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Enviro groups oppose "monster bill"

By Sascha Cordner


Tallahassee, FL – The Florida House is expected to look at a comprehensive bill relating to environmental permitting Friday. As Sascha Cordner reports, many environmental groups gathered for a press conference at the Capitol Thursday to appeal to lawmakers to stop what they call the "Monster Bill."

House Bill 991 has about 34 different components, which the bill's sponsor Republican Representative Jimmy Patronis of Panama City says seeks to streamline the environmental permitting process in Florida. But, all six of the representatives from the Environmental groups, including the Nature Conservancy and 1000 Friends of Florida, took issue with at least half of the sections outlined in the measure, saying it would be a bad change to the state's current environmental laws.

"We want to talk to you today about House 991, which is probably one of the worst environmental bills I have ever seen in the 20 years I have been working in this process. It's a massive piece of legislation that rolls up in over 30 different sections, changes 27 different environmental laws."

Eric Draper with the Audubon of Florida says as the bill is on the House's upcoming special order calendar, the environmental community will still continue to work towards stopping what he calls "a bad bill."

"We don't have a great deal of faith in getting the majority in the Legislature in the House to stop this. While the bill does not have a clear companion in the Senate, we know how this process works. We know it is fairly easy for the House to find a Senate Bill .Once this bill passes, it's fairly easy for them to hook it onto another Senate Bill to make that happen...we would hope our best legislators stand up and stop that from happening."

David Cullen with the Sierra Club of Florida talked about the issues he had with the mining provisions in the bill. He says one of the things the bill does is prevent local governments from enforcing or adopting ordinances to protect their environmental resources.

"The economic impacts of mining activities include the cost for cleanup of polluted water, loss of groundwater resources, and losses to tourism and fishery industries. And, adverse impacts include the release of process water and storm water, spills of petroleum products, stack and dust emissions, and noise and ground vibration .all leading to habitat dust erosion, sedimentation, surface and groundwater pollution and changes to the visual scene."

Debbie Harrison with the National Parks Conservation Association says Patronis' bill will set Florida back for many years.

"Three decades of environmental protections that are the basis of Florida's economy are being destroyed in the next ten days without the awareness or the participation of the citizens."

She says not only will it allow citizens to lose their ability to put their input, there are other negative impacts as well.

"We are going to provide costs which should go rightly to developers that will end up going to the citizenry and to local governments. We are going to jeopardize our water supply, our national parks, our beaches, our waterways, and the basis of our economy which is tourism, under the false pretense of stimulating the economy; the only economic benefit of this bill will go the special interests that have succeeded in getting their language inserted in it."

Other representatives from other groups talked about the problems it would have on the rock mining industry, the storm water and wetlands. But, the main issue everyone had a problem with was the burden of proof standard that was altered in the bill. Preston Robertson, the Florida Wildlife Federation: Vice President for Conservation and general Counsel:

"Right now, if I go in and I have to put in a mine or some other commercial facility, extraction facility, it's up to me to prove that I will not cause harm. What this bill does is flips that standard on its head, puts the burden of proof on the contiguous property owner, the other landowners in the neighborhood who might have residences, and that is simply not the way it has been done nor should it be done if our goal is to protect individual Floridians from harm."

Edie Ousley is a spokeswoman for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, one of the supporters of the bill. She says one of the biggest problems companies have in the state of Florida is getting permits done in a timely fashion and at a reasonable price, and House Bill 991 would change that.

"It simply removes the cumbersome layers of review that a permit must go through. Right now a permit is reviewed by multiple municipalities and governing bodies cities, counties, water management districts, the department of environmental protection, department of transportation, and that list goes on and on, and this just simply streamlines that review process into a more condensed version before a permit if approved or not approved."

And, representing many in the business community is Keyna Cory, Senior Lobbyist for the Associated Industries of Florid. She says Representative Patronis worked hard to appease everyone on opposing sides, having meetings every Monday, since it was filed. She also questioned the sincerity of some environmental groups.

"I've never seen a bill sponsor in my 26 years in this business work as hard as I have Mr. Patronis and he has included absolutely everyone into the process, and I think sometimes, some of the groups, and I'm not saying this about all of the environmental groups, some of those groups are being disingenuous where he would make concessions for them, and they would say thank you for doing that, but I'm still against the bill because they don't want change, they don't want to shorten this time line, so it's very easy for them to just say no, instead of trying to work on something that would be very good for businesses in the state of Florida."

But, Draper says despite what proponents say, while the bill has changed a great deal through a series of weekly meetings Representative Patronis held, very little has been done to change the impact on the environment.

The bill now heads to the House Floor, after two if its last committee stops withdrew the measure from their agenda.