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Florida House moves landmark environmental legislation to DeSantis’ desk

Florida state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge. Mark Wallheiser / AP

Posted on March 16, 2020

(The Center Square) – The Florida House on Wednesday unanimously approved the Clean Waterways Act and a bill requiring sea-level studies for public projects, adopting landmark environmental legislation Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign into law.

Senate Bill 712, the 111-page Clean Waterways Act sponsored by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge, was approved by the House, 118-0, after moving through the Senate on Friday, 39-0.

Senate Bill 178, sponsored by Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, was endorsed by the House, 115-0, after securing a 38-0 Senate approval Monday.

SB 178 requires municipalities and state agencies to submit 50-year sea level impact projection (SLIP) studies to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) before using tax revenues to build structures on beaches or in tropical storm flood zones.

The bill acknowledges that communities along Florida’s 1,350-mile, low-lying coastline are increasingly experiencing tidal flooding because of sea-level rise fostered by climate change. The state estimates $300 billion in taxable property could be underwater by 2100.

The bipartisan bill was spearheaded by South Florida lawmakers, where tides routinely flood coastal streets, and is endorsed by environmental groups, builders and business organizations.

Rep. Vance Aloupis Jr., R-Miami, who substituted SB 178 in place of his companion measure, House Bill 579, said the bill demonstrates Florida no longer denies climate change and is taking common sense precautions.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, praised the measure, dubbed the Rodriguez-Aloupis bill.

“We are on the cusp of a crisis,” she said, stating Florida must take urgent action not simply from “an altruistic desire to protect Mother Earth” but to defend its environment, its primary economic asset.

On Monday, Rodriguez said rising sea levels threaten public health, property, infrastructure and coastal investment.

“This is the most transformative climate legislation of the 2020 session,” he said. “It’s not ceremonial. It’s not, ‘Let’s look into this climate thing more.’ It’s actual.”

SB 712 also substituted its House companion, House Bill 1343, co-sponsored by Reps. Bobby Payne, R-Palatka, and Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill.

Within the sweeping Clean Waterways Act are most of DeSantis’ water quality priorities, including initiatives in septic-to-sewer conversion, wastewater, stormwater, agriculture and biosolids. It also includes newly created Blue-Green Algae Task Force recommendations.

The bill:

  • Moves regulation of septic tanks from the Department of Health to DEP;
  • Directs DEP to assess Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs);
  • Increases fines for violations;
  • Establishes a 50 percent matching state-local grant program to connect septic tanks to sewer systems, upgrade septic systems and enact other wastewater improvements;
  • Creates regulations for agricultural use of fertilizers and requires farmers to provide fertilizer records and submit to on-site inspections;
  • Authorizes the state Department of Agriculture and academic institutions to develop best management practices for reducing nutrients.
  • “It’s a comprehensive package that really looks at how we’re going to address nutrient loading coming from our water bodies,” Payne said. “Those loadings are coming from on-site sewage treatment systems, sanitary sewer overflows, domestic wastewater overflows, agricultural BMPs that we need to tighten up and get better records on.”

    The bill was praised by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which said each provision will protect natural resources as Florida’s population continues to boom – another 4.5 million people are expected by 2030.

    “The Florida Chamber has a long history of advocating for science-based, sustainable water policies to ensure Florida’s environmental and economic future,” Chamber Executive Vice President David Hart said. “Investments in septic-to-sewer conversions represent an important step forward to protect Florida’s natural beauty.”

    “This might be the most important bill we pass this session,” Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said when the Senate adopted the measure.


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