Gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink has released her environmental plan, an eight-page political advertisement titled “Preserving Florida’s Natural Assets: Improve our economy while protecting our environment.” The plan mentions several key issues currently affecting Florida’s ecology, including nutrient overload, Everglades restoration and offshore drilling.
In the document, Sink promises to “increase oversight of water management districts,” a much-needed policy in a state that currently relies on these districts to implement standards governing waste in Florida waters. The South Florida Water Management District has recently come under fire from environmental groups for issuing permits to well-known polluters of the Everglades. Sink promises to “coordinate governance among districts” and “appoint highly qualified individuals to water management district governing boards.”
The document also mentions the importance of water conservation, another issue which has recently plagued some parts of the state. Sink says she will work to incentivize conservation by “granting longer duration water permits to water utilities that achieve conservation goals.”
On a more controversial topic, the impairment of Florida waters by excess levels of nutrients, Sink remains vague. Although she promises to “work with the federal government to resolve water quality disputes,” she doesn’t make it clear whether or not she would advocate further delays in implementing nutrient standards:
Under the federal Clean Water Act, each state must establish water quality standards. However, in Florida, a federal lawsuit now requires EPA to develop these standards, even though the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has completed much scientific work to establish standards for streams, lakes and estuaries. Alex will continue working with EPA and the parties to get DEP’s work considered and used as the best science available.
The DEP has recently been under intense pressure from industry and agricultural groups to write nutrient standards in a way that won’t lead to increased costs for big businesses or force them to reevaluate current operating methods. Whether Sink would side with the industries who pressure the DEP to further delay the standards or keep them less stringent remains unclear in her current environmental plan.
One point on which she is less vague is land acquisition. The Florida Forever program has seen money come and go (at one point, it received $300 million in funding; the next year, zero), but Sink makes it clear that she aims to “protect the Florida Forever program from future budget raids.”
Sink also says she is committed to “make progress on Everglades restoration” and will work to end harmful discharges to state estuaries and Lake Okeechobee:
Historically, Lake Okeechobee is managed as a reservoir rather than as part of the natural Everglades. This approach has produced a severely polluted lake that is too full of water during wet times and too parched during dry times. Alex Sink will work with landowners and farmers north of the lake to acquire conservation easements and other rights to incentivize landowners to keep water on their lands longer. This will avoid dumping that water into Lake Okeechobee and help cleanse the water before it flows downstream into rivers and estuaries.
On offshore oil drilling, Sink says she will “veto any legislation to allow near-beach oil drilling” and will “support efforts to let voters decide through a constitutional amendment on oil drilling in state waters.”