Letter to Editor
Florida Times-Union, November 19, 2012
Jimmy Orth, Executive Director St. Johns Riverkeeper

Florida’s natural resources are a linchpin of our economy and quality of life, attracting millions of tourists each year, creating thousands of jobs, and enhancing the well-being of our citizens. As a result, state legislators wisely began adopting legislation over 40 years ago to better manage growth, protect our waters, and conserve our state’s lands.

During that time, landmark federal legislation, such as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, was also enacted to protect our country’s rich natural heritage and human health. All of these major environmental safeguards and conservation programs were implemented with bipartisan support by elected officials who recognized the value of clean water, the importance of healthy air, and the benefits they provide to our economy.

Regrettably, many of today’s state leaders and legislators are intent on rolling back important rules and regulations, expediting the permitting process, eliminating funding for conservation programs, liquidating state lands, and gutting agencies that protect our health and environment. Essential environmental safeguards have unfortunately become unwarranted scapegoats for our economic problems.

The fact is that environmental regulations often provide economic and health benefits that far outweigh the cost of compliance, leading to more jobs, not less. Since the majority of our environmental laws have been passed, the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) has risen by 207 percent. The Clean Water Act (CWA) alone is estimated to provide $11 billion in annual benefits.

The CWA has also been responsible for significant improvements in water quality. In 1970, over 15 million gallons of raw sewage was dumped into the St. Johns each day, prompting a U.S. Senator to call the river “a cesspool” and Governor Claude Kirk to state that "if you fall in, you will die of pollution before you drown." While our river still suffers from pollution problems, we have certainly come a long way.

Policies changes that weaken or eliminate protections for our environment and human health are counter to the economic interests of our state and its citizens and do nothing to address the root causes of our economic woes. It is algal blooms, red tide events and pollution that hurt businesses, cost jobs, impact human health, deter tourists, diminish recreational opportunities, and reduce property values and our tax base.

So, now that the election is behind us, let’s ensure that our state and our country continue the longstanding tradition of bipartisan support for conservation efforts. We can do so by demanding that our elected officials address the devastating impacts of pollution, invest in the conservation and restoration of our natural resources, and support and uphold the important laws that continue to safeguard our environment and benefit our economy.