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House Speaker replies to Times water bill editorial

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Benjamin Franklin delivered the memorable line, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Were he alive today, I believe Franklin would amend his short list of inevitabilities with a declaration that Florida Republicans can solidly count on negative editorials from the Tampa Bay Times.

Such is the case with the Feb. 22 editorial, “Water plan is a step backward.” It was written with a lack of understanding of the complexities of Florida law and paints the House with an anti-environmental brush that can only be held by the most uninformed and extreme.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has publicly described Florida’s water quality system as one of the most sophisticated and comprehensive water resource protection and restoration programs in the nation. The House water policy bill (HB 7003) builds upon Florida’s existing foundation of science-based assessment and establishment of water supply and resource development plans, total maximum daily loads, basin management action plans, minimum flows and levels, and recovery and prevention strategies to protect and restore priority springs and other water bodies.

The Times states that the House’s proposed legislation will slow Everglades restoration, the single largest natural resource protection program in the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everglades restoration will benefit from the bill’s proposal for all northern Everglades protection and restoration programs to be concentrated under a single plan. The Florida Legislature is committed to seeing Everglades restoration through to its end and has demonstrated this commitment by adopting a plan to invest more than $800 million to the project over the next 10 years.

The editorial also criticizes how the proposed legislation deals with the challenges facing Central Florida’s water supply needs. The House bill embraces and strengthens the draft regional water supply plan by requiring the public entities involved in the initiative to enter a formal interagency agreement and to proceed with the development of the regional water supply plan.

The Times does not mention an amendment to the bill was unanimously approved by the House Appropriations Committee to require the Department of Environmental Protection to create multidisciplinary workgroups for the specific purpose of developing a septic tank assessment and remediation program to include prioritized funding needs. As amended, the bill authorizes the department to award grants to reduce nutrient impacts from onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems.

The Times did not get everything wrong. It correctly observes there is no funding in the House water policy bill. Yet it fails to tell readers it is customary for the Legislature to put funding in the appropriations act, not a policy bill. The General Appropriations Act, which will be developed during the upcoming session, will include funding not only for springs restoration, but also for Everglades restoration, water quality improvements, water supply and water resource development.

Though their criticism of House Republican efforts is as inevitable as death and taxes, the facts do not support the many accusations made by the Tampa Bay Times. The truth is, Democrats and Republicans in the state of Florida are working together to aggressively address the water quality and supply issues we face. The House’s bipartisan legislation is a continuation of our ongoing commitment to the overall restoration of Florida’s most precious natural resources. While we welcome thoughtful and serious debate on restoration ideas and ways to improve our environment, we will vigorously defend against mischaracterizations like those that were so carelessly dumped into the public discourse by the Tampa Bay Times.

Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, is speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

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