Audubon Florida
The Advocate
It’s the fifth week of the 2022 Florida Legislative Session – with only four weeks to go! This week we joined a groundswell of opposition to a fast-tracked Senate bill that would delay Everglades Restoration and harm state land protection efforts. In other committees, we saw significant improvement to bills covering agricultural fertilizer application, renewable energy generation, golf course BMPs, and more. As always, thanks to our advocates for lending their voices to Florida’s environment, on issues from the Everglades to renewable energy.
Cypress trees with grass in foreground and blue sky in background.
Late-breaking Bill Sparks Vocal Opposition from Everglades and Land Conservation Advocates
The Senate Appropriations Committee (Chair Sen. Stargel, R-Lakeland) heard a proposed conforming bill, SB 2508, that could have consequences for Everglades restoration and conservation land programs across the state. Several groups testified in opposition to the bill, including Audubon’s Senior Director of Policy Beth Alvi. The bill has also been met with opposition from Governor DeSantis and several members of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board.

First, SB 2508 aims to tie the South Florida Water Management District’s funding – and their ability to implement Everglades restoration – to a state certification process requiring the District to affirm that their actions would cause no harm to “legal users.” In other words, the bill would hamstring the District’s spending power unless they can demonstrate no harm from agency actions to agricultural interests. This financial mechanism would limit the District’s ability to advance restoration in a timely manner and would place agricultural interests above all others for project implementation.

The bill would also require the District to reevaluate its position in the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) process in the interest of the same “legal users.” The Army Corps of Engineers has just completed a rigorous, three-year public process to develop the next operations plan for Lake Okeechobee: LOSOM. It was developed with more than 120,000 models run and a year of extensive stakeholder involvement to arrive at a lake management schedule that will move water south to the Everglades where it is needed and provide some relief to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries from harmful discharges.

Audubon testified that the concerns identified in this bill were addressed during LOSOM’s development and not only will “legal users” continue to receive their historical benefits, their needs were set as the baseline from which the schedule was modeled. While no plan is perfect, this one was inclusive and thorough; the language in this bill proposes only to repeat elements of the process that have already been resolved.
Bill Would Create Less Rigorous Competitor to Florida Forever, Reduce Transparency and Accountability in Rural and Family Lands Program
The same bill, SB 2508, would also change the Department of Agriculture’s Rural and Family Lands Protection Program by reducing transparency and accountability in this state land-buying program. While we are glad to see consideration of additional funding for this program, we are concerned about what changes to the program would mean for public and landowner confidence in state land buying.

Currently, Florida Forever buys ecologically sensitive areas, Florida Communities Trust buys community parks, and Rural and Family Lands easements protect agricultural buffers from development: three tools the state needs to protect our landscapes. This bill would fundamentally change Rural and Family Lands by opening it to full-fee acquisitions (purchasing the land outright)—making it a competitor rather than a complement to Florida Forever.

In a departure from Florida’s traditional reliance on appraisals to ensure taxpayer dollars are well spent and landowners are treated fairly, this bill would allow the purchase price to be set at the discretion of the agency. Agricultural easements of only 30 years would become eligible for state support—a risky deal for taxpayers—and landowners could sell their development rights to the state but still be allowed to sell mitigation credits on that same land.

Land acquisition programs only work if the public and landowners both have confidence in the transparency and accountability of the state’s decisions. Any plan to retool the Rural and Family Lands Program should be undertaken in an inclusive and deliberative process. As currently written, the changes proposed in this bill would have sweeping unintended consequences.
Aerial view of Lake Okeechobee
Amendment Narrows Risky Proposal to Expand Agricultural Fertilizer Use
HB 1291 - Nutrient Application Rates, by Rep. McClure (R-Dover), passed the House Agriculture, Environment and Flooding Committee (Chair Rep. Buchanan, R-Sarasota) this week. The original bill would have allowed all agricultural operations to apply fertilizer based on the recommendation of certified crop advisors, only focusing on yield with little regard for downstream effects on water quality.

The bill authorizes “rate tailoring,” which allows crop advisors to work directly with farms to develop site-specific nutrient application rates and circumvent recommendations in the Department of Agriculture’s Best Management Practices Manuals (BMPs).

Florida’s citrus is in trouble and the bill appears to be an effort to solve the citrus industry’s concerns. Unfortunately, HB 1291 opens the floodgates for all agricultural products to avoid BMP-recommended fertilization application rates, whether they are experiencing yield problems or not.

Audubon has been raising concerns about this for weeks, and asked for the bill to be limited only to citrus and given an end date. We were gratified to see an amendment filed to both the House and Senate versions that limits the scope to citrus. Additionally, SB 1000, Sen. Albritton (R-Wauchula), requires IFAS to undertake research on the use of site-specific nutrient management for other commodities by the end of 2022 and also provides a sunset date for this test case with citrus.

