Audubon Florida
The Advocate
The third committee week of the 2021 Legislative Session reminded elected officials, environmental stakeholders, and concerned citizens of the myriad of issues we need to tackle to make Florida more resilient to climate change and other threats. Expanded solar opportunities and a new willingness to talk climate change are sounding some positive notes for this session, while we continue to monitor troubling bills.
Purple Finch. Photo: Frances Higgs/Great Backyard Bird Count.
Legislature Grapples with Future of M-CORES
Two different approaches have emerged to sunset the ill-advised M-CORES program to push 330 miles of new turnpikes through Florida’s rural areas.

One, SB 924 by Senator Hooper (R-Palm Harbor), would push the funding program for M-CORES out into the future, until 2023-2024, and would leave the good, binding recommendations of the Task Forces in effect. The three M-CORES Task Forces called on the Legislature to eliminate or delay the original, unrealistic construction start dates prescribed in the original M-CORES legislation.

The other approach, SB 1030, led by Senator Polsky (D-Boca Raton), would repeal the M-CORES legislation passed in 2019 in its entirety. While SB 1030 is in line with the advocacy of many groups – including ours – we believe that it would also erase all of the strong recommendations made by the Task Forces to direct possible roads away from environmentally sensitive lands, conservation lands, and important farmland. It also would erase the Task Force recommendation that any new roads in the three M-CORES study areas be primarily confined to upgrades of existing highways, rather than new “greenfield” routes.

It is early days in the legislative process, and Audubon will continue working for legislation that eliminates current funding for the M-CORES project studies, pushes back the arbitrary construction start date, and preserves the well-thought-out Task Force recommendations for use in the event new turnpikes are proposed in these areas at some time in the future.
Purple Finch. Photo: Frances Higgs/Great Backyard Bird Count.
Carolina Wren. Photo: Jeremy Coltogirone/Great Backyard Bird Count.
Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Hears Water Updates
At the meeting of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources chaired by Senator Jason Brodeur (R-Lake Mary) on Monday, February 1, the Department of Environmental Protection presented a status update on their Biosolids and Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) Rulemaking. 

Remember, legislative ratification of a rule is required when the costs of the rule exceed $1 million over a five-year period, so after DEP completes rulemaking, a two-step process remains before the rule can be implemented: Approval by the  Environmental Regulation Commission (ERC) and ratification by the Legislature.  

Biosolids Rulemaking

Florida DEP initiated rule development for biosolids regulation, consistent with requirements of the Clean Waterways Act passed in 2020.  The proposed state revisions include increased monitoring and stricter reporting requirements in nutrient management plans required for all land application sites. New application rates rely on soil testing to determine soil deficiencies and crop needs to reduce nutrients from migrating offsite. While application rates are now lower than before, these rates are still much higher than recommended agronomic rates allowing for run-off into surrounding waterbodies.  

CFWI Rulemaking

In 2006, the three Water Management Districts (WMDs) located in central Florida (St. Johns River, South Florida, and Southwest Florida) realized that their water resources, especially groundwater, crossed the WMD borders and that their combined regional groundwater could no longer meet growing water needs. They formed the Central Florida Coordination Area, which includes Seminole, Orange, Osceola, Polk, and southern Lake Counties, to cooperatively plan for their future water supply under the auspices of the CFWI. Regulations were adopted to limit groundwater withdrawals and to set rules for the region’s water resources and use.

DEP initiated rulemaking in 2016 and after a lengthy public process published its proposed rule in November 2020.  

The next step in the process is for both these rules to be scheduled for discussion and possible approval at the next Environmental Regulation Commission meeting.
Carolina Wren. Photo: Jeremy Coltogirone/Great Backyard Bird Count.
Great Blue Heron. Photo: Robert Giles/Audubon Photography Awards.
Funding News for Environmental Programs
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government met on Wednesday, February 3. Kimberly Cramer from the Office of Policy and Budget presented environmental proposals for five agencies, totaling $4.3 billion (representing 4.5% of the total state budget) in Governor DeSantis’ Florida Leads Budget.

These agencies include: Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florida Department of Citrus, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Public Service Commission. DEP Secretary Valenstein presented on several environmental initiatives of Governor DeSantis’ Budget for Water, Everglades, State Lands, Florida Forever, and other programs within his Department’s purview (click here to see budget details).

Of note is the funding for the Resilient Florida Program, pegged at $180 million a year for four years, as well as $60 million for The Office of Resilience and Coastline Protection. 

Funding and programs to make our state more resilient cannot come soon enough. Florida’s coastal cities face some of the greatest risks from rising seas and our inland communities are at increasing risk from flooding.
Great Blue Heron. Photo: Robert Giles/Audubon Photography Awards.
Black Skimmer. Photo: Danny Sauvageau/Audubon Photography Awards.
Elected Officials Listen to Ideas for Boosting Coastal Resilience
The House Subcommittee on Environment, Agriculture and Flooding (Chaired by Representative James Buchanan (R-North Port)) met on Thursday, February 4. Our legislators are increasingly aware that Florida is more vulnerable than many states to the impacts of climate change and associated sea level rise. 

