News from Tallahassee for 4/18/15

No policy against ‘climate change,’ DEP chief tells Florida Senate posted on 4/16/15

by JIM Turner | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE — Disputing reports that state agencies are prohibited from using the words “climate change,” top environmental official Jonathan Steverson repeatedly uttered the phrase during a confirmation hearing Wednesday.

Steverson, who was appointed in December by Gov. Rick Scott as secretary of Florida Department of Environmental Protection, told the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee his agency has no policy against “climate change.”

“Climate change. Climate change. Climate change,” Steverson responded when asked by Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, about the reported prohibition. “There I said it three times. There is absolutely no policy against discussing climate change at the department. In fact, we have multiple programs related to climate change.”

On March 8, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting reported that former Department of Environmental Protection officials claimed they had been told to avoid phrases such as “global warming” and “climate change.”

Scott, who said last year he was “not a scientist” when pressed on the issue of climate change, has denied the charge.

The reported prohibition drew national attention when “The Daily Show” on March 25 aired an exchange in which Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, failed to get state Division of Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon to utter the phrase “climate change.”

Steverson, who spent the past two years as director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District and once served as former Gov. Charlie Crist’s environmental policy coordinator, was unanimously backed by the committee for confirmation.

Steverson told the senators he backs Scott’s call for $100 million in funding in the next budget for Florida Forever land acquisition and noted there are “climate change” programs within Florida Forever, mostly directed at the Florida Keys.

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Bills aimed at regulating fracking clear House, Senate panels despite opposition posted on 4/15/15

by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster | naples daily news

Legislation aimed at regulating hydraulic fracturing cleared state House and Senate panels Tuesday, despite increased opposition from environmental organizations.

The House proposal (HB 1205) cleared the House state affairs committee on a 12-5 vote. The measure, along with a companion bill (HB 1209) that deals with public records exemptions, now heads to the full House for a vote.

“This bill is an improvement over our status quo,” said Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, the sponsor of the House bill. “It is my belief this is a statewide concern and we need a consistent policy.”

A similar Senate measure (SB 1468) received unanimous consent from the Senate’s general government appropriations subcommittee. The measure, plus the companion bill (SB 1582) dealing with public records exemptions, has one more committee stop before it heads to the Senate.

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Everglades Ecological Rally Invites Big-Name Floridians posted on 4/8/15

by MATTHEW SEEGER | WFSU

This year's Everglades Action Day is all about clean water conservation. The annual ecological awareness event was kicked off by a special guest singer who flew in all the way from Margaritaville.

Even though the crowd was energized about Everglades conservation, it was clear by the vast amount of tropical shirts, straw hats and shoulder-mounted parrots that many in the crowd weren’t just attracted by saving the environment. Florida-based author Carl Hiaasen, whose work has become as quintessentially Floridian as the Everglades themselves, introduced another Florida icon to the steps of the Old Capitol.

“And I’m also happy to say that the time is now to hear from my very good friend, and a wonderful friend of our everglades for so many years, a member of the Florida artists’ hall of fame… Jimmy Buffett.” Hiaasen said.

Buffett is no stranger to eco-activism, and Parrotheads cheered as he and his band stood on the steps.

“Hello, Florida! Good to be back in Tallahassee, raisin’ a little hell, for the right reasons.” Buffett said.

The message wasn’t lost on the swaying fans as Buffett strummed and sang some of his old classics. The good vibes were a contrast to concerns that legislative plans to divide revenues from the voter-approved conservation funding plan, will put the ecology at risk.

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10 reasons why the U.S. Sugar land deal might be dead posted on 4/7/15

by Christine Stapleton | Palm Beach Post

Today in Tallahasee, throngs of Everglades advocates who want the South Florida Water Management District to buy 46,800 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee from U.S. Sugar will talk to lawmakers and listen to Everglades advocates Jimmy Buffett and Carl Hiassen champion their cause.

Despite their enthusiasm and the muscle of the powerful Everglades Foundation behind them, the effort has gained little support among decisionmakers.

The controversial land deal is part of a vastly scaled down effort that began in 2008, when then Gov. Charlie Crist proposed that the district spent $1.7 billion on 197,000 acres — about the size of New York City —from U.S. Sugar Corp.

As the economy tanked, the district scaled down the plan and in 2010 spent $197 million for about 28,000 acres. The sale contract included options to purchase additional land.

Environmental groups believe that the district could use the land to build a reservoir to store water, which they say would reduce harmful discharges of water from the lake into the St. Lucie Estuary and Caloosahatchee River.

The deal — with an estimated price tag of $500 million — expires Oct. 12. As each day passes, the deal becomes less likely.

Here are 10 reasons why the deal may not go through:

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Florida lawmakers set aside little for environmental land acquisition posted on 4/6/15

by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster | Scripps-Tribune Capitol Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — There’s money for rural lands, beaches and the Everglades. But as lawmakers prepare to negotiate details of the new state budget, debate continues over whether more money from Florida’s land and water conservation amendment should go toward buying property for conservation.

Amendment 1, sponsored by Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, passed with 75 percent of the vote in November. The measure sets aside one-third of money collected through taxes on real estate documentary stamps to protect environmentally sensitive areas for the next 20 years.

About $750 million is expected to be set aside in the first year, and Florida’s Water and Land Legacy had hoped the state would dedicate $170 million of that to Florida Forever, a state program to buy land for preservation, to protect and maintain conservation lands and local parks.

House and Senate leaders don’t appear to be close to that number. The state House set aside $10.5 million for Florida Forever in its budget, while the Senate initially put $2 million toward the land buying program.

“It’s an abysmally low figure compared to $750 million,” said Ray Judah, coordinator for the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition. “It’s really very distressing.”

Some lawmakers and Southwest Florida officials said there needs to be a greater focus on managing the land Florida already owns. They’re at odds with others who argue the intent of the amendment was clear — more money is needed to acquire land.

“Growth and development is starting to pick up again, and a lot of valuable lands that are either on the state acquisition list or have been identified are going to be increasingly threatened by development” said Will Abberger, chairman of Florida’s Water and Land Legacy.

The state Senate on Wednesday bumped up its Florida Forever spending to $15 million. But many environmental organizations said that funding level still doesn’t cut it, especially when there is believed to be about 2 million acres on the Florida Forever priority purchase list.

Neither the state House nor Senate allocated money to buy 46,800 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp., south of Lake Okeechobee to build a reservoir to move lake water into the Everglades and reduce discharges into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.

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