In a press release this morning, environmental law firm Earthjustice said that state waterways only “narrowly escaped” an assault by the Florida House of Representatives.
“This was the most sewage-friendly House of Representatives we’ve seen in 50 years,” said David Guest, managing Florida attorney for Earthjustice, in the release. “Thankfully, level heads in the Senate protected the public from more sewage in our waterways. Sewage in the water is not a selling point for tourism.”
Among the potentially devastating bills not passed during the legislative session were at least five bills that would have sacrificed Florida’s ecology for the sake of polluters. One bill, H.B. 613, would ease rules aimed at utilities dumping partially treated sewage into the ocean. The bill would have allowed utilities to continue discharging up to 5 percent of their flow during wet weather, and push back the deadline for those utilities to upgrade to advanced wastewater treatment. The Florida Coastal & Ocean Coalition (which includes the Surfrider Foundation, Gulf Restoration Network, and the Sea Turtle Conservancy) were strongly opposed to the bill, which they said (.pdf) would be a “significant step backward” for the state.
Another problematic bill, H.B. 457, would have prohibited state or local agencies from complying with statewide limits on sewage, fertilizer, and manure in the water.
Another, the so-called farm-photo bill, would have made it a crime to videotape Florida agricultural operations that, says Earthjustice, “often spew manure, pesticides, fertilizer, and other pollution into the public’s waterways.”
Though Earthjustice applauded the Senate for blocking several House bills, the group is not entirely at ease.
From the release:
The Legislature did pass two damaging pieces of legislation which could alter the state’s natural resources for years to come. These bills now head to Gov. Rick Scott for signature or veto:
– SB 1122 reverses 25 years of growth management in Florida. It removes most state oversight of development and could put natural resources at risk.
– HB 993 reverses the long-standing “burden of proof” requirement in Florida law. Today’s law says potential polluters must show that their project won’t contaminate air or water. Under this new bill, challengers — concerned citizens— would be the ones required to provide legal proof that the project will contaminate air or water.
Earthjustice is not the only group to criticize this recently ended legislative session. In a May 6 press release, Mark Ferrule, executive director of the nonprofit progressive group Progress Florida, called this the worst session ever: “If making it harder to vote, gutting public schools, salary cuts for first responders and paving paradise were what Floridians wanted, Gov. Scott and this legislature deserve a standing ovation.”