Senate panel approves Florida Forever funding and fracking ban

Photo by Julie Hauserman

Marking the fifth anniversary of Florida’s constitutional amendment to buy and preserve environmentally sensitive land, a Senate committee voted Monday to allocate $100 million a year to fund the program.

The Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative has not been fully funded since its adoption by voters on Nov. 4, 2014.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources also voted Monday to support a ban on fracking for oil and natural gas, a proposal seven years in the making.

Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, is sponsoring the funding bill for land acquisition.

“We desperately need to increase funding for Florida Forever,” she said.

Deborah Foote, representing Florida’s Sierra Club, agrees, saying $100 million is not enough to do what voters overwhelmingly mandated.

“We aren’t making more land. Due to sea level rise, the opposite is true,” Foote told senators.

Stewart’s bill will next be heard in appropriations committees.

Sen. Bill Montford, chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, is sponsoring the fracking ban. He says it incorporates what senators have learned across several years about the controversial extraction method used by oil and natural gas producers and opposed by environmental advocates.

“Florida is the last state where we should even be considering fracking,” said Montford, a Democrat who represents a swath of north Florida counties. “It’s simply too risky for us.”

Montford’s bill would ban three practices that fracture or dissolve underground rock to allow access to deposits of oil or natural gas. Critics say there is ample evidence the practices pollute water and create conditions that cause earthquakes.

Dave Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, told senators the natural gas and oil derived through fracking “helps us flourish, rather than put us at risk.”

Justin Foley, vice president of Maverick Natural Resources, testified that fracking can be done “in a safe and efficient manner” that provides jobs.

Rich Templin, representing Florida AFL-CIO, said union members of all political stripes twice voted unanimously to support a ban on fracking to protect water quality and to protect workers.

Templin said workers in the industry are not protected by federal safety regulations. Also, he scoffed at the local-jobs argument, saying most fracking crews are brought in from afar.

The proposed fracking ban will next be heard in the Senate Committee on Innovation, Industry and Technology.