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Thursday, Jul 24, 2014
Editorials

Scott’s environmental evolution

Published:

Gov. Rick Scott deserves credit for his recent backing of several important environmental restoration protects.

But the governor, who slashed conservation funding wildly his first year in office, still needs to show he understands the importance of the conservation safeguards that make such cleanup work unnecessary.

Last week Scott pledged up to $90 million to improve freshwater flow into the Everglades while also providing relief to estuaries on the west and east coasts. This week he promised to spend $37 million on Florida’s springs, including Homosassa and Weeki Wachee,

We hope these acts signal a newfound appreciation of the economic benefits of resource protection.

The Everglades project Scott supported will add bridges to the Tamiami Trail that will allow more water to be released from Lake Okeechobee. The water will be filtered through vegetation as it makes it way to the Everglades.

Excess water in the lake now is discharged into channels that run to estuaries on both coasts — the Caloosahatchee on the west coast and the St. Lucie on the east.

The nutrient-tainted water is having disastrous impacts on both bays, causing cloudy water, algae blooms, swimming bans, fish kills and even dolphin kills.

The pollution threatens property values and tourism in regions once renowned for pristine waters and terrific fishing.

The governor also has pledged to spend $40 million on cleaning up water from Lake Okeechobee and is pushing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cut discharges from the lake to the estuaries.

Scott’s investment in cleaning up springs also is badly needed, though it won’t go very far. Many of the state’s 700 springs suffer from dwindling flow and pollution.

Regardless, the governor’s actions are welcomed, and economically wise for a state that derives much of its appeal from its natural beauty and outdoors opportunities.

But Scott, who recently filed a lawsuit against Georgia for diverting too much water from Apalachicola Bay, should recognize that most of the state’s costly debacles result from a lack of planning. The state too often has worried more about short-term benefits than long-term consequences. Yet under Scott the state has virtually abandoned planning and growth management.

The administration appears less aggressive in enforcing environmental regulations.

Scott, who campaigned against over-regulation, should see there is a big difference between a maze of red tape and rules that protect resources from costly ruin. Yet he’s done little to blunt recent legislative assaults on the environment.

Former state Sen. Paula Dockery put it smartly in a recent Tribune column: “Political rhetoric about lessening job-killing regulations enables lawmakers to justify rescinding septic tanks regulations, water nutrient standards and permit and concurrency requirements.”

Heroic environmental stances such as Scott’s multi-million dollar pledges are necessary because of past blunders, but Scott could spare taxpayers the need for future such expenditures with a commitment to the planning and safeguards that keep such disasters from ever occurring.

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