Florida grants better authority over wetland improvement – CBS St John
TALLAHASSEE (CBSSt John / AP) – Florida has been given broader authority over wetland development from the federal government, but the move was immediately targeted by environmentalists who fear the country’s largest network of wetlands could be at risk, further to be demoted.
The announcement by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler has long been sought by developers and Republican allies who argued that the layers of government control were awkward, expensive, and unnecessary. Supporters hailed the move as a step that would streamline the permit process as owners attempt to develop wetlands.
During a press conference in Washington, Wheeler said the state had reached the high bar required to take on the role of the licensing process.
“This move enables Florida to effectively evaluate and grant permits under the Clean Water Act to support the health of its waters, residents and the Florida economy,” he said.
“By adopting this permit program, Florida will be able to integrate its dredging and bottling permits with its traditional water quality and monitoring programs,” he said.
At statehood in 1845, the state had approximately 8 million hectares of wetlands. By 1996, Florida had lost nearly half of that to dredging, draining, and filling. The state’s population growth has sparked a development boom that has sparked much of this destruction.
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Florida makes up about a fifth of the country’s wetlands and includes the Everglades, one of the state’s major environmental gems. A massive restoration project, costing billions of dollars, is currently underway to repair the damage to the Everglades, including draining huge swamps.
Wetlands play a key role in the ecosystem, including in maintaining water quality and absorbing floods.
“We are excited about our resources in the state of Florida. Whenever our team of scientists and approvers can issue the permits that allow us to sit in the driver’s seat, we want to do that, ”said Florida Environment Secretary Noah Valenstein, who traveled to Washington on Thursday.
Valenstein said the state will respect “the foundations and protections of the Clean Water Act and Act” and use the local expertise of his department to advance development decisions.
However, this worries environmental groups, who say they may have fewer venues – possibly federal courts too – to question projects that could undermine sensitive ecosystems.
“This is a parting gift for developers in the outgoing Washington administration in coordination with the Florida sedentary administration,” said Tania Galloni, executive earth justice attorney in Florida.
“The fact is, Florida’s proposed wetland takeover program does not comply with federal environmental laws,” she said. “It’s about destroying wetlands faster and cheaper when we need more protection, not less.”
Florida officials enforced the motion ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Permission to monitor wetlands would shift to the state environmental ministry a few weeks before Biden’s inauguration next month.
Environmentalists had hoped to delay the decision to let the Biden government weigh up. Environmental groups have praised legal challenges, arguing that the request was rash and failed to address a number of issues, including the state’s ability to adequately conduct the environmental analysis that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and other federal agencies had conducted.
“Those concerned with Florida’s environment have no reason to believe that the state of Florida is ready to manage critical wetlands in a transparent, non-political manner,” said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in a statement.
Florida is the third state to receive a broader wetland permitting agency under the federal clean water act. Michigan and New Jersey had been given similar authority decades ago.
Florida’s application for sole authorization was made under the direction of Governor Rick Scott, now a US Senator. He said the EPA’s actions would “remove duplicate state and federal rules” that were “a waste” and created confusion for all concerned. “
Current Governor Ron DeSantis, also a Republican, took on this cloak and formally applied to the federal government to transfer this authority earlier this year.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)