Tue, Dec 28, 2021 11:30 AM
By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor, The Center Square
(The Center Square) – When the legislature convenes next year, one of the budget priorities it is expected to address is record funding for environmental conservation projects, which have received a wide range of support from conservation and environmental groups.
Florida continues to lead the U.S. as a tourist and recreational destination known for its Atlantic and Gulf Coast beaches, estuaries, the Everglades, fishing and other sporting destinations. In order to preserve the state’s natural resources, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ "Freedom First" budget directs $4.4 billion to a variety of environmental and water conservation projects.
“Florida’s natural resources are the foundation of our state’s communities,” the governor said when announcing his budget priorities earlier this month. “The environment drives tourism, affects property values, anchors many local economies and is central to our quality of life.”
The governor’s budget proposes more than $980 million to restore the Everglades and protect Florida’s water resources. It builds on an executive order DeSantis previously issued calling for $2.5 billion to be invested over four years for the protection of water resources. The proposed funding surpasses that, bringing Florida’s four-year investment to $3 billion, and doubles the investment of the previous four years.
The funding includes more than $660 million for Everglades restoration, $195 million for targeted water quality improvements, $35 million to improve water quality and combat the negative impacts of harmful algal blooms, including blue-green algae, and $5 million in additional funding dedicated to address red tide cleanup.
“When I took office, I outlined a bold vision to protect Florida’s environment, and we have not only kept the promises we made, we’ve exceeded them,” DeSantis said. “We have seen great results so far, but we are not yet at the finish line. It’s nice to see so many coming together to support these initiatives.”
Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation, said $660 million for Everglades restoration is “the largest investment in the history of the program.” In addition to restoration efforts, the funding will “create and save jobs, boost our state’s tourism-based economy, and yield tangible benefits for Floridians,” he added.
The budget also invests more than $550 million to increase the resiliency of Florida’s coastal and inland communities, and more than $151.7 million to protect prized properties and waters in Florida. This includes $100 million for the Florida Forever program and $51.7 million for infrastructure improvements and natural resource management at Florida’s award-winning state parks.
The budget also allocates $50 million to restore Florida’s world-renowned springs, $100 million for continued stabilization, water treatment, and closure at Piney Point, and $40 million for the alternative water supply grant program to help communities plan for and implement vital conservation, reuse and other alternative water supply projects.
Last year, the governor championed the passage of the Resilient Florida Grant Program, which enhanced efforts to protect Florida’s inland waterways, coastlines, shores and coral reefs. The proposed budget builds on this by investing another $550 million.
“Florida has serious flooding challenges to tackle but has a Governor who is serious about delivering solutions that can lead the nation on resilience funding and policy,” Noah Valenstein, former Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, said. “By working with communities, the Resilient Florida Program will capitalize on environmental investments to reduce flooding and protect Florida’s water resources.”
“Coming off yet another active hurricane season, Floridians across the state face the challenges of more frequent flooding and higher seas every day,” Kate Wesner, Florida director of the American Flood Coalition, added. “With another historic investment dedicated to resilience, the funds, coupled with the historic Always Ready legislation signed into law earlier this year, will help build a stronger, better prepared Florida.”
Temperince Morgan, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida, lauded the $550 million allocation, adding “a strong commitment to addressing climate change from the public, private, and non-profit sectors is the only way we will protect Floridians from sea-level rise and other impacts affecting our 1,400 miles of coastline and the communities that live along them.”
Dr. Jennifer Jurado, chief resilience officer for Broward County, said the funding comes at a critical time “as local governments across our state are increasingly pressed to address the impacts of rising seas and increased flooding.”
The budget also prioritizes Florida’s 1,300 miles of coastline, which it says “is critical to our growing economy and quality of life, as millions travel from around the world to visit our world-renowned beaches.”
It allocates $50 million in beach nourishment funding to restore eroded shorelines, $137 million to clean contaminated sites related to petroleum tanks, dry cleaning solvent, hazardous waste, and other contaminants, and $53 million to implement the State Mitigation Plan for the $166 million Volkswagen Clean Air Act settlement. The settlement addresses diesel emission reductions, including funds for electric vehicle infrastructure and electric buses.
The budget also allocates $3.8 million to protect the state’s manatee population, and up to $3 million for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to remove pythons from the Everglades, an increase of $2 million over current year funding.
The biggest chunk of the environmental budget, more than $1.7 billion, is allocated to help the state’s agricultural industry.
And while Florida hasn’t experienced the damage of wildfires like other states have, the budget also allocates $6.7 million for wildfire suppression equipment and $4 million for road and bridge maintenance.