On environment, Florida Legislature refuses to close the barn door

Florida wetlands
Florida wetlands. J Hauserman photo

Florida lawmakers came away from this spring’s session congratulating themselves on the heroic job they did in defense of Florida’s environment.

After the Rick Scott years, that wasn’t hard.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t true.

With Gov. Ron DeSantis’ leadership they did a heroic job of spending money on trying to repair self-inflicted damage. They did nothing to stop the bleeding.

They refused to close the barn door.

Closing the barn door when some horses have escaped is basic common sense. You don’t go chasing out after what’s escaped without doing something to keep more problems from escaping.

Toxic blooms of blue green algae, red tide, and brown tide are a serious public health problem from the Indian River down to Florida Bay, up the west coast and across Florida’s lakes and waterways.

On an issue where people argue a lot about who to blame, most everyone agrees that the causes for the dramatic increase in toxic water in the last decade are warmer weather and more nutrients (meaning fertilizer, sewage, and manure).

The Florida Legislature may yet join the scientific community in believing that action is necessary on global warming, but slowing down that trend is going to take a while.

The legislature can do something about the increased inflow of nutrients into our waterways. They chose not to.

They spent a lot of our tax money, but they did nothing to stop the problems at the source.

They did absolutely nothing to close the barn door.

Sugar companies and their allies keep repeating the mantra that “We are all to blame.”

It is true that every single one of us adds nutrients in one way or another: septic tanks, broken sewer lines, urban sludge spread in rural pastures, lawn fertilizer, crop fertilizer, livestock, inadequate stormwater treatment and the destruction of natural wetland filters that often goes with new agricultural or urban development.

Blaming all of us seems to be an excuse for doing nothing about any of it.

The legislature thought about requiring septic tanks to be inspected and repaired, but they decided that was unfair.

They threw $20 million at a grant program to help homeowners hook up to central sewer. Based on that level of funding it will take more than 1,000 years to hook up all of Florida’s existing 2.6 million septic systems. They didn’t even think about tightening the rules in order to quit approving more high density, high volume septic tanks.

They considered punishing municipalities for broken sewer lines, but didn’t think about keeping it from happening.

They thought about doing something to stop the companies from spreading urban sludge on rural watersheds – which recycles massive amounts of nutrients. The bills in the legislature all died.

There was no effort to tighten nutrient standards on treated wastewater. Florida allows three times the concentration of nitrogen in effluent used for irrigation compared to the state of Maryland. Maryland is making progress in reducing nutrient loads into Chesapeake Bay. We are not making progress on Lake Okeechobee.

Legislators didn’t even think about asking both urban and agricultural development to clean up the nutrients at the source. That approach is fairer to taxpayers as well as being more efficient.

They continued to allow small wetlands to be destroyed.

They failed miserably in fully funding the Florida Forever conservation land-buying program.

Florida voters resoundingly supported restoring Florida’s successful program to purchase and preserve natural wilderness. Those are the areas that provide free natural cleanup and storage as well as public recreation and wildlife conservation.

And then, right at the end, the legislature passed and the governor signed, a bill that effectively prevents Florida residents from challenging local government on the kind of bad land use decisions that have cumulatively destroyed so much of Florida’s environment.

It’s hard to believe that a bunch of politicians who call themselves Republican, conservative, and fiscally responsible could spend so much money on chasing horses and never think of closing the barn door.


  1. The comments are spot on, much ado about nothing followed by a great chorus touting great achievements. We as citizens must hold our (purported) representatives accountable.


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