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Environmental groups press DeSantis to veto a summer fertilizer budget item

Blue-green algae coating beaches
Martin County Health Department
Foul-smelling blue-green algae choked beaches on Florida's coasts last summer.

The provision would prohibit cities and counties from enacting new summer bans on applying fertilizer. The ban has been promoted as a way to reduce nutrients that cause algae blooms and red tide from flowing into waterways.

Backers of a move to regulate summertime lawn fertilizer bills included it in the legislature's appropriations bill at the end of the session. Critics say it was passed without any public discussion - and are now pressing Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the measure.

It would preempt local governments from adopting new bans or changing any existing ones. And it authorizes $250,000 on a study from the University of Florida on whether existing bans are effective.

Haley Busch is with the smart-growth advocacy group 1000 Friends of Florida.

"This was a dirty, last-minute maneuver, wasn't vetted by a legislative committee, did not receive input or comment from the public or local governments," Busch said, "and 1000 Friends of Florida and many other environmental organizations are calling for a line-item veto for this provision."

Summer bans are seen as a way to reduce the amount of nutrients that run off into area waterways during summer rainstorms. Bans take effect June 1st in every county in the greater Tampa Bay area except Hardee and DeSoto counties, as well as St. Petersburg and Tampa.

The appropriation - if signed by the governor - would not affect those bans, but prohibits local governments from changing them in any way. Busch said many people fear it could lead to a permanent preemption on local governments.

"This, in my opinion, opens the door to worse damage and a possible permanent preemption next year," she said. "It opens that can of worms."

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