On Tuesday a coalition of Environmental Groups launched a petition drive to place a constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot that would guarantee a consistent source of money for environmental protection.
Environmental activism has had victories in Florida in the past. Most notably in the late 1960s and early 1970s when both the Everglades Jetport and Cross Florida Barge Canal projects were stopped, and the St Johns-Indian River Canal was never consummated. In the 1980s and early 1990s Everglades protection and restoration were emphasized by elements of both political parties. But since the late 1990s, both parties have become unreliable at best and at worst downright hostile to protecting Florida’s natural resources, beauty, ecosystem and water supply.
According to the official press release from the newly formed coalition of Environmental organizations :
“Since 2009, legislators have cut funding for the state’s Florida Forever program by 97.5 percent to $23 million for land management and ecological restoration, including the Everglades. This year, the Legislature reduced water protection and conservation funds dropped to $8.5 million.”
· Lands that protect significant water resources and drinking water sources, including lands protecting the water quality and quantity of rivers, lakes, streams, springsheds, and lands providing recharge for groundwater and aquifer systems;
· Lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area and the Everglades Protection Area, as defined in Section 7(b) of Article II of the Florida Constitution;
· Beaches and shores; outdoor recreation lands, including recreational trails, parks, and urban open space; rural landscapes; historic, archaeological, or geologic sites as well as management of lands acquired;
· Restoration of natural systems related to the enhancement of public access and recreational enjoyment; and
· Payment of the debt service on bonds issued pursuant to Article VII, Section 11(e) of the Florida Constitution.
This amendment is necessary as the Legislature has since 2000 been completely out of touch with their constituents on the issue of the Environment. Republicans cite ideology when cutting back funds for Environmental protection and restoration when public opinion polls indicate support for Environmental initiatives remains solid and bi-partisan. The Democrats for the most part have been equally bad on these issues and instead of using ideological arguments tend to talk about “priorities” and make excuses for why the party refuses to emphasize environmental protection in this state.
The Everglades ecosystem is arguably the one of the two most important drivers of Florida’s sustainability and continued efforts to develop eco-tourism. (The other would be the St Johns River and its associated lakes, tributaries and marshlands) Both the Everglades and the St John’s River are one of a kind environmental features that are unique to Florida and Florida alone.
Regarding the Everglades, many elected officials in the state have consistently ignored the need to protect and preserve the River of Grass and have become in the process become addicted to sugar money and have taken every opportunity possible to scale back Everglades restoration. With so many Democrats taking sugar money for their campaigns in the last several years it is no wonder the Democratic Party has failed to stand strong against the move to weaken environmental protection in this state. Thanks to the Democrats inaction and unwillingness to stand tall, an independent effort outside the party structure is necessary.
At one time the Environment was not a partisan issue. Despite a reputation that has been well earned recently that Republicans are less environmentally conscious than Democrats, In southern Florida more often than not, those who strongly opposed Big Sugar in the 1980s and 1990s were Republicans. Many south Florida Republicans supported “Polluters Pay” legislation and constitutional amendments. Conservative arguments were made stating making polluters pay would keep property taxes lower and enhance economic development in way of tourism dollars and other eco-related industries. As a liberal, I strongly subscribe to these arguments even if made by conservatives.Many southern Florida Republicans including Congressmen E. Clay Shaw, Porter Goss (later CIA Director) and Dan Miller strongly opposed subsidies for the sugar industry and supported Everglades Restoration. The same can be said for several southern Florida Republicans who have served in the state legislature over the past 15 years. At the same time, big sugar has created influence within the Democratic Party particularly in Broward and Palm Beach counties. This has relieved the pressure on the companies whose influence on damaging the Everglades as it once was, cannot be disputed.
The lawyers and lobbyists from south Florida who worked hard to promote, protect and preserve the Everglades in the 1990s and 2000s were disproportionately Republicans. (While those interested in preserving the Everglades from outside southern Florida were disproportionately Democrats) While many Republicans, including Jeb Bush remained bad on the environment, Governor Charlie Crist was excellent on Everglades related issues and he could draw his lineage from Republicans who as conservationists put protection of our natural resources over campaign cash and polluters.Today’s Republicans much like the majority of Democratic officeholders don’t take a long term vision of Florida’s environment. Perhaps it is because they are chasing campaign cash from big business and polluters or perhaps it is because many of them haven’t grown up in Florida and do not appreciate our unique landscape and lifestyle.
Whatever the case the time has come for an independent effort outside the party structure and the political community to force the hand of the politicians who have neglected Florida’s environment thus putting our ecosystem, long term sustainability, tourism industry and water supply in grave danger.
This effort has to be successful if Florida is going to be able to manage its resources in a proper fashion to maintain its population and our quality of life.