Legislative Update from Waterkeepers Florida

June 30, 2023–Legislative Update from Waterkeepers Florida

At the start of 2023, Governor Ron DeSantis signed Executive Order 23-06, setting out a plan to “further advance the protection of Florida’s environment and water quality.” It promised accountability and sound science. It was tentative relief for Florida residents and visitors alike who, in recent years, have seen local water quality plagued with severe fish kills and harmful algal blooms caused by excess nutrients. The Florida Legislature, however, advanced several bills that will adversely impact our environment and water quality.

These bills include:

  • Senate Bill 1258 / House Bill1191 permitting the use of a radioactive waste in road construction called“phosphogypsum”, which, according to the EPA, releases cancer-causing radon gas and causes adverse effects to nearby surface and groundwater resources. In a blow to local governance,
  • Senate Bill170 / House Bill 1515 requires local governments to prepare a business impact estimate before enacting a wide range of ordinances, including measures to protect the local environment and quality of life. The result is more obstacles impeding local governments from solving local issues. This is particularly poignant in light of the recent Supreme Court decision rolling back federal protections for wetlands – leaving local ordinances as one of the few remaining tools to protect these fragile and important areas. On June 29,2023, Gov. DeSantis signed these two bills without much fanfare, adding to a slew of harmful bills that limit citizens’ and local officials’ ability to protect local water quality.
  • Earlier in June, Gov. DeSantis signed the budget with a last minute provision tucked in that will limit local governments’ ability to regulate fertilizer within their communities (line item 146 in Senate Bill 2500). The amendment prohibits local governments from “adopting or amending a fertilizer management ordinance,” a common tool used by counties and cities across the state to curb fertilizer pollution.
  • In May, Gov. DeSantis signed Senate Bill 540. SB 540 threatens ordinary Floridians with financial ruin for exercising their right to legally challenge bad development decisions. Specifically, citizens who challenge Comprehensive Plan amendments would be forced to pay the attorney fees and costs of the prevailing local government and developers if they lose their challenge. Many of our water quality issues are tied to irresponsible development decisions, so citizens’ ability to challenge these decisions is a key tool in protecting our waterways.

Waterkeepers Florida launched various veto campaigns against these bills. A resounding chorus of Florida citizens responded, sending over 2,000 emails to the Governor calling for his veto. By signing these bills, Gov. DeSantis has obstructed our tools for ensuring clean water and in its place, permitted unsustainable, industry-friendly policies. The passage and implementation of these bills destroys any illusion of the Governor’s “green administration.” At a time when waterways across the state are afflicted with chronic pollution, harmful algal blooms, and fish kills – it is crucial that we prevent known sources of pollution from entering our waterways. Despite these setbacks from the Florida Legislature and the Governor, we continue to fight for protective water quality measures and true accountability from the industries threatening to destroy our waters.

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