Audubon Florida
The Advocate
The 2022 Florida Legislative Session has officially begun! In this first week of session, Audubon’s team worked bills on rooftop solar, wetlands acquisition, sea level rise, and more, while celebrating conservation wins in Seminole and Brevard Counties.
solar panels on a roof, with sky in the background.
Net Metering Bill Advances, Despite Harm It Would Cause to Rooftop Solar Growth in Florida
SB 1024, Renewable Energy Generation, filed by Sen. Jen Bradley (R-Orange Park) passed the Regulated Industries Committee (Chair, Sen. Hutson, R-Palm Coast) on Tuesday with 2 nays and 6 yeas. The bill would reduce the price utilities pay rooftop solar owners for excess energy they sell back to the grid, reducing the economic viability of rooftop solar drastically. Rooftop energy generation is less than 1% of Florida's current energy mix and Florida’s existing net metering structure was established to reduce barriers to private investment in the adoption of rooftop solar; making these changes to an industry still in its infancy is premature. Thank you to all of our advocates who emailed the committee members ahead of this hearing. More than 30 members of the public testified during public comment as well.Audubon feels strongly that the transparent and accountable Public Service Commission process that started in 2021 to evaluate rates and net metering should be allowed to run its course. The House companion, HB 741, was filed by Rep. McClure (R-Dover).

Solar—both utility scale and rooftop—are essential to helping Florida meet the challenge of climate change. The next stop for the bill in the Senate is Community Affairs.
Two Bald Eagles, one perched on a bare tree branch, one just about to land, with sky in the background. Two Bald Eagles, one perched on a bare tree branch, one just about to land, with sky in the background. Photo: Robert Bailey/Audubon Photography Awards.
Fertilizer Bill Advances Through Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources
On Monday, January 10, 2021 the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (Chair, Sen. Brodeur (R- Sanford)) voted 4-0 to advance SB 1000 filed by Sen. Ben Albritton (R-Wauchula).

SB 1000 would allow farmers to hire paid consultants to authorize the use of fertilizer and irrigation at rates higher than those in agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) in order to maximize yield, with no consideration of downstream effects on water quality. It would also provide a presumption of BMP compliance to producers implementing rate tailoring. While this bill is motivated by the citrus industry’s desire to boost yields in the face of declines due to greening, the bill would apply to all agriculture, not just citrus.

Audubon testified at the meeting cautioning members that while yield may be a primary consideration for producers, decisions made on one property can have far-reaching impacts on distant, public trust resources. Our waterways need more protections and oversight, not less.

Audubon will be working with Sen. Albritton and staff on solutions that will mutually benefit agriculture and Florida’s environment.

The House companion, HB 1291, was filed by Rep. McClure (R-Dover).
Bald Eagles. Photo: Two Bald Eagles, one perched on a bare tree branch, one just about to land, with sky in the background. Photo: Robert Bailey/Audubon Photography Awards.
A Black-and-white Warbler sitting on a tree branch with its feathers puffed out. Photo: Barbara Silver/Audubon Photography Awards.
Worrisome Damages Bill Could Decimate Local Governments
Business Damages Against Local Government, SB 620 (Hutson, R-Palm Coast) and HB 569 (McClure, R-Dover), requires compensation for business damages caused by local government ordinances or charter provisions. If passed, any business operating in Florida for at least three years may claim damages from a local government if the government enacts or amends an ordinance or charter provision that will cause a reduction of at least 15% of the business' revenue or profit. This includes: land use, noise ordinances, ordinances that don’t allow clubs and bars to be built across the street from schools, ordinances that prescribe opening and closing hours for serving alcohol - you name it, it’s covered!

The bill allows for a few exceptions: Ordinances required by state or federal law; certain kinds of emergency or temporary ordinances under the state Emergency Management Act; and military affairs. The latter two categories are capped at 90 days or less in term. It also exempts ordinances designed to “increase economic freedom.” The bills allow for businesses to recover business damages, attorney fees, and costs against a local government.

HB 569 was heard in the Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee (Chair, Rep. Duggan, R-Jacksonville) this week and did not have easy passage through the committee (12 yeas, 5 nays). It was pointed out during testimony that the provisions in this bill are nearly identical to the business damage procedures set forth in Florida's eminent domain statute.
Black-and-white Warbler. Photo: Barbara Silver/Audubon Photography Awards.
American Avocet walking in the surf line, with water in the background. Photo: Holley Short/Audubon Florida.
Wetlands Bill Would Catalog List of Properties for Acquisition
SB 882, Inventories of Critical Wetlands, filed by Sen. Brodeur (R-Orange Park) and HB 761 (Rep. Truenow, R-Tavares) would require each water management district governing board, in cooperation with local governments, to develop a list of critical wetlands for acquisition using funds from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

