Governor launches environmental reforms

DeSantis Mote Marine
Gov. Ron DeSantis discussed his executive order and his aggressive plans to improve Florida’s water quality at Mote. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

SARASOTA – New Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is wasting no time addressing water quality issues, including harmful algae blooms.

On Thursday, Jan. 10, DeSantis signed Executive Order 19-12 as part of his plans to implement major reforms to protect Florida’s water quality and environment. The executive order seeks $2.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration and the protection of Florida’s water resources.

DeSantis issued the executive order less than 48 hours after being inaugurated as Florida’s 46th governor, and he visited Sarasota the same day. DeSantis was joined by his wife, Casey, and Lt. Governor Jeanette Núñez at an early afternoon press conference at Mote Marine Laboratory’s Keating Marine Education Center in Sarasota.

Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, Florida Sen. Joe Gruters, former State Rep. Jim Boyd, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Noah Valenstein, Anna Upton from the Everglades Foundation, Chris Peterson from Captains for Clean Water, Mote Marine President Michael Crosby and others were on hand for the press event, and many of them also spoke.

Speaking first, Crosby said, “I was so heartened to hear our new governor say so clearly during his inaugural address that the quality of our water and the environmental surroundings are foundational to our prosperity as a state. Even more energizing for me was that he also said that he will lead the efforts to save our waterways, that together we will fight red tide and other harmful algae blooms.”

Governor’s remarks

DeSantis said he spent time that day learning what Mote Marine scientists are working on regarding red tide. He also noted that water quality was an issue he campaigned on.

“I listened loud and clear to what Floridians were telling us – that they wanted action on this. We have a sense of urgency. We’re going to be seeking $2.5 billion over the next four years for water resource and Everglades-related projects. That represents a billion dollars more than the previous four years,” DeSantis said.

He plans to install a chief science officer within DEP to work with Mote Marine and other agencies to ensure the state has the most up-to-date scientific data.

“So, when we’re making policy it’s going to be effective policy,” he said.

DeSantis is moving the enforcement arm of environmental issues out of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and into DEP.

“I think that’ll make a big difference. We’re also going to have a resiliency office to look at how different communities are affected by things like increased flooding and rising water,” he said.

The executive order says the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection will adamantly oppose all offshore oil and gas activities off every coast of Florida and oppose hydraulic fracturing (fracking) statewide.

The executive order also establishes a blue-green algae task force.

“This task force should support key funding and restoration initiatives to expedite nutrient reductions in Lake Okeechobee and the downstream estuaries,” the order says.

“I think we have a huge majority of Floridians across party lines that would love to see action. Unfortunately, I wish we could just do it at the governor’s office. We’re going to work with the Legislature, the local communities and the federal government. The federal government obviously plays a big role in this,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis said he worked with the White House and Army Corps of Engineers during his gubernatorial transition period and addressed the federal government’s management of Lake Okeechobee and discharging into surrounding rivers lake water that contains blue-green algae.

“I think we could probably avoid having to do these discharges, certainly not at the level we’ve seen,” DeSantis said.

“On our end, we’re going to move forward with the EAA reservoir (Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project), which is very important to be able to stop discharges. And we’re going to make sure the Army Corps gets on track with this thing. We don’t want it to take 10 years – that I think is going to be unacceptable. I do think the (federal) administration understands Florida’s needs, and I think they’re willing to work with us,” DeSantis said.

In reference to Galvano, Gruters and the Florida Senate, DeSantis said, “There’s a critical mass of folks here that really want to get some big things done. This is a challenge, but I also think it’s an exciting time because we can be part of solving some of these problems for generations to come.”

In a separate action, DeSantis has requested the resignations of all current board members of the South Florida Water Management District.

Mote funding

After the press conference, Cosby said Mote Marine would seek additional state and federal funds to bolster the red tide research and monitoring program currently conducted in partnership with FDEP.

Crosby also said Mote Marine would propose bill language to the state Legislature seeking an additional $3 million for each of the next five years to develop a new harmful algae bloom mitigation and technology development initiative aimed at lessening the impacts of red tide.

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