Audubon Florida
The Advocate
The second week of Florida’s Legislative Session just wrapped up. This week we track some fast-moving bills, learn about challenges with electric vehicle (EV) legislation, share information about proposed roads for Walton County (again), preview a Gulf Island action alert, and more. Thanks for staying abreast of developments as Session unfolds and lending your voice to Florida’s wildlife!
Red-shouldered Hawk. Photo: Arnold Collens.
Senate Transportation Committee Action
The Senate Transportation Committee heard SB 138, "Electric Vehicles," and SB 140, "Fees/Electric Vehicles," by Senator Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), which would establish a grant program within the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to expand and improve the electric vehicle charging network across the state. The bill was amended to remove a $5 million appropriation aimed at providing electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure. The bill would now fund the program through the funds generated from the fees applied to EVs, determined within SB 140.

As more drivers switch from gasoline to hybrid or EV vehicles, revenue from fuel taxes (used for roadway improvements) is expected to decline. The bill aims to recuperate potential lost tax revenues for the State Transportation Trust Fund by charging a weight-based registration fee for pure electric and hybrid plug-in vehicles.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee passed SB 856 by Sen. Hutson (R- Palm Coast) with 13 Yeas and 5 Nays. This bill would prevent local governments from regulating anything related to transportation energy infrastructure. The House companion HB 839, by Representative Fabricio (R-Hialeah), also passed the House Tourism, Infrastructure and Energy Subcommittee (with a vote of 13 Yeas and 5 Nays). Rep Fabricio said the bill was a response to Tampa city council member Joe Citro considering a ban on gasoline stations. Both these bills may have the effect of invalidating environmental protections in local comprehensive plans related to land use and transportation energy infrastructure. Both bills have two more committee stops.
Red-shouldered Hawk. Photo: Arnold Collens.
Peregrine Falcon. Photo: Steven Sachs/APA.
Fast-moving Bills
SB 64 (Sen. Albritton, R-Bartow) requires domestic wastewater utilities to submit a plan to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) by November 2021 for eliminating non-beneficial surface water discharges within a five-year period. The bills authorize DEP to establish a potable reuse technical advisory committee, provide that potable reuse projects are eligible for alternative water supply funding, and provide that potable reuse projects are eligible for expedited permitting and priority state funding. The bill also requires local governments to offer density bonuses to developers to fully offset capital costs of purchasing and installing residential graywater technologies in proposed or existing developments with at least 25 residential dwellings.

This bill is on a fast track and received preliminary approval in Senate Appropriations this week. The house companion HB 263 (Maggard, R-Dade City) is in its second committee of reference. Using reclaimed water will ease pressure on Florida resources at a time when the state’s population grows by 1,000 people a day.

Another bill moving quickly through the process is Sen. Jason Brodeur’s bill SB 88 (R- Lake Mary), which received preliminary Senate approval this week, moving to second reading. SB 88 aims to reduce nuisance lawsuits against farmers and strengthen Florida’s Right to Farm Act. The bill restricts the types of civil lawsuits that may be brought against specific farming activities, requires plaintiffs to prove noncompliance with state or federal requirements, and limits who may file nuisance lawsuits against farmers. 

Florida has seen tremendous growth since the Right to Farm Act was originally passed in 1979, and while updates are needed so existing farm work and complimentary agritourism activities are protected, it’s important to find the right balance so the environment does not receive short shrift.
Peregrine Falcon. Photo: Steven Sachs/APA.
Panhandle Update
Pine flatwoods. Photo: Arnold Collens.
Walton County's Proposed 2040 Mobility Plan Threatens Conservation Lands
Mobility plans serve as a blueprint for counties to meet the growth, travel, and mobility needs of their communities, and are the basis for counties to charge developers fees to fund transportation projects. In this way, growth which causes increased demand on transportation infrastructure helps fund that infrastructure’s expansion. Mobility plans can be a means of creating more resilient communities when well designed, or can fund sprawl when they are not. Audubon’s Northwest Florida chapters are sounding the alarm that Walton County’s recently Proposed 2040 Mobility Plan could have dire impacts on state-owned conservation lands and drive sprawl in this scenic part of the Panhandle.

Walton’s Proposed Mobility Plan includes several new or expanded roads, trails, and multimodal travel lanes that would slice through Point Washington State Forest and Wildlife Management Area, Deer Lake State Park, and the Choctawhatchee Bay Water Management Area and Wildlife Management Area. This would cause habitat loss and fragmentation, impaired water quality and resilience, threats to plants and wildlife, increased sea-level rise vulnerability, the loss of traditional recreation use, and sprawl. 

