Scott’s poli­cies dis­as­trous for en­vi­ron­ment

The Palm Beach Post - - OPINION: THE DEBATE STARTS HERE -

With a hor­rific red tide killing ma­rine life and tourism on Florida’s south­west coast, and with toxic green al­gae bring­ing mis­ery to the Trea­sure Coast and Fort Myers area on a now-an­nual ba­sis, it’s un­der­stand­able that Gov. Rick Scott would want to run away from his en­vi­ron­men­tal record.

Vot­ers shouldn’t let him.

From the mo­ment the health-care mul­ti­mil­lion­aire swept into of­fice on 2010’s Tea Party anti-tax, anti-reg­u­la­tion wave, he be­gan slash­ing the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion (DEP) and the South Florida Wa­ter Man­age­ment Dis­trict (SFWMD), cut­ting bud­gets, skilled staff and in­spec­tions.

The SFWMD, which had a $1.4 bil­lion bud­get in 2007, is now an $814 mil­lion agency. Scott’s ad­min­is­tra­tion cut $700 mil­lion out of all the state’s wa­ter-man­age­ment dis­tricts af­ter his first year and crip­pled their abil­ity to levy taxes. His jus­ti­fi­ca­tion — giv­ing av­er­age prop­erty own­ers tax re­lief — is a sick joke; the state’s 15 big­gest in­dus­tries, like Florida Power & Light and the Walt Dis­ney Co., got to pocket a com­bined $1.2 mil­lion an­nu­ally, but home­own­ers save less than $3 per $100,000.

What got slashed?

The state’s net­work for wa­ter mon­i­tor­ing shrank from 350 mon­i­tor­ing sites to 115, ac­cord­ing to Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity’s South­east En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­search Cen­ter. En­force­ment of anti-pol­lu­tion reg­u­la­tions slowed to a crawl. The DEP pur­sued al­most 1,600 en­force­ment cases in 2010, but a mere 220 in 2017, ac­cord­ing to Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees for En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­spon­si­bil­ity.

In 2012, Scott re­pealed a law re­quir­ing sep­tic-tank in­spec­tions. Now, only 1 per­cent of Florida’s 2.6 mil­lion sep­tic tanks get in­spected, and sci­en­tists say that pol­lu­tion from leak­ing sep­tic tanks adds fuel to toxic al­gae blooms.

The re­sult: Ni­tro­gen and phos­pho­rus loads are on the rise in Lake Okee­chobee. Com­bined with agri­cul­tural run-off, this is the root of the toxic blue­green al­gae — and al­most cer­tainly a con­trib­u­tor to the un­usual en­durance of the red tide, the worst of which is oc­cur­ring near Fort Myers at the mouth of the Caloosa­hatchee River, one of the exit points of Lake O’s wa­ters.

Yet Scott is try­ing to fool vot­ers into think­ing that Sen. Bill Nel­son, the Demo­crat whom Scott is try­ing to un­seat on Nov. 6, is to blame for the al­gae blooms. A Scott ad re­leased Fri­day con­tends Nel­son has done “noth­ing” for “Lake O.” It’s sup­pos­edly Nel­son’s fault that the U.S. Army Corps of Engi­neers hasn’t lim­ited wa­ter dis­charges or fixed the Her­bert Hoover Dike.

This is non­sen­si­cal dou­ble-talk. The dike’s con­di­tion and the rate of dis­charges have noth­ing to do with the pol­lu­tants in the wa­ter in Lake Okee­chobee. Let­ting all that phos­pho­rus and ni­tro­gen into the wa­ter to be­gin with — that’s the prob­lem. And that’s on Scott.

The same Scott, by the way, who didn’t buy an avail­able 153,200 acres of U.S. Sugar land, which would have given that wa­ter some­place else to go. Back­ing off that deal, in 2015, was a blow to Ev­er­glades restora­tion.

The list goes on. In 2011, Scott abol­ished the De­part­ment of Com­mu­nity Af­fairs, which pro­tected the state from bad de­vel­op­ment and gave the en­vi­ron­ment a vote in land-use de­ci­sions. He slashed fund­ing for land con­ser­va­tion un­der the For­ever Florida pro­gram, and later en­thu­si­as­ti­cally joined in the Florida Leg­is­la­ture’s nickel-and-dim­ing of Amend­ment 1, the wildly pop­u­lar bal­lot mea­sure that is sup­posed to be gen­er­at­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars each year for en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

Most egre­giously, the gover­nor of the state most en­dan­gered by sea-level rise al­legedly barred the very men­tion of cli­mate change (although the cli­mate de­nier de­nies that, too).

In sum, Scott “has reg­u­larly put the wishes of cor­po­rate pol­luters above the needs of Florida’s en­vi­ron­ment and fam­i­lies,” states Kevin Cur­tis, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coali­tion Ac­tion Fund.

“He’s sided with a fringe group of cli­mate change de­niers, de­funded pop­u­lar and bi­par­ti­san con­ser­va­tion pro­grams, and un­der­mined the en­force­ment of air, wa­ter and cli­mate pro­tec­tions.”

This gover­nor should not es­cape judg­ment for th­ese past eight years. And any Florid­ian who cares about the en­vi­ron­ment — or sim­ply gags from the stench of the al­gae blooms — should de­mand an­swers for such a pu­trid en­vi­ron­men­tal record.

Any Florid­ian who cares about the en­vi­ron­ment — or sim­ply gags from the stench of the al­gae blooms — should re­mem­ber who has been in charge.

MEGHAN MCCARTHY / THE PALM BEACH POST

Gov. Rick Scott ad­min­is­tra­tion cut $700 mil­lion from wa­ter-man­age­ment dis­tricts and crip­pled their abil­ity to levy taxes.

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