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Environment

Florida's New Environmental Laws: A Breakdown

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Jessica Meszaros
/
WUSF Public Media

Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed multiple environmental bills into law. 

WUSF's Jessica Meszaros spoke to Jane West with the advocacy organization 1000 Friends of Florida about highlights from the legislative session:

Click here for the complete list of  measures.

The governor signed a measure requiring state financed projects to first undergo sea level impact projection studies, so how will this change the way our state builds?

Yeah, we were thrilled with this. We were highly supportive. This particular bill, it's just common sense. If we're going to have taxpayer dollars go towards the construction in areas that are highly vulnerable to sea level rise, so we're talking coastal areas, we ought to make sure that at the very least, we require that they undergo some sort of sea level impact projection study to see if those taxpayer dollars are going to basically wash out to sea or not. It's just common sense.

The Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve was created after this session and Governor DeSantis signed off on it. Can you tell us where is it and what is it?

Sure, so if you've ever been scalloping over in the Gulf of Mexico, you know that it's highly reliant on viable seagrass beds. This is kind of like in the armpit of Florida, so to speak, and it's a huge swath of land. It is 800 square miles. It will protect, now that it has been signed into law, 400,000 acres of seagrass beds, which is just critically important for fish habitat and scalloping. So those are really robust industries in that part of the state.

It's referred to as the Nature Coast and oftentimes the Forgotten Coast, and it's a beautiful pristine part of Florida, but they absolutely depend on their working waterfront. And so this was an excellent measure. We haven't had an aquatic preserve adopted here in Florida for over three decades. So it was great to see this and it had a lot of support from the scallop industry, the recreational fishing industry, and so we were thrilled to see that this got adopted.

Overall, how did Florida's environment fare during this past legislative session?

Overall, we are starting to go in the right direction. There were some bills that we were concerned about, for example, we were worried about the funding for Florida Forever. And we were heartened to see that that stayed at $100 million. The governor did approve that. And we understand that, you know, that was vulnerable, especially in the middle of a pandemic, the resources are being cut across the board. DeSantis cut a billion dollars in in the budget, and we were pleased to see that Florida Forever withstood that budget cut, which is important.

As we continue to remain in some sort of locked-down circumstances, the ability to have those open spaces, that recreational space, is really important for future Floridians and our current situation with the pandemic.

However, there was a balance here. For example, Senate Bill 172, you know, nullify local bans on certain sunscreen chemicals to prevent damage to coral reefs. And that was a concern of ours. We were disappointed to see that that was passed because it undermines the authority of local governments to regulate activities within their borders known as Home Rule. So that was not great.

There's a lot of work left to do, but it looks like finally, we are starting to head in the right direction on our growth management and environmental laws here in Florida.