DeSantis’ commitment to Florida’s waterways — ridding them of the sewage and fertilizers that breed toxic algae, restoring the ancient flow of the Everglades, protecting coral reefs — so far is looking solid.
Just two days after his swearing-in last January, Florida’s new governor, Ron DeSantis shook things up — in a good way — by announcing sweeping plans for the environment.
A key promise was to seek $2.5 billion over four years for Everglades restoration, clean up polluted waters such as those breeding red tide and blue/green algae, and build a crucial reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. That’s a cool $1 billion more than was spent in the previous four years by his predecessor, Rick Scott.
So far, DeSantis is proving as good as his word.
Leaders of the Republican-led Legislature signaled they will meet DeSantis’ requests and perhaps spend even more, according to the News Service of Florida. That’s because 2014′s Amendment 1, which is supposed to direct 33% of revenue from a tax on real-estate documentary stamps to land and water conservation, provides a fat pot of money — that is, when legislators aren’t diverting the funds to other things.
This might spare us more of the interruptions the Everglades project has suffered over the past 30 years. It’s been hard enough to prod the federal government to pay its promised share; the task becomes nigh impossible unless Florida ponies up.
DeSantis also announced he intends to ask lawmakers to double fines for sewage spills into waterways. Civil penalties are now up to $10,000 a day — what DeSantis called, accurately, a “slap me on the wrist” approach.
“You have some these municipalities, it’s cheaper for them to pay a fine and spew all this sewage into the waterways, because it’s the cost of doing business,” DeSantis said at a nature conservancy in Naples.”
His environmental record isn’t perfect. He gave the go-ahead for three highly dubious toll roads through sensitive lands. He also signed into law the atrocious HB 7103 bigfooting local governments when it comes to development approvals.
“But he is doing more than I had hoped for,” said Kimberly Mitchell, executive director of the Everglades Trust and a former longtime West Palm Beach city commissioner. “We’re seeing a paradigm shift, which is exactly what the state of Florida needs."
When you consider that DeSantis has also created the position of chief science officer, as well as an Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection explicitly charged with helping communities deal with sea-level rise, you can hardly overstate how quickly the prospects for Florida’s environment have improved since the eight lost years of Scott.
DeSantis, on the other hand, understands that “our economic potential will be jeopardized if we do not solve the problems afflicting our environment and water resources,” as he said in his inaugural.
This wasn’t the emphasis we expected, frankly, when this Donald Trump-acolyte Republican campaigned for governor.
But DeSantis’ commitment to Florida’s waterways — ridding them of the sewage and fertilizers that breed toxic algae, restoring the ancient flow of the Everglades, protecting coral reefs — so far is looking solid. That’s good for all of us.
This guest editorial was adapted from an editorial originally published in the Palm Beach Post, a sister newspaper within GateHouse Media.