eight miles from the state commission’s Tallahassee headquarters, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which bills itself as the state’s “lead agency for environmental management and stewardship,” states that it is only monitoring sea-level rise. That is its sole effort to address climate change.

As Florida Center for Investigative Reporting first reported, the emphasis on “climate change” within the DEP has declined over the past five years during Gov. Rick Scott’s tenure in office. For instance, a Web page titled “Climate Change and Coral Reefs” hasn’t been updated since Nov. 18, 2011 — the year Scott took office. That was also the year a DEP spokesperson told the Tampa Bay Times that “DEP is not pursuing any programs or projects regarding climate change.”

One likely explanation for the different priorities at the two agencies is that FWC, created by voters in 1999 as an independent commission and run by an autonomous board, does not answer to the governor. The DEP, on the other hand, does report to the governor’s office.

More here.

June 20, 2015

Marco Rubio: 'No problem' with Catholic Church on climate change but economy more important


Marco Rubio, a Roman Catholic, said Saturday he has "no problem" with Pope Francis' encyclical urging action on climate change -- but added he won't support policies that could help the environment but "hurt our economy."

"I have no problem with what the pope did," Rubio told reporters in Miami before speaking to the Miami-Dade County Republican Party. "He is a moral authority and as a moral authority is reminding us of our obligation to be good caretakers to the planet. I'm a political leader. And my job as a policymaker is to act in the common good. And I do believe it's in the common good to protect our environment, but I also believe it's in the common good to protect our economy."

Though scientists are in broad agreement that climate change is man-made, Rubio continued to question that premise. He said his focus is on tackling the consequences rather than what caused it.

"I don' think there is a scientific consensus on what percent, how sensitive, climate is to human activity," he said. "But the broader question as a policy maker is not whether I believe humans have contributed 10 percent, 50 percent or 99 percent. The fundamental question I have as a policymaker must be what can we do about it and what impact will it have on the rest of our country and the rest of our lives. And what I am not going to support are measures that will hurt our economy and put people out of work and increase the cost of living."

He began answering the question by poking at Democrats who have trumpeted the pope's position on the environment but not social issues.

"I find it ironic that a lot of the same liberals who are touting the encyclical on climate change ignore multiple pronouncements of this pope on the definition of marriage and on the sanctity of life," Rubio said.

June 16, 2015

Lawsuit could be brewing against state over Amendment 1 funding

House and Senate leaders declared Sunday that they had set aside $55 million for buying new public land from a ballot measure that was passed last year by 75 percent of state voters.

It wasn't until Monday that environmentalists realized lawmakers were planning to spend far less, setting up a likely legal showdown over what exactly Amendment 1 means.

The problem: The ballot measure, Amendment 1, dedicated more than $700 million for conservation and preservation. Environmentalists had hoped that lawmakers would approve at least $300 million to buy conservation and preservation lands.

Instead, lawmakers carved up the money for other projects, including millions for an agricultural giant.

Sponsors of Amendment 1 said the weekend agreement earmarks only $17.4 million for the acquisition of parks and wildlife habitat under the state program Florida Forever.

"This is an insult to the 4.2 million voters who voted Yes for Amendment 1," said Will Abberger, chairman of Florida Water and Land Legacy, the Amendment 1 sponsor committee. "Last November Florida voters sent a loud and clear message to the Legislature: make funding for conservation land acquisition a priority. The Legislature is ignoring Florida voters."

Abberger and Audubon of Florida executive director Eric Draper said they were exploring "all options," which they said could include legal action against the Legislature for violating the intent of Amendment 1.

Even one of the negotiators of the agreement, Senate Appropriations Chair Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said a legal challenge is certain.

"I'm not a lawyer, but in this world we live in today, I am confident of one thing and one thing only, and that is that there will be litigation," Lee said.

More here.

June 14, 2015

House, Senate agree to Amendment 1, environmental funding

Budget chairs Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, and Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, talk during a budget conference Sunday in the state Capitol. Looking for proof that they'll find budget agreement? Check out those smiles. (Photo by Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times)

Entering the final week of the special session, House and Senate budget leaders on Sunday found agreement on how to spend more than $700 million set aside by voters for land acquisition and conservation.

It's a result environmentalists are calling "disappointing."

$55 million will go to buying new land, including in the state's existing Florida Forever and rural and family land program.s

Another $47.5 million will go to springs restoration and $81.8 million will be used for Everglades restoration.

That doesn't all come out of the money set aside by Amendment 1, which passed last November with the support of 75 percent of voters.

But much of the Amendment 1 dollars will go into administering programs that were previously funded with other sources. Senate Budget Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, says those are critical to the state's environmental and conservation efforts.