During this meeting, DEP provided an overview of their Coastal Resiliency programs that have provided grant funding for local governments to complete vulnerability assessments and to implement projects to mitigate the effects of flooding and storm surges.  The Governor’s budget request for $180 million will go towards ensuring that all coastal municipalities complete their vulnerability assessments. 

The Florida Shore & Beach Preservation Association reminded us that 422.7 miles of critically eroded beaches in Florida are especially worrisome because healthy beaches and coral reefs serve vital economic, environmental, and storm-damage reduction functions. 

The American Flood Coalition drove home the point that we are seeing more incidences of King Tides and sunny day flooding. Flooding is not just a coastal issue but an inland problem as well, affecting not only our property values but also agriculture and our military readiness (more than half of Florida’s 21 military bases are along the coast).  Representative Hardy (D-West Palm Beach) concluded, “We need to act now, the stakes are getting higher, the cost of procrastination is high.”
Black Skimmer. Photo: Danny Sauvageau/Audubon Photography Awards.
Red-tailed Hawk. Photo: Christine Miller/Audubon Photography Awards.
The PSC Approves Solar Projects and Prepares for Rate Case Hearings
Duke Energy Florida (DEF) received approval from the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) for a cost-recovery base-rate increase for five solar generation facilities. The additional 374.1 megawatts (MW) from the projects in Bay, Columbia, Hamilton, Hardee, and Manatee counties bring DEF’s total solar installation to more than 700 MW since 2019. Under the Solar Base Rate Adjustment (SoBRA) rule, the PSC is authorized to approve solar projects costs that increase utility rates without a full rate case hearing. 

Both Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) and Tampa Electric Company (TECO) have petitioned the PSC for rate increases. Utilities file requests for rate increases to address overall system costs associated with increasing fuel prices, infrastructure maintenance, and other fixed costs associated with providing services to their customers. The rate case hearings have yet to be scheduled.

Rate cases presented before the PSC are opportunities for utilities to present plans for their future investments. The PSC examines revenues against expenses and planned fixed capital investment, and decides if the proposed rate increases are in the public interest and meet the regulatory standards for returns to the utility. The Duke Energy SoBRA rate increase allows development of more solar facilities in the future. The general rate increase requests from FPL and TECO are being reviewed to examine their planned investment.
Red-tailed Hawk. Photo: Christine Miller/Audubon Photography Awards.
Summer Tanager. Photo: Joanne Wuori.
Concerning Growth Management Bill Clears Administrative Hurdle
HB 59, by Representative McClain (R-Belleview), had its first hearing in the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Its companion SB 496, by Senator Perry (R-Gainesville) has not been scheduled for a hearing. 

This legislation requires local governments to include a duplicative property rights element in their comprehensive plans to ensure that private property rights are considered in local decision-making. Florida already enjoys strong private property rights protections through the Florida Constitution and the Bert Harris Act. The bill has additional provisions related to development agreements, municipal annexation, and local government development orders. It is not likely that these provisions will make private property rights more secure, but they will make it harder for local governments to do their work of managing smart growth. The bill passed with 12 “yeas” and 6 “nays.”
Summer Tanager. Photo: Joanne Wuori.
Solar panels. Photo: Pixabay.
New Bills Filed This Week to Expand Solar Opportunities
SB 208, “Renewable Energy” by Senator Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) received a companion, HB 775 by Representative Omphroy (D-Sunrise).

- Allows commercial or industrial businesses to install solar panels on their property and enter into power purchase agreements to sell the generated electricity to adjacent commercial or industrial businesses or to a local utility.

SB 1008 + HB 761, “Solar Electrical Generating Facilities” by Senator Hutson (R-Palm Coast) and Representative Overdorf (R-Stuart).

- Allows solar facilities to be permitted as a right of use in local government comprehensive plan agricultural land use categories and certain agricultural zoning districts. The bill removes the current requirement for a special exemption, thereby improving and expanding abilities to install new solar sites on agricultural land. This provides more opportunities to install renewable energy generation facilities, particularly in compatible agricultural areas.
Solar panels. Photo: Pixabay.
White-eyed Vireo. Photo: Megumi Aita/Audubon Photography Awards.
This Week's Climate News
This week we share news about how climate change can affect your health, a Florida plan to address sea-level rise, renewable energy bills in the Florida Legislature, and more. Click here to read.

To sign up for the bi-weekly climate updates, click here.
White-eyed Vireo. Photo: Megumi Aita/Audubon Photography Awards.
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