Rollback of Environmental Regulations Destroy Florida's Greatest Assets
By Jimmy Orth
Are you one of the millions of Florida citizens who love and value our state’s beautiful beaches, springs, wetlands, forests and rivers, like the St. Johns River? If so, buckle your chinstrap and get ready to help defend and protect Florida’s natural heritage from another barrage of attacks from shortsighted politicians and industry groups. Governor Rick Scott and many of our state’s legislators have made no bones about their intentions to scale back environmental and growth management regulations, and they are off to a good start. Regrettably, this wrong-headed approach to stimulating Florida’s economy will only benefit a few at the expense of the majority of our citizens and future generations.
Unfortunately, they don’t seem to grasp the significant economic and human health benefit of a clean and healthy environment. Natural systems provide valuable services to humans (clean air, food prevention, water purification, etc.) that would be much more expensive or even impossible for us to replicate. Our natural resources are extremely important to our quality of life and are a major reason why so many people visit or relocate to our state in the first place. They have also ignored the enormous cost of pollution. Pollution hurts many businesses, costs jobs, impacts human health, reduces property values and our tax base, and diminishes recreational opportunities and our quality of life. These significant costs are rarely if ever mentioned or offset against the cost of compliance when the efficacy of regulations is being publicly debated or evaluated. Ignoring the consequences and external costs of pollution is irresponsible and a disservice to the citizens of Florida.
The result is that these politicians are dismantling our environmental safeguards with very little evidence or justification for their actions. In fact, regulations generally provide a net economic benefit that far outweighs the cost of compliance. The most recent cost-benefit report on major regulations by the non-partisan Office of Management and Budget found that total annual benefits are “between $132 billion and $655 billion, while the estimated annual costs are in the aggregate between $44 billion and $62 billion.” The same holds true when only looking at environmental regulations, such as the Clean Air Act. The OMB found that the total economic benefits of the Clean Air Act are estimated at more than four to eight times the costs of compliance. In the last two decades, emissions of the most common air pollutants have declined by 41 percent, while Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has increased by more than 64 percent. In other words, most of the environmental safeguards that protect our environment and human health are actually a boon for our economy, not the “job killing” red tape that detractors would have us falsely believe.
In addition to abolishing regulations, our governor and legislature are threatening the health of Florida’s environment by weakening policies, lowering water quality standards and neutralizing planning and regulatory agencies through budget cuts, moratoriums or political pressure. Their aggressive actions have already dramatically changed the course of the water management districts and water policy in this state, putting us on a path toward less protection for our already-imperiled waterways and aquifer.
For instance, a dramatic shift has taken place within the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD). The SJRWMD has abandoned efforts to produce an updated water supply plan, once a top priority said to be legislatively mandated and an essential road map to the future. The SJRWMD has pulled back on funding commitments and plans for critical water conservation and restoration programs. The agency has also ended an important rule-making process that would have established sensible water conservation requirements for permit applicants. Less than a year ago, the SJRWMD was sounding the alarm that Northeast Florida was reaching the sustainable limits of the aquifer. However, the District recently issued an unprecedented Consumptive Use Permit to the JEA utility that could eventually result in a 40 percent increase in withdrawals from the aquifer. Use permit was issued despite U.S. Geological Survey models that indicate current Northeast Florida groundwater pumping is already adversely impacting the flows and levels of springs, lakes and waterways to the west.
We have also turned back the clock on growth management in our state, with recent changes to the Growth Management Act and the dismantling of the Department of Community Affairs. We now have a much smaller and less capable state planning agency, and Gov. Scott vetoed state funding for Florida’s 11 regional planning councils. This will result in less-effective state and regional oversight and guidance, and potentially less protection for our critical water resources from sprawl and poor planning. Unfortunately, many local governments don’t have sufficient planning departments or expertise. Many also often lack the resources to engage in regional planning efforts necessary to protect surface and groundwater resources that extend beyond county lines and are of regional or statewide significance. Now, local governments can also change their comprehensive plans at every commission or council meeting, instead of twice a year as previously allowed. These are critical road maps for smart growth that must be updated periodically, but were never intended to be changed easily or often.
The bottom line is, the dramatic changes to water policy and growth management that are taking place are limiting our ability to adequately protect our natural resources. These changes have been hyped as efforts to stimulate our economy by creating jobs and attracting businesses. However, these policy changes are actually counter to the economic interests of our state and its citizens and do nothing to address the root causes of our economic woes.
