Audubon Florida
The Advocate
The 2022 Florida Legislative Session is drawing to a close. Next week is the last opportunity for bills—good and bad—to cross the finish line, and Audubon is thankful for our members who continue to help us engage with decision-makers to make the right choices for Florida’s environment. Read on for legislative news as well as an update on an ongoing panther issue in Southwest Florida.
Solar panels on top of a roof, with blue sky in the background.
Rooftop Solar Bill Advances in House and Senate
HB 741, Net Metering, filed by Rep. Lawrence McClure (R-Dover) and its companion SB 1024 filed by Sen Bradley (R-Orange Park) have passed all their committees of reference and are making their way through the House and Senate floors.

These bills, even in their current amended form, will have a chilling effect on Florida’s growing rooftop solar industry, a key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving climate resiliency in the Sunshine State. Under current law, solar panel owners who create excess energy can sell that energy back to the utilities at the retail rate that the utility charges other customers, a process known as net metering. This helps those who want to install rooftop solar make back their initial investment, lowering the overall cost for those interested in this renewable energy solution. Moreover, by paying rooftop solar owners the retail rate for excess energy, more people can afford to install the panels. The original legislation, if passed, would change net metering, forcing homeowners to sell their excess electricity at the wholesale rate; i.e. what the utility company pays to procure the electricity from its usual sources. Rooftop solar owners, environmental advocates like Audubon, and the solar industry have argued this would make rooftop solar too expensive for many and would destroy thousands of jobs in this growing industry.

Both bills now provide a “glide path,” where net metering rates would decline gradually over time and include a provision in the bill to ensure those who have installed solar already will keep the retail rate for 20 years.

The Senate version provides for a less generous glide path and only includes customers under the retail rate who sign up prior to January 2023, while the House bill provision allows new customers who sign up to be paid the retail rate through January 2029. An additional provision in SB 1024 allows the Public Service Commission to set billing periods, which makes the Senate version less harmful to rooftop solar. Late Friday, the House signaled they would accept SB 1024, a glimmer of hope that the less harmful version of this legislation may prevail. Nevertheless, its impacts on rooftop solar in Florida will be substantial.

Thanks to the hundreds of Audubon advocates who responded to our alerts last week and who emailed their representatives on relevant committees to oppose these bills. Stay tuned for an alert from us soon, asking for your help urging Governor DeSantis to veto this bill slowing Florida’s shift to renewable solar energy.
Snowy Egret perched on a bare branch, with marsh and trees in the background.
Budget Negotiations Begin
This week, the House and Senate negotiators began narrowing their differences in anticipation of finalizing the state’s budget for FY 2022-23. The House went into negotiations with a $105.3 billion budget proposal, while the Senate’s proposal was at $108.6 billion. These are higher than normal, thanks in part to federal stimulus money and higher-than-expected sales tax revenues.

The House and Senate, unfortunately, have been moving further apart on important budget priorities rather than resolving their differences at the committee level during the conference process. The Senate’s first offer proposed increasing spending $100 million more on storage wells north of Lake Okeechobee, while the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee countered by increasing funding for a statewide flooding and sea level rise grants program from $270 million to $570.9 million. The House proposed increasing funding for alternative water supply from $50 million to $100 million and has also proposed increasing funding for the Florida Forever Land acquisition program from $100 million to $300 million.

Issues that remained unresolved through Thursday evening were “bumped” to the full House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, and Senate Appropriations, chaired by Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, for additional negotiations.

At the heart of these negotiations is SB 2508, Environmental Resources, a budget related bill filed by the Senate Appropriations Committee that revises statutory provisions related to Everglades Restoration and the Rural and Family Lands Program. This controversial bill was met with loud opposition from the Governor, the South Florida Water Management District, and various environmental organizations. Thanks to your advocacy, last week, the Senate released an amendment addressing some of the concerns as they relate to Everglades restoration. However, the bill in its current form significantly changes the Rural and Family Lands Program, setting it up as a competitor program to Florida Forever but without the transparency and accountability we need.

As of last evening, the House budget negotiators on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee under the leadership of Rep. Josie Tomkow have held firm, not accepting the harmful provisions in SB 2508.

Now it’s in the hands of the full Appropriations Committee to hold the line against these provisions that would harm the Everglades and Florida Forever.

The Regular Session is scheduled to close next Friday, and Florida law requires they must pass a budget to adjourn. With a required cooling off period of 72 hours before the budget may be voted on, negotiators have until March 8 to resolve their differences and still adjourn on time.
Snowy Egret. Photo: Preeti Desai/Audubon.
A Pied-billed Grebe next to a nearly grown Pied-billed Grebe chick. Both are swimming on water. Photo: Tim Kuhn/Audubon Photography Awards.
Audubon Continues Efforts Improve Stormwater Bill, Reduce Potential for Pollution "Hotspots"
HB 965 filed by Rep. Truenow (R- Tavares) and its Senate companion SB 1426 filed by Sen. Burgess (R-Zephyrhills) continue to move forward, though with significant amendments.

The bill would allow government entities causing new harm to wetland resources to compensate for that off site in one of these regional projects. This is a departure from current law that requires landowners to offset impacts on site so that their immediate downstream neighbor receives water as clean or cleaner than they did.

Regional projects may be appropriate for restoring harm to watersheds, but this bill proposes to offset harm in one location with treatment in another location or even another waterbody altogether. This is neither as effective as onsite treatment nor is it fair to neighboring properties that may now become pollution “hotspots.” Offsetting impacts and improving water quality throughout a watershed’s lakes and streams ensures all communities share in the benefits.

Amendments filed last week to HB 741 added a few guardrails to the program that we hope will reduce the potential for harm to our waterbodies. Earlier this week additional protective provisions were added when SB 1426 was heard in Senate Appropriations (Chair Sen. Stargel, R-Lakeland). These amendments would allow the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the ability to deny the use of credits, if it believes that the use of the credits will contribute to or result in a violation of water quality standards at the project site.

Additionally, language was added that defers the implementation of the credit purchasing program until DEP develops rules that will provide a framework for the program.

At a time when communities are struggling with how to improve their water quality, it would be more prudent to launch a smaller pilot program rather than opening the process up to the entire state. SB 1426 is on the Special Order calendar this week. HB 965 is in Messages.
Pied-billed Grebes. Photo: Tim Kuhn/Audubon Photography Awards.
Florida Panther walking on a road after passing beneath a bridge.
USFWS Presses Pause on Panther Relocation
Last week, the USFWS made an extraordinary proposal to remove Florida Panther FP260 from the wild, justifying the decision on the basis of concern for human safety. While this individual has been the subject of much frustration from ranchers whose calves it has depredated in recent months, the USFWS was not clear on what threat to humans the cat actually posed, causing concern that the decision was motivated by risk to property rather than human safety.The USFWS’ own criteria for removal of this panther have not been met, including those from the Interagency Florida Panther Response Plan (adopted in 2008).Further, FP260 does not represent a threat to humans and USFWS and FWC panther biologists familiar with this individual have deemed its behavior normal. In fact, no attacks on humans by a Florida panther have ever been recorded. By removing this panther without justified reasoning, USFWS undermines its own policy, contributing to a lack of transparency with the public and poor precedent for wildlife removal in the future.After objections raised by the conservation community, USFWS staff announced this week that they are pausing their plans to remove FP260. Audubon is grateful for this pause and along with 27 of our chapters, called on the USFWS to establish depredation compensation programs now before calving season returns to Southwest Florida. Ranching and panthers are both important parts of this region’s landscape and can coexist with the right programs in place.
Florida Panther 260. Photo: fStop Foundation
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