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Although there is much left to do, we are rapidly approaching the end of Florida’s Legislative Session. We are encouraged to see climate bills that will enhance Florida’s coastal and energy resiliency racing through committees and continue to work with partners to secure funding for Florida’s environment. 
 
Audubon Florida
Audubon Advocate | Your Policy Update
Roseate Spoonbill. Photo by Hannah Meddaugh/APA
Help Ensure the Everglades and Florida Bay Benefit from the COP
The Army Corps and the South Florida Water Management District are finalizing a plan that will guide where, when, and how much water will flow south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, called the Combined Operations Plan (COP).

Audubon has been engaged in this process since day one. We have specifically called for a plan that increases freshwater flows south into the Everglades and Florida Bay, especially during the dry season to prevent harmful salinity levels, seagrass die-offs, and fish kills. The draft operations plan was released for public comment through March 16. Even though the draft plan provides some benefits it still underperforms during critical drier periods when the Park and the Bay need freshwater the most.

Please take action now! This is the public’s final opportunity to comment on the operations plan, which will ultimately influence the future health and sustainability of Florida Bay.Send a letter to the Army Corps
A King Rail. Photo by Erika Simmons.
Appropriations for Florida Forever and Rural Family Lands Protection Program
Finalizing the budget is always a balancing act, requiring cooperation and patience. Senator Stewart (D-Orlando) has steadfastly kept up her efforts for annual Florida Forever funding with her bill, SB 0332, called the Land Acquisition Trust Fund bill. SB 0332 provides a stable annual funding floor for the Florida Forever Program of $100 million a year. The bill also prohibits the use of Land Acquisition Trust Fund dollars from being applied to a variety of state agency expenses. Senator Stewart’s bill passed the Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee. Its house companion, HB 0849 sponsored by Representative Altman (R-Indialantic), has not been heard in any committees.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) on Wednesday expressed confidence that the budget will be completed over the next two weeks. Remember, the budget needs to be agreed upon two days before Sine Die (the end of Legislative Session). Senator Bradley also stated that conference committees would not negotiate this weekend. An important item for negotiation is the allocation for the Florida Forever program that includes the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.

As always, Audubon will be keenly focused on funding for this important land conservation program as well as funding for Everglades Restoration, water quality, and alternative water supply; our award-winning state parks; and for resiliency planning. Stay tuned for budget details next week when we will need your voices.
Fireworks litter on the beach.
Fireworks Update
Explosive fireworks risk starting fires in public and private conservation areas and can destroy years of restoration and protection efforts in a single night. HB 0065 sponsored by Representative Rodriguez (R-Doral) had been stalled for several weeks before being heard in the House Commerce Committee on Thursday.

Thanks to your voices, its companion bill SB 0140 by Senator Hutson (R-St. Augustine) had been amended to remove Memorial Day from the list of designated holidays when the public can freely use explosive fireworks. An amended HB 0065 removing Memorial Day from the list of designated holidays passed its last committee stop` yesterday.
Bald Eagle. Photo by RJ Wiley
Florida on Cusp of Solar Victory or Missed Opportunity: Stay Tuned March 3
Climate bills that will enhance Florida's coastal and energy resiliency were racing through their committees this week. SB 0178 Public Financing of Construction Projects by Senator Rodriguez (D-Miami) unanimously passed Senate Appropriations, its last committee of reference. This bill requires a sea-level impact projection study for all state-financed construction projects. Its House companion, HB 0579 by Representative Aloupis (R-Miami), was referred to its last committee stop, State Affairs.

HB 7099, Essential State Infrastructure, sponsored by Representative Ingoglia (R- Springhill), and its companion SB 7018 sponsored by Senator Lee (R- Brandon), have barreled through their committees of reference and cleared their final committees this week. These bills require the Department of Transportation, in coordination with other entities, to develop and adopt a master plan for Electric Vehicle charging stations on the state highway system. These bills would allow public and private linear facilities to cross conservation easements (Rural and Family Lands Protection Plan) and fast track permits for electric utilities in public rights-of-way.

Recently, climate advocates like Audubon and utilities alike anxiously awaited the Public Service Commission (PSC) staff determination on Florida Power and Light’s SolarTogether program. If approved, it would be the country’s largest community solar program, adding 20 new solar plants generating 1,490-megawatts of clean, solar energy, and giving consumers the ability to choose renewables over fossil fuels. Unfortunately, PSC staff recommended denial of the program, placing in jeopardy the future of this proposal. On March 3, 2020, at the PSC’s post-hearing posture meeting, the Commissioners and staff will review the recommendations before a final order is determined. Here’s hoping more forward-thinking heads prevail on this decision to move Florida towards a lower carbon future.
Osprey. Photo by Loree Niola/APA
Water Quality and Environmental Enforcement
Water legislation is essential in tackling longstanding issues that impact algal blooms and drinking water. The House water bill, HB 1343, made it through its final committee stop on Thursday in the State Affairs Committee. The bill is very similar to its Senate companion, SB 0712 by Senator Mayfield (R-Vero). Both bills touch on all areas of pollution that affect our waterbodies: wastewater, septic tanks, stormwater, agriculture, and biosolids sludge. Significant additions this week to this bill include changing the number of Cabinet members required to approve the appointment of the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, and a moratorium on new water bottling permits until July 1, 2022, while DEP completes a study of water bottling permits and the results of the study are evaluated.

Representative Fine’s amendment to HB 1091 Environmental Enforcement also passed the State Affairs Committee on Thursday. This bill increases civil penalties for violations of environmental laws and requires changes to both, the amount and the duration of penalties for violating the State’s environmental laws.
Tricolored Heron. Photo by Susan Dimock/APA
Restoring the Ocklawaha River
The Ocklawaha River was originally dammed and flooded as part of the ill-fated Cross Florida Barge Canal. Thousands of acres of cypress forest were destroyed and many springs have been lost under the deep water. The dam and reservoir prevent the natural movements and migration of many species of fish and wildlife, adding to the environmental costs of this project with no existing official purpose.

On Tuesday, February 25, at the Free the Ocklawaha River Coalition Event in Tallahassee, Audubon’s Chris Farrell highlighted many positive aspects of plans to breach the Kirkpatrick Dam and restore a free-flowing Ocklawaha River; a move that would restore thousands of acres of forested wetlands and provide immense ecological benefits. Of note, this widely supported restoration plan does not require land acquisition and is backed by clear and compelling science. It is a great example of a “shovel-ready” project that would quickly result in environmental benefits once initiated. Also, these benefits would be far-reaching – the ecosystem connectivity provided by a free-flowing river and restored floodplain would help water and wildlife from Ocala to the coast.

Representative Eskamani (D-Orlando) introduced the event which was followed by a panel discussion and questions from the audience. Audubon will continue working with partners to raise awareness for this premier restoration project that has somehow eluded action from state leaders.
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