On one point we can all agree – everyone wants a robust and stable economy that affords opportunities for jobs and economic prosperity. However, we won’t achieve that objective by killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Florida’s natural resources are a linchpin of our economy, attracting millions of tourists each year and creating thousands of jobs. These priceless assets not only sustain our economy but are also critical to the quality of life and health of our citizens.
For nearly four decades, legislators from both sides of the aisle recognized this fact by working together to appropriate funding and create programs to better manage growth, to protect water resources, and to conserve our state’s rich natural heritage. Despite these bipartisan efforts, those protections did not go far enough, as witnessed by our current water quality and supply problems and the significant loss of critical wetlands and habitat to rapid growth and development during that time.
Instead of improving upon the work of the last several decades and working to strengthen environmental protections to restore our polluted waterways and protect our economy, Governor Rick Scott and Florida's Legislature continue to pursue policy changes that are only making this dire situation much worse. Since 2011, lawmakers in Tallahassee have been intent upon rolling back critical regulatory safeguards, expediting the permitting process, liquidating conservation lands, making it easier to destroy wetlands, and handing out longer water consumption permits without requiring more conservation. At the same time, Scott and his administration has dismantled or weakened the agencies tasked with protecting our health and our environment and providing sensible guidelines for smarter growth.
Unfortunately, important policies and programs that have been established to protect our natural resources became scapegoats for our sluggish economy following the recession. These policy changes have been hyped as necessary efforts to stimulate our economy and create jobs. In reality, these changes are counter to the long-term economic interests of our state and its citizens and will ultimately cost us dearly.
Environmental regulations often provide economic and health benefits that far outweigh the cost of compliance. There are also significant economic costs of pollution and of doing nothing. Toxic algal blooms, red tide events, rising sea levels, and pollution hurt businesses, cost jobs, impact human health, reduce property values and our tax base, and diminish recreational opportunities and our quality of life. Ignoring the consequences and costs of pollution is irresponsible and a disservice to today’s citizens of Florida and to future generations.
The bottom line is that the actions of our governor and the legislature are dramatically changing the course of water policy and growth management in Florida, putting us on a path towards less protection for our already imperiled waterways and aquifers.
Dismantling and eliminating environmental safeguards and failing to address costly pollution problems that threaten human health and hurt local communities is a radical proposition that will have devastating long-term consequences for our state’s natural resources, economy and its citizens. Our economic well-being and our quality of life are inextricably linked to how effectively we protect our environment.
We simply cannot afford to sacrifice our state’s most valuable assets for the politics of the moment and the fortunes of a few. Citizens shouldn’t have to fight to protect our environment from our elected representatives, their appointees, and those often working with them to exploit our natural resources for personal gain. Instead, we should be proactively working together to restore our imperiled waterways; conserve our water resources, wetlands, and public lands; and preserve our rich natural heritage for generations to come.