The bill passed the committee 14 to 4. The Senate version passed the Rules Committee on Thursday with 17 to 0.
An aerial view of Lake Okeechobee.
Solar panels on a roof
Amendments Improve Net Metering Bill But Still Pose Grave Threat to Future of Rooftop Solar
This week we saw strong evidence that your advocacy is working in a small victory in our fight to mitigate the effects of the Renewable Energy Generation, SB 1024, filed by Sen. Bradley (R-Orange Park), who chairs the Senate Community Affairs Committee. The bill as originally filed would reduce the price that utilities pay rooftop solar owners for excess energy they sell back to the grid from a retail to a wholesale rate, drastically reducing the economic viability of rooftop solar.

An amendment that passed this week included a step-down process to gradually decrease the rate at which energy companies pay solar owners until 2028, when customers would be paid at the reduced wholesale rate. The amendment also further extended the period of time existing rooftop solar owners can depend upon the current net metering rates from 10 to 20 years. These are steps in the right direction that will help rooftop solar owners; still, several remaining provisions in this bill continue to threaten the viability of rooftop solar in Florida.

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. 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.

Rather than this bill’s regressive mandate, the PSC review could result in rate improvements that address utility concerns, protect consumers, and still provide financial incentives to drive the adoption of solar, battery, and efficiency tech. Solar—both utility-scale and rooftop—are essential to helping Florida meet the challenge of climate change.

Your voice is needed now more than ever. Thank you to all of our Audubon advocates who emailed the committee members ahead of this hearing! The bill is on the agenda in Rules next week.

Stay tuned for more updates from us. The House companion, HB 741 by Rep. McClure (R-Dover), has been referred to the State  Administration and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee but is not on the agenda as of now.
Rooftop solar panels.
Close-up of a Limpkin, with trees in the background. Photo: Arnie Collens
Refining the Golf Course Fertilizer BMP Program
HB 967, filed by Rep. Truenow (R-Tavares), passed the House Agriculture, Environment and Flooding Committee (Chair Rep Buchanan, R-Sarasota) this week. The bill would direct the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to create a best management practices (BMP) certification program for fertilizer application on golf courses in coordination with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences program and to provide and approve training and testing programs.

In exchange for using a certified golf course manager, courses would be exempt from additional fertilizer testing and local water use and fertilizer application restrictions. Local fertilizer “blackout periods” are a protective measure for local water quality during algae bloom-prone months. Providing an exemption to golf courses ultimately hurts water quality.

Golf courses are amongst the heaviest users of fertilizer and water for irrigation. Stormwater runoff from urban landscapes are a major source of nutrients contributing to algae blooms and water quality impairments in Florida.

This week, a good amendment was added to the bill, stating that golf courses in impaired watersheds with Basin Management Action Plans would not be eligible for these exemptions. This ensures that in areas where taxpayer dollars are being used to restore impaired water bodies, golf courses follow the same rules as everyone else.

SB 1556filed by Sen. Gruters (R-Sarasota), has been referenced to its second committee but has not been added to an agenda at this time.
Limpkin. Photo: Arnie Collens
Two Sandhill Cranes with wings outstretched in a grassy field.
Limiting the Ability of Communities to Evaluate Legacy Agricultural Contaminants in Neighborhoods
An amended SB 1210, Development of Current or Former Agricultural Land, filed by Sen. Albritton (R-Wauchula), passed its first hearing this week in the Senate Agriculture Committee with 8 yeas and 0 nays.

Pesticides can remain on a landscape long after application has ceased, with potential implications to both human communities and wildlife. As filed, SB 1210 would have provided a presumption of compliance for pesticide application on current or former agricultural lands and would have disallowed local programs from testing for contaminants and providing for remediation when warranted.

HB 909, filed by Rep. Payne (R-Palatka), was substantially amended last week – taking a step in the right direction –  in the House Agriculture, Environment and Flooding Committee (Chair Rep. Buchanan, R-Sarasota). As amended, it provides that local programs may continue enforcement, but standards must be set by the Department of Environmental Protection. HB 909 has one committee remaining.
Sandhill Cranes. Photo: R J Wiley
Sign up for our climate newsletter.
CONNECT WITH US
FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedInYouTube
Audubon Florida
4500 Biscayne Blvd., Suite 350, Miami, FL 33137
(305) 371-6399 | fl.audubon.org

© 2022 National Audubon Society, Inc.

Update your email address or unsubscribe

{{Return Path Client Monitor Pixel::AnJPmknHEeqhzAAVXQOx6A2}}