We can heal our springs

Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 10:55 AM.

Four Florida Senate committee chairmen last month agreed to support filing springs legislation. A draft bill would direct an estimated $378 million a year from documentary stamp tax revenue toward springs protection. It is encouraging, too, to see that Gov. Rick Scott earmarked $55 million in his proposed state budget this year for springs protection.

Using public money to protect our shared public resource - water – makes sense. We’re way overdue on fixing our outdated public infrastructure.

But let’s not lose sight of the main thing we need to do: Demand that our leaders hold polluters accountable.Every day, factory farms send fertilizer and manure into our public waters, when they could be controlling this pollution on-site.  These corporations must be required to meet specific pollution limits, and they should face consequences if they exceed those limits and pollute our water.

Instead, we are giving them a free pass and then the public pays for their mess. Gov. Scott and the Legislature have been selling out to polluters like never before. Polluter lobbyists drafted the state’s rules on sewage, manure and fertilizer pollution, Scott’s administration adopted the weak language, then the Legislature approved it.

Scott’s administration also fired staffers who dared to enforce environmental laws, replacing them with people who come from polluting industries. Environmental enforcement cases have plummeted. State regulators now get bonuses if they pump out permits faster.

Certain categories of major polluters are allowed to operate on the honor system. A big polluter like an industrial plant would be fined if it spilled toxics into a river. But that’s not true for Florida agricultural operations. Florida allows them to use voluntary goals called “best management practices.” All the corporation has to do it say it is implementing a plan to control pollution, and it is exempt from monitoring. It’s as you were allowed to speed on the freeway so long as you gave the Highway Patrol a “speed-limit compliance plan.”

It’s great for politicians to tell us they want to protect the environment. But we should all make it clear that we want them to set real, enforceable pollution limits.  That’s the only way we’ll reverse this mess and heal our springs. 

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