The bill’s sponsor said that as Florida grows and develops, protection of wetlands should become a priority for the multiple benefits that they offer. The bills identifies various criteria to determine priority, such as benefit to water quality, restoration value of the wetland, susceptibility to be developed, etc. SB 882 was voted favorably out of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee while HB 761 passed unanimously out of the House Committee on Environment, Agriculture and Flooding

Audubon continues to study this bill in case there are unintended consequences to its passage.
American Avocet. Photo: Holley Short/Audubon Florida.
Pied-billed Grebe swimming in calm water, with a reflection.
Audubon Supports Bill That Would Lead to Better Sea Level Rise Planning
SB 513 filed by Reps. Bartleman (D-Weston) and Busatta Cabrera (R- Coral Gables) passed this week through the House Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Flooding (Chair, Rep. Buchanan, R- Osprey). The bill would require the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to produce an annual report on the impact of sea-level rise and flood resiliency in Central and South Florida, updating the Central and Southern Florida Project. The bill specifically requires a summary of the findings in the district's annual sea level rise and flood resiliency plan, a list of structures that are expected to fall below the expected service level in the next five years, and initial recommendations for the refurbishment or replacement of the structures identified in the bill. The Senate companion SB 1326 was filed by Sen. A. Rodriguez (R-Doral).

The Central and Southern Florida Project passed the U.S. Congress in 1948 to manage water in South Florida, the Everglades, and Lake Okeechobee to address flooding and droughts. The responsible lead agency is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District. The responsible cooperating agencies are: the South Florida Water Management District, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, among others.

With sea level rise and flooding becoming increasingly problematic in Florida, this project is meant to protect 11 million Floridians, their environment, and their economy. Many of the gates that control movement of water through the system are antiquated and in need of repair, especially those at the coast. Some of these gates are barely operable now and are expected to fail by 2030. This bill is timely and if passed will complement the SFWMD’s resiliency planning efforts.

Audubon Florida supports this bill.
Pied-billed Grebe. Photo: Lorraine Minns.
Florida Scrub-Jay with a nut in its beak, standing on the sand. Photo: John Wolaver.
Florida Scrub-Jay Advocates Speak in Favor of Restoration in Brevard County
In Brevard County, a group of recreational mountain bikers have been opposing the much-needed ecological restoration of Malabar Scrub Sanctuary, even going so far as to propose that the property should be managed by the town as a recreational park rather than by the county as a conservation property. Restoration is a matter of survival for this area's scrub jays, and Brevard County Jay Watcher and Space Coast Audubon member Vince Lamb rallied advocates to lend jays their voices at the Brevard County Commission meeting on Tuesday.

Florida Scrub-Jays have evolved to live in Florida scrub habitat which historically burned every few years as a result of lightning-ignited fires. This frequent fire is renewing for the jays’ habitat, ensuring the open sandy patches they depend upon remain clear and canopy trees do not encroach upon the habitat, making it inviable for the jays. With the development of Florida, roads and other converted areas interrupted the ability of fire to sweep across the landscape, and where it does ignite naturally, humans quickly extinguish it for the safety of our communities. As a result, many of the few remaining scrub tracts have become overgrown, resulting in a cruel irony: Even if they are protected from development as parks or preserves, the jays cannot thrive on them, and the abundance of fuel actually makes them a greater wildfire risk to human neighbors.

Audubon Florida and Space Coast Audubon submitted a letter in support of Brevard County's Environmentally Endangered Land program staff restoring open habitat the jays need at the Sanctuary using both mechanical tree removal and prescribed fire.  At the meeting, after listening to the jay advocates, the commissioners voted to support restoration.

Thank you to those who acted in defense of this vulnerable species.
Florida Scrub-Jay. Photo: John Wolaver.
Snowy Egret with feathers blowing, standing on a tree branch, with a forest background. Photo: Tom Tobin/Audubon Photography Awards.
Seminole County Joins the East Central Florida Regional Resilience Collaborative
Great news! This week, the Seminole County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to join the East Central Florida Regional Resilience Collaborative.

Seminole County joins as the twenty-eighth jurisdiction, and sixth county, in the Collaborative; cities, towns, and counties that join commit to collaboratively identifying and addressing the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise, intensifying hurricanes, and erosion. Members of the Collaborative jointly work on initiatives such as reducing carbon footprint, risks and vulnerabilities utilizing emergency management, and increasing efforts toward sustainability, region-wide.

Prior to joining, Seminole County participated in Audubon Florida and the East Central Florida Regional Resilience Collaborative’s first Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Cohort where cities, towns, and counties paired up with a student from one of three different universities in the region to create Greenhouse Gas Inventories. Regional collaboratives are instrumental in both accelerating the state’s resilience work and serving as a conduit for future funds and programs.  

Seminole County’s leadership and care for climate issues is important for the region’s ability to protect its natural resources and bolster its resilience in our changing climate.

Thank you to the Audubon Florida advocates who reached out to their commissioners in favor of joining the Collaborative!
Snowy Egret. Photo: Tom Tobin/Audubon Photography Awards.
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