A brief look at the Top 5 environmental stories Florida this past year, based on news headlines and blog reports.
1. Offshore oil drilling: In the next to last week of the Florida House session, a bill to allow drilling within three miles of Florida’s Gulf Coast was approved. The bill failed to win Senate approval but the debate was re-ignited in the fall by a campaign effort from drilling supporters.
Looking ahead: Drilling still has support from the House but Senate President Jeff Atwater strongly recommends a careful study of the issue before any legislation is passed.
2. Florida Forever demise: Florida Forever, which received $300 million annually through 2008, purchased more than 2 million acres of land under the Florida Forever land-buying program and its predecessor. But due to the economic downturn and House criticisn, the Legislature did not provide any money to the program in 2009.
Looking ahead: Hopefuls of Florida Forever money remain, but must contend with opposition from the House Natural Resources Appropriations Committee.
3. Florida’s “green governor” moves right: Gov. Charlie Crist all but dropped the term “environment” from his agenda after announcing his Senate bid. He also promoted legislation to allow oil drilling, citing that he was looking out for the state’s economy.
Looking ahead: The Florida Department of Environmental Protection will continue to play a larger role in voicing Crist’s position on “green” issues.
4. Renewable energy fails: The comprehensive energy bill (2008) that made Florida a leader on energy issues proved problematic because it required very little. Two key issues – renewable energy and automobile efficiency – required legislative approval before any standards were enacted. The House refused to discuss a Senate bill that would require all utilities produce at least 20 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2020.
Looking ahead: Look for other provisions (including cap-and-trade and recycling programs) to stall.
5. PSC controversy: After one staffer resigned after being in social contact with FP&L official during the company’s rate-hike request and frequent cell phone text-messaging between representatives of utilities and PSC staffers were revealed, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy sought investigation into the agency. They found the controversies showed that the agency was seemingly under the spell of utilities and their paid experts, many of whom are former PSC members or staffers.
Looking ahead in 2010: Expect lots of change within the agency, as well as a commitment to require stricter conservation goals.