DeSantis announces plans for a massive FL environmental budget in a one-page handout

By: - November 16, 2021 2:09 pm
The Everglades

The Everglades. Credit: National Park Service

Gov. Ron DeSantis touted his proposed budget for environmental funding in 2022-23 but did not release the budget itself. The governor’s staff supplied only a one-page handout in connection with his press conference in Naples Tuesday morning.

“With our recommendations … we will not only have kept the promises and met the standards that we set, we will have exceeded what we promised to do, DeSantis said, claiming his proposed budget if approved would bring environmental spending to nearly $3 billion on his watch. He had pledged when he took office in 2019 to dedicate $2.5 billion in federal and state funds to Everglades and water-improvement programs in Florida over his four-year term.

The handout says DeSantis’ recommended state and federal spending for environmental programs in 2022-23 includes:

$660 million for Everglades restoration work
$175 million for targeted water-quality improvements
$40 million for an alternative water-supply grant program
$50 million for springs restoration projects
$35 million to combat harmful blooms of blue-green algae and red tide
$500 million for Resilient Florida, a program to help Florida cities armor against sea-level rise, flooding and storm damage that is intensifying due to climate change.

Chief Science Officer Mark Rains speaks at a press conference in Naples Tuesday on Gov. DeSantis’ announced plans for 2022-23 environmental funding. Screenshot: The Florida Channel

Florida Chief Science Officer Mark Rains, also in attendance, said the funding is moving environmental protection in the right direction.

“The environment is a foundation of so much in Florida, from the economy all the way down to our way of life,” Rains said. “We face a lot of environmental challenges here in Florida, but we are a low-lying state, we’re surrounded on three sides by oceans, and so perhaps none are more pressing than sea level rise and recurrent flooding and building more resilient communities for our future. These challenges are complicated, and the solutions are both complicated and difficult to implement. But under his continued leadership, we’re taking these things head on.”

Meanwhile, environmental groups point out that they have lobbied for decades for increased funding to reverse degradation of Florida’s environment, from polluted springs to bays choked with algae and red tide to contaminated discharges from Lake Okeechobee fouling south Florida waterways. The needs continue to far outweigh the funding, including appropriations to the land acquisition trust fund that was mandated by voters in a 2014 constitutional amendment.

At Sierra Club Florida, Diana Umpierre, organizing representative for Our Wild America and the Everglades Restoration Campaign, would not speculate on the governor’s proposed budget because it has not been made public.

“As the saying goes, the devil is in the details.,” Umpierre told the Phoenix.

“Will any of this funding be used to pay for deep wells to meet unsustainable water supply demands and growth, rather than actual restoration of Everglades habitats?” she asked. “Will any of that money come from public funds that were intended for acquisition of lands that have been forever waiting for their share of protection and restoration?”

Likewise, Florida Springs Council Executive Director Ryan Smart said the announcements do not address crucial parts of Florida’s environmental funding needs.

“Governor DeSantis’ budget announcement is most notable for what it is lacking. It cuts funding for springs restoration projects by $25 million from last year at a time when our springs are suffering and manatees are dying in record numbers,” Smart told the Phoenix.

“It leaves out land conservation funding that is essential to protecting our waters and wildlife. It includes no mention of Ocklawaha restoration, the most critical environmental restoration project to the springs and communities of north Florida. Hopefully, these errors and omissions are corrected in the governor’s final budget proposal to the Legislature.”

Everglades Foundation CEO Erik Eikenberg said in a press statement that DeSantis’ announced support for $660 million in restoration funds is commendable.

“Restoring the natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades to the Florida Keys supports much of our state and its health. This continued investment in America’s Everglades will not only help build critical water infrastructure that will advance the restoration of a national treasure, but it will create and save jobs, boost our state’s tourism-based economy, and yield tangible benefits for Floridians.

At the press conference with DeSantis, Florida Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton commended the governor and legislature for their commitment to environmental funding, and illustrated the disconnect between needs and dollars in describing the Resilient Florida grant program created last year.

Hamilton said DEP in September received 581 applications for $2.3 billion worth of Resilient Florida projects, but with just $500 million to actually spend on them.

“This historic funding of $500 million will help us work with local communities to ensure they are prepared for the impacts of climate change, including sea-level rise, intensified storms inland flooding,” Hamilton said, adding that grants also will help cities plan what else they need to do to defend their communities from the worsening weather.

Correction: This story was revised to clarify that the handout describes proposed 2022-23 spending recommendations.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.