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Environmentalists Weigh In On DeSantis's Budget Proposal

Gov. Ron DeSantis stands at a podium. Behind him is the American flag and the Florida State flag. The podium has a blue poster taped to it. It reads, "Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida Leads, Fiscal Year 2021 - 2022 Budget."
Blaise Gainey
/
WFSU-FM
Gov. Ron DeSantis announces his budget proposal for the fiscal year 2021-2022. Environmentalist groups say while his appropriations for the environment is a step in the right direction, the money the governor hopes to allocate isn't enough to protect Florida's natural resources or combat climate change.

Environmental advocacy groups say Gov. Ron DeSantis's proposed budget is a good start, but they worry it doesn't put enough money toward protecting Florida's natural resources and doesn't do enough to address the cause of climate change.

The governor's budget proposal would create the Resilient Florida program, which will give $1 billion over four years to projects aimed at combating sea level rise, storms, and flooding. Sierra Club Florida's David Cullen says the program shows the governor is taking sea level rise seriously.

"But we note that there is no attack on the cause of sea level rise. This is akin to treating only the symptoms of the disease but not addressing the cause of the disease," Cullen says.

Cullen says DeSantis needs to tackle climate change and focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. His group would like to see state agencies buy electric vehicles to replace gas-powered ones.

"And that could be done on an as they retire basis. Replace them with EVs," Cullen says.

Aliki Moncrief works with the group Florida Conservation Voters. She's worried the Resilient Florida program could take dollars away from Florida Forever—the state's conservation land buying program.

"Florida Forever was one of those key programs that voters had in mind in 2014 as a necessary program to make sure that as our state is developing, as we got new subdivisions going in and destroying wetlands and natural areas that we actually have a fund that we can use to balance that destruction with protection and conservation," Moncrief says.

Resilient Florida would dip into the same pot of money that Florida Forever gets its funding from. DeSantis's proposal earmarks $50 million for the program, but Moncrief says that's not enough.

"We need to see Florida Forever restored to historic levels, which were more like $300 million a year," Moncrief says.

"At the very least, we'd like to see a $100 million, but you know, $50 million is a starting point, and I'm sure we will have some opportunities for discussion, Beth Alvi says. She works for Audubon Florida and would like to see more money to go towards protecting agricultural lands from development via the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.

And Moncrief says she has an idea for where those funds could come from. She says DeSantis should pull out of a program that would build three new toll roads and instead put that money into other places.

"He could have said, 'you know what, now is not the time to invest in toll roads that nobody wants, let's use that money in a place, for example, like Florida Forever that makes more sense.'"

The governor's budget includes a total of $4.3 billion for environmental issues. That includes dollars for wastewater treatment projects like septic to sewer conversions and everglades restoration projects, among others.

Clarification: Beth Alvi is speaking about the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program