A holistic vision for Walton County’s future must be one that balances growth with protecting our public lands, discouraging development in vulnerable areas, and conserving pristine natural areas for future generations to enjoy. These public lands will need you to lend them your voice soon—stay tuned here for updates and alerts on this issue.
Pine flatwoods. Photo: Arnold Collens.
Black Skimmers. Photo: Britt Brown.
Deepwater Horizon Gulf Restoration Proposes to Pave Imperiled Bird Nesting Sites in National Seashore
In the latest tranche of Gulf Restoration projects proposed for Florida, Florida’s Trustee Implementation Group (TIG) is proposing to use restoration funding intended for improving habitats on federally owned lands to build parking lots on top of annual nesting sites for state Threatened Least Terns and Snowy Plovers. Not only is the project “FM1. Johnson Beach Access Management and Habitat Protection” in Pensacola’s Gulf Islands National Seashore not an appropriate use of these oil spill penalty dollars, it is little more than folly. This barrier island unit is extremely vulnerable to overwash and storm surge and struggles with frequent damage and loss of infrastructure from hurricanes. Rubble from pavement and other infrastructure is already a very real threat to these habitats and wildlife. In fact, the Gulf Restoration Trustees have already spent $10 million of restoration funds to remove asphalt and other debris from Gulf Islands’ habitat that originated when parking lots and roads were destroyed in past tropical storms.

Penalties resulting from the Deepwater Horizon disaster’s egregious harm to Gulf habitats should not be used to do further harm to those habitats, especially in such important and valuable protected areas as our national park system. Audubon is calling on the Department of Interior to withdraw this proposal so it can be reconfigured more compatibly with the Administration’s priorities on coastal resilience, climate adaptation, and endangered species protection.

Watch your inbox: We will be asking you to amplify these concerns in the Gulf Restoration public comment process next week!
Black Skimmers. Photo: Britt Brown.
Brown Pelicans in Florida Bay. Photo by Ron Magill.
Addressing the Effects of Rising Sea Levels Due to Climate Change
The House’s Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Committee reported favorably on two proposals presented by Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera (PCB EAF 21-01, PCB EAF 21-02) to address the effects of rising sea levels due to climate change. These two complementary proposals would establish the Resilient Florida Trust Fund within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). DEP would use the trust as the funding source for the Resilient Florida Grant Program and Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan. The Resilient Florida Grant Program, within the Department of Environmental Protection, will provide grants to local governments to help combat sea-level rise.
Brown Pelicans in Florida Bay. Photo by Ron Magill.
Snail Kite. Photo: William Wingfield/Audubon Photography Awards.
Where is the Central Florida Water Initiative Rule?
The Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) began over a decade ago in a collaborative effort to prevent aquifers from being depleted by excessive wellfield withdrawals by public and private potable water utilities. Hundreds of meetings and workshops were held by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the St. John’s, Southwest Florida, and South Florida Water Management Districts. The objective was to obtain a consensus to require greater water conservation measures and explore alternative water supply options that are less environmentally damaging than well fields, which reduce springflows and cause wetlands to dry up. All parties seemed to reach a consensus and in 2015, the Legislature directed that DEP transform the agreements reached into an enforceable rule.

Late last year DEP finalized the rule for adoption. However, more than a dozen local governments and utilities, worried they would suffer great losses if they weren’t allowed unlimited access to water stores and that water conservation requirements might limit their revenue, have broken the original consensus and are now challenging the rule in court.

The hearing, scheduled to begin March 29, could drag on for many months and will clearly cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees. Imagine the spectacle: Local governments and utilities paying private lawyers millions to sue DEP and the Water Management Districts in an attempt to avoid water conservation!

The region's water use is expected to increase by more than one-third, from 667 million gallons per day to 907 million gallons per day. But only 760 million gallons per day are available from the region's groundwater, according to DEP. Local management strategies will be needed (e.g.,wellfield optimization, aquifer recharge, and natural system enhancement) to address unacceptable impacts.

Committee Bill SPB 7062 (21R) seeks to ratify DEP rules adopted in February and last December and directs water management districts to modify existing water use permits. The bill is on the agenda for the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Monday. Audubon will work with legislators, DEP, and the Water Management Districts to get this important rule adopted and ratified.
Snail Kite. Photo: William Wingfield/Audubon Photography Awards.
Tree Swallows. Photo: Marlin Greene/APA.
Florida Climate and Energy News Roundup
This week we shared news about a Florida House plan for sea-level rise, solar energy, an Electric Vehicle coalition, icy temperatures’ impact on gas prices, and more.
Tree Swallows. Photo: Marlin Greene/APA.
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