Continue reading "House, Senate agree to Amendment 1, environmental funding" »

June 08, 2015

A Pants on Fire for Rick Scott's environmental funding claim

Gov. Rick Scott says that Florida has invested big bucks in the environment.

As he boasted about the state’s record during his economic summit for GOP presidential contenders in Orlando June 2, Scott reeled off a bunch of statistics about Florida’s budget and economy including this one: "If you care about the environment, we've got record funding."

Scott’s record on the environment has been scrutinized since he first ran for office in 2010. Since that time, news reports detailed how state officials under his watch have been banned from using terms such as "climate change,"  environmental fines have nosedived, and Scott has boasted about reducing the number of days to get anenvironmental permit.

But despite that record, does Florida now have "record funding" for the environment? No, it doesn’t. See what PolitiFact Florida found. 

June 07, 2015

On Amendment 1 bonding, Florida House is standing its ground

The House’s latest budget offer would scrap using bonding to fund land acquisition. But don’t expect it to remain that way.

House leadership has favored the plan to direct a significant portion of the money from the conservation-minded Amendment 1 — passed overwhelmingly by voters in November — to bonding. The Senate, meanwhile has strongly opposed any bonding with Amendment 1 dollars.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, chairs the Senate’s natural resources budget committee. He says he’ll keep fighting against bonding.

“I would think that about the quickest way I could tell you the Senate’s position on it is B-O-N-D is a four-letter word. And I’m not trying to be cute. But I’m not considering bonding.”

In this latest budget from the House, $20.5 million for bonding disappears. But the House’s natural resources budget chairman Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, says he fully intends bonding will end up in the budget eventually.

“I cannot be any more clear. The House is very interested in and supportive of bonding as it goes forward, especially as it relates to Florida Forever,” Allbritton said.

“Money’s cheap today,” he said. “This is an olive branch."

June 05, 2015

Fight over oil drilling off Florida's coast back in Congress

via @CAdamsMcClatchy

WASHINGTON -- Two Florida members of the House of Representatives are joining one of the state’s senators to keep oil drilling far off shore, seeking to stave off efforts to bring the rigs closer to land.

Opposing legislation in the Senate designed to ease drilling restrictions opens the way for a debate over drilling amid worries about the quality of the Gulf of Mexico.

Reps. David Jolly, a Republican from Indian Shores, and Gwen Graham, a Democrat from the Panhandle, introduced legislation late Wednesday that would extend an existing ban on oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico through 2027.

The ban, now set to expire in 2022, extends 125 miles off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast, and as much as 235 miles in some areas.

“It is paramount that we take steps to continue protecting our pristine beaches, our fisheries, our marine sanctuaries and coastal communities from the impact of drilling in the eastern Gulf and devastating events like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010,” Jolly said in a statement. “An oil spill off the coast of Pinellas County would be disastrous to our quality of life and our local economy.”

More here.

June 04, 2015

Everglades Trust targets lawmakers on use of Amendment 1 dollars

The Everglades Trust's mailing campaign, which will target constituents of lawmakers whose districts are affected by pollution of the Everglades.

The Everglades Trust is hitting some lawmakers' districts with mailings saying they're in the sugar industry's pockets.

"Last November, 75% of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment to buy land that would protect our drinking water, save our rivers and beaches, and help save the Everglades," the mailing says. "But now BIG SUGAR is calling in their favors and pressuring our legislators to turn their backs on the will of the voters."

The issue at hand is the use of state money to buy land for conservation, in this case south of Lake Okeechobee.

Environmental groups have generally criticized the House and Senate budget proposals for not spending enough on land acquisition, which they say needs to be higher under Amendment 1, passed by three quarters of Florida voters last November.

Among the land that some want to see bought by the state's Florida Forever program is a tract owned by U.S. Sugar south of Okeechobee.

The final details of how much Amendment 1 money will be available for buying land has yet to be determined, as budget negotiations between the two chambers have not begun.

June 02, 2015

Climate change group gets cheeky in Gov. Rick Scott critique

Climate change group Forecast the Facts is taking jabs at Gov. Rick Scott with a website targeting the governor and his Wisconsin counterpart Scott Walker for their positions on global warming.

Dubbed "#ScottAway the Truth," the site subs out words like "climate change" from sentences about climate change. Scott and Walker have reportedly instructed people who work for their environmental agencies not to use the "C" words.

Here are a couple sentences, as they look after being Scotted Away:

"Due to MAGIC WEATHER, glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world - including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa."

"In the U.S., FREE OUTDOOR HEATING is predicted to cause more heat waves, flooding, wildfires, sea level rise and drought."

The website was launched Tuesday, when both governors were in Orlando for a Scott-sponsored forum of GOP presidential hopefuls.