News from Tallahassee for 1/30/15

Debate heats up over Amendment 1 funds posted on 1/29/15

by sean rossman | tallahassee democrat

Wrangling has already begun over how to spend the billions of dollars that will be raised following the passage of Amendment 1 last fall.

In November, 75 percent of voters passed the constitutional amendment, which was pushed by the group, Florida’s Water and Land Legacy. As a result, billions of dollars will be directed toward acquiring, improving land and water, including wetlands, forests and fish and wildlife habitat.

However, others have a different view of just how the money should be allocated. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Wednesday that a portion of Amendment 1 funds would be better spent on improving municipal water and waste-water systems in some areas, but supporters who successfully pushed the amendment say that is not what voters approved.

“There is an appropriate limited role for using some Amendment 1 funds to upgrade failed systems,” Putnam said. “It should be considered as part of a small portion of that conservation program where that is the best solution for that watershed.”

Pegeen Hanrahan, of the Trust for Public Lands, said those projects should be paid for by other state revenues and not be taken out of Amendment 1 funds.

“Those are good and worthy projects to pursue, but they are not the focus of Amendment 1,” said Hanrahan, the former mayor of Gainesville. “That really wasn’t the intended focus.”

The goal of the amendment, she said, is to support existing land and water conservation projects like Florida Forever and the restoration of Florida’s springs and the Everglades.

“We would like to see these dollars really cleaning water at the source,” added Hanrahan.

Eric Draper, executive director of Florida Audubon, said the money should not be used for local water projects.

“The voters didn’t think they were voting to bail out development projects,” he said.

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Gov. Rick Scott proposes $150 million for Florida Everglades work posted on 1/28/15

by JENNY STALETOVICH | Miami Herald

FL EvergladesStanding outside a Miami airboat attraction with some of the state’s top environmentalists and a caged panther named Harley, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday proposed spending $150 million in his next budget on Everglades restoration and habitat preservation.

Scott also wants lawmakers to designate a quarter of Amendment 1 money — the measure overwhelmingly approved by voters in November for land and water conservation — for restoration work. If the Legislature agrees, the move could raise $5 billion for Everglades projects over the life of the 20-year amendment, an amount that could cover the state’s projected costs.

“We have the opportunity to continue to invest,” Scott said, pointing to a stronger economy. “And this is the right way to invest.”

Environmentalists say the measures, if endorsed by lawmakers, could guarantee the chronically stalled work gets done.

Scott’s announcement represents a big pivot for a pro-growth governor more often criticized for his handling of the state’s fragile resources. Under his tenure, spending on the state’s environmental protection agency steadily declined, along with money for restoration and habitat preservation. Legislators also dismantled the agency that regulated growth in the state at his urging. And on the campaign trail, Scott would not say whether he supported Amendment 1.

But standing alongside Scott at Gator Park on the edge of Everglades National Park Tuesday, environmentalists praised the second-term governor for taking a lead in restoration efforts.

“Future governors and future legislators are going to have to take the Rick Scott plan over the 20-year life of this amendment and implement it,” said Everglades Foundation Chief Executive Officer Eric Eikenberg. “Once it starts, it’s going to be hard to backtrack.”

In nailing down the money for the future, environmentalists say Scott eliminates uncertainty that complicated year-to-year planning on projects that frequently stretch over many years.

“Every year, you never know whether the Legislature is going to appropriate money,” said Audubon Florida executive director Eric Draper. “So last year we had a good year... but it followed several years with not very much spending on the Everglades at all.”

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GMO Mosquitoes May Be Set Loose in Keys posted on 1/26/15

by AP

Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes could be released in the Florida Keys if British researchers win approval to use the bugs against two extremely painful viral diseases.

Never before have insects with modified DNA come so close to being set loose in a residential U.S. neighborhood.

“This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease,” said Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, which is waiting to hear if the Food and Drug Administration will allow the experiment.

Dengue and chikungunya are growing threats in the U.S., but some people are more frightened at the thought of being bitten by a genetically modified organism. More than 130,000 signed a Change.org petition against the experiment.

Even potential boosters say those responsible must do more to show that benefits outweigh the risks.

“I think the science is fine, they definitely can kill mosquitoes, but the GMO issue still sticks as something of a thorny issue for the general public,” said Phil Lounibos, who studies mosquito control at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory. “It’s not even so much about the science – you can’t go ahead with something like this if public opinion is negative.”

Mosquito controllers say they’re running out of options that can kill Aedes aegypti, a tiger-striped invader whose biting females spread these viruses. Climate change and globalization are spreading tropical diseases farther from the equator, and Key West, the southernmost U.S. city, is particularly vulnerable.

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Coalition of conservatives, liberals fight for more Florida solar power posted on 1/14/15

by Ivan Penn | Tampa Bay Times

Imagine the Christian Coalition and the tea party joining hands with liberals and environmentalists.

Add to the Kumbaya moment Libertarians and Florida's retail business federation.

They all plan to unite this morning for a news conference in Tallahassee about their campaign to allow those in Florida who generate electricity from the sun to sell that power directly to other consumers. Right now, that's illegal here.

The coalition, which has dubbed itself Floridians for Solar Choice, has crafted a petition that was approved for circulation last month. They'll need 683,149 signatures by Feb. 1, 2016, to get the question on the ballot for the 2016 election.

For some it's ideological. For others, such as the retailers, it's pure economics.

"It is strange bedfellows," said Steve Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a Tennessee-based environmental group. "We all agree we want a free market.

"As long as we don't talk about a lot of other issues," he said and laughed, "we'll be fine."

So what made this alliance possible?

"People care about their electric bills," said Ash Mason, the Christian Coalition's Southeast regional energy policy director.

"We're not here to battle traditional coal, nuclear or natural gas," Mason said of the Christian Coalition's position. "We want to push for anything that's efficient. It's about independence."

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Cabinet Approves Purchase of Land for Conservation posted on 1/14/15

by JIM Turner | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

A pair of land purchases approved Tuesday by Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet were hailed by conservationists as a sign that a pulse is returning to the Florida Forever conservation program.

The Cabinet unanimously agreed to spend $3.15 million to acquire 669 acres in Charlotte County to help restore the flow of fresh water to the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve, and $9.77 million for 619 acres in Collier County that will provide additional buffering for the 13,000-acre Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the Bird Rookery Swamp.

Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, a lobbyist on environmental issues, said the deals are a sign that "the state of Florida is back in the business of conservation."

"We depend in Southwest Florida on a healthy environment," Draper said. "That's part of our economy down there."

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