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Gov. Scott lays down the law on Everglades: 'I want a clean bill'

Gov. Rick Scott has put the kibosh on a fast-paced push by Florida sugar growers and the Everglades agriculture community to pass a bill that would cap their liability for clean-up costs over the next 30 years.

Speaking to the Miami Herald editorial board on Thursday morning, Scott insisted that he wants to "memorialize" the landmark settlement he negotiated in 2012 with the federal government to establish clean-up standards, water flow patterns and a payment plan for restoring the Everglades. But he said repeatedly, "I want a clean bill."

The bill, (HB 7065) by Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-LeHigh Acres, had gone beyond the settlement by shifting some of the cost of cleaning up the Everglades from sugar and agricultural interests to Florida taxpayers and South Florida property owners.

But a compromise worked out on Wednesday between sugar growers and environmentalists appears to head in the direction the governor wants. 

The compromise language was added to the Senate companion to the bill Thursday morning and is expected to be added to a bill up for its first floor vote by the full House today.

Under the amendment Caldwell has introduced, the compromise will scale back provisions of the bill that phase out the agriculture privilege tax the industry to pays for pollution cleanup in the Everglades Agricultural Area, and restores enforcement of water quality standards.

"It's a reasonable compromise,''  said Brian Hughes, spokesman for the Florida sugar farmers. "It gives us a certainty that this rate at those years is what we can expect."

Audubon of Florida director Eric Draper wrote in an e-mail to members that the amendment "fixes the major problems with the bill" and urged them to keep the pressure on. 

Caldwell's bill has been on a fast track in the House, introduced on the first week of session, moved through two committees to reach the floor today.

The sugar industry has been one of the largest contributors to legislative campaigns and political committees in the last election cycle and have given Scott's political committee, Let's Get to Work, at least $550,000.