The Florida House of Representatives just gutted the power of ordinary citizens to challenge decisions made by environmental regulators. In a 79-36 vote, members approved changes Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, made to a rulemaking bill that is now headed to the governor.

Democrats criticized the maneuver as a bait and switch. They struck the provision from a separate environmental bill that was rammed through the House last Friday night. They feared the measure would strip citizens of their due process rights.

Under the amendment, challengers would have less of a say in permitting decisions that affect water quality. The person or company seeking the permit would be able to rebut any of their arguments, with new evidence, without giving the challenger a chance to respond.

Bennett said yesterday that the changes would help attract more businesses to the state, by making it harder for people to drag out the process of seeking a permit with “frivolous” challenges. Environmentalists have said it will also stymie legitimate challenges.

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Stearns: Environmental groups not included in hearing because they didn’t ask to be

A hearing sponsored by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, on a set of federally mandated water pollution rules is taking place in Orlando today. But a look at the list of witnesses invited to speak at the hearing reveals a host of industry leaders, and only one environmental representative, from the EPA. In a new statement, Stearns says that's because environmental groups didn't ask to participate.