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The Good And Bad - For Environmentalists - From This Year's Florida Legislative Session

National Park Service
The Everglades

It was a mixed bag for environmentalists in the wake of this year's legislative session in Tallahassee. Lawmakers allocated more money than Governor Ron DeSantis asked for on Everglades restoration and fighting red tide and blue-green algae.

But there were some drawbacks, including a bill to build three new toll roads and getting a fraction of the money the governor proposed to buy environmentally sensitive lands.

WUSF's Steve Newborn talks with Jennifer Rubiello, state director for Environment Florida - starting with the good that happened.

There was some good news for environmentalists coming out the legislative session.

Lawmakers passed a budget that includes $686.8 million for water quality and protection, including $50 million to jump start water storage and treatment projects North of Lake Okeechobee.

That comes on top of an executive order signed by Gov. DeSantis earlier this year, calling for $2.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration water quality projects and establishing a task force to combat blue-green algae.

DeSantis also appointed a chief science officer, Tom Frazer, who said he recognizes Florida’s ongoing struggle with harmful algal blooms and will make water quality issues his priority moving forward.

DeSantis used his first veto to kill a bill that would have restricted the right of local governments - including St. Petersburg - to regulate single-use plastic straws.

Still, Rubiello said more needs to be done.

Jennifer Rubiello
Jennifer Rubiello

"The reality is that in Florida, local communities have no power to regulate or ban pollution from foam and single-use plastic bags, and that absolutely has to change," she said. "Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our oceans for hundreds of years."

On the other side of the ledger for environmentalists, Gov. DeSantis signed a bill instructing the state to build two new toll roads and extend a third through rural parts of the state.

That bill raised the ire of environmentalists, who say the roads will fuel massive sprawl, which could destroy much of natural Florida.

And a bill is sitting on the governor's desk that would restrict local governments from requiring new developments to have units set aside for affordable housing. It would also mean anyone challenging a development being approved that's inconsistent with the existing growth plan would have to pay the other side's attorney's fees if they lose.

Some environmentalists say the fear of having to pay potentially huge fees would essentially mean comprehensive growth plans could be gutted.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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