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CONVERSATIONS: This legislative session, lawmakers to take up water quality, land conservation and seagrass

Two orphaned calves ended up at a SeaWorld rehabilitation center, where they faced a long recovery. Photo by Amy Green
Two orphaned calves ended up at a SeaWorld rehabilitation center, where they faced a long recovery. Photo by Amy Green

Florida lawmakers convene Tuesday in Tallahassee for the start of the legislative session.

WMFE environmental reporter Amy Green talked with Jane West of 1000 Friends of Florida about environmental priorities, like whether there is a measure to address an unprecedented manatee die-off. 

WEST: No. In fact, there is a bill that proposes to do the exact opposite, and you would never know it by its title. It's the Seagrass Mitigation Bank bill.

It's the one bill that we're looking at this legislative session that could do more to harm the beloved manatee than any other bill out there. Because what it proposes is to take existing, viable healthy seagrass beds and destroy them and try to mitigate for that loss sometime later down the road.

GREEN: The measure authorizes seagrass mitigation banks to offset losses. Pam West, what should lawmakers be doing?

WEST: One of the easiest things that could have happened this legislative session -- they tried to make it happen last legislative session -- was the implementation of the recommendations from Gov. DeSantis' own Blue Green Algae Taskforce.

They worked around the state with all these workshops. Hundreds of hours by experts and citizen input. Had some robust recommendations, and yet not one of these recommendations have so far been implemented and codified into law. And we are now unfortunately seeing the consequences of not taking action on Florida's impaired waters.

GREEN: Gov. Ron DeSantis' state budget proposal includes money for Everglades restoration, water quality improvements and land conservation through the Florida Forever program, among other things. What did you think of his budget proposal?

WEST: It's a good first start. Quite frankly, we would like to see the Florida Forever funding restored to the same level that it did last session, which was $300 million. Plus a bump from the feds, which was very helpful due to the pandemic.

To drop back down to $100 million is quite frankly not what the state needs, given the perilous situation that not only manatees are facing but the Florida panther.

You know, these species need wide swaths of land for wildlife corridors, and we had great strides last session for wildlife corridors. But we need to keep that funding up. If we keep funding the way we are now for land acquisition in the state of Florida we simply are not going to be able to purchase the already-identified pieces of land through the acquisition process.

GREEN: Agriculture Commissioner and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried has been pushing clean energy legislation. How likely is the legislation to advance in the Republican-controlled Legislature, and what other legislation is there involving climate change?

WEST: There are quite a few bills on resiliency that we're looking at, and renewables and electric vehicles. And we'll see how all of these bills progress.

Florida needs to set the gold standard when it comes to renewable energy. We are the most at-risk state in terms of sea level rise.

And so we really need to start getting in front of the problem by reducing our emissions instead of trying to shore up the problem on the backend, by throwing hundreds of millions of dollars towards raising our roads and bridges and infrastructure.

That's a losing battle. If you get it on the front end, we have hope.

CORRECTION: An earlier version misidentified Jane West.

Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.