For instance, we all know that overbuilding and speculation played a big role in our current problems, yet, inexplicably, efforts are underway to expedite the permitting process. The president of the Florida Home Builders Association recently said, “No one can argue that we have excess housing inventory in Florida, given that our state is ground zero for foreclosures and distressed properties.” The recent census revealed that 1.6 million homes are vacant in Florida, not to mention all of the homes and offices that have already been approved for development. According to Charles Lee of Audubon of Florida, “between 2007 and 2011, over 2,500 comprehensive plan amendments were approved under Florida’s growth management laws that would allow over 1,000,000 new residential dwellings and over 2.7 billion square feet of commercial, office and industrial space.” So how can anyone really think that a burdensome permitting process and growth management laws have stymied growth and economic development in Florida? We obviously needed more controls in place, not fewer, to ensure smarter growth patterns and keep in check the kind of rampant growth that’s helped to drag our economy down.
We already have approximately 569 square miles of estuaries, 1,918 miles of rivers and streams and 378,435 acres of lakes that have been identified as impaired by nutrients. In addition, lakes, rivers and streams classified as impaired increased 3 percent compared with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s 2008 Water Quality Assessment. According to the SJRWMD, 97 percent of the District is either a Priority Water Resource Caution Area or a Potential Caution Area.
Despite the obvious shortcomings of our growth and water management systems, we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The previous system clearly offered more planning guidance, oversight and protections than are provided by the recent changes. However, we do need to make improvements to the planning process and water management districts and implement more vigorous protections to better protect our environment. Instead, the governor and legislature are making radical changes that will only make matters worse—for both our environment and our economy.
Now is the time to recognize the value of investing in the protection and restoration of our water resources and environment. Dismantling and eliminating environmental safeguards and refusing 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 economy and its citizens.
Our economic well-being is inextricably linked to how effectively we protect our environment and preserve our natural resources. Safeguarding all of Florida’s air, waters and natural lands is simply a prudent and wise economic investment in the future of our state and a more sensible and defensible approach to economic recovery.
For more information, click here.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
To hear many journalists tell it, the spring of 2020 has brought a series of extraordinary revelations. Look at what the nation has learned: That our health-care system was not remotely up to the challenge of a deadly pandemic. That our economic safety net was largely nonexistent. That our vulnerability to disease and death was directly tied to our race and where we live. That our political leadership sowed misinformation that left people dead. That systemic racism and the killing of Black people by police is undiminished, despite decades of protest and so many Black lives lost.
- Climate Crisis Brings India's Worst Locust Invasion in Decades ... ›
- Climate Crisis Made Australia's Historic Wildfires at Least 30% More ... ›
- 4 Climate Crisis Solutions No One Is Talking About - EcoWatch ›
- Top Government Scientist Transferred After Questioning Trump ... ›
- Trump Admin Manipulated Wildfire Science to Encourage Logging ... ›
- NOAA Officials Backed Trump's False Dorian Claims Under Threat ... ›
- Coronavirus and the Terrifying Muzzling of Public Health Experts ... ›
- 'Science Under Siege' From Trump Admin: New Report Warns We ... ›
More than 350 elephants have died in Botswana since May, and no one knows why.
- Botswana Auctions Off First Licenses to Kill Elephants Since Ending ... ›
- 'Heartbreaking' Vulture Poisoning in South Africa Raises Alarm ... ›
The chance that UK summer days could hit the 40 degree Celsius mark on the thermometer is on the rise, a new study from the country's Met Office Hadley Centre has found.
- As Extreme Weather Turns Deadly in the UK, Climate Activists Are ... ›
- UK Parliament First in World to Declare Climate Emergency ... ›
By Melissa Hawkins
After sustained declines in the number of COVID-19 cases over recent months, restrictions are starting to ease across the United States. Numbers of new cases are falling or stable at low numbers in some states, but they are surging in many others. Overall, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of new cases a day, and by late June, had surpassed the peak rate of spread in early April.
Seven day rolling average of number of people confirmed to have COVID-19, per day (not including today). This chart gets updated once per day with data by Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins university doesn't provide reliable data for March 12 and March 13. Johns Hopkins CSSE Get the data
To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.<p>A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.</p><p>But with talk of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/27/new-covid-19-clusters-across-world-spark-fear-of-second-wave" target="_blank">second wave in the news</a>, as an <a href="https://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/mhawkins.cfm" target="_blank">epidemiologist and public health researcher</a>, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.</p><p>First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.</p><p>Many countries in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave</a>. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/08/new-zealand-abandons-covid-19-restrictions-after-nation-declared-no-cases" target="_blank">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/08/how-iceland-beat-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">Iceland</a> have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.</p>
Different States, Different Trends<p>Looking at U.S. numbers as a whole hides what is really going on. Different states are in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">vastly different situations right now</a> and when you look at states individually, four major categories emerge.</p><ol><li>Places where the first wave is ending: States in the Northeast and a few scattered elsewhere experienced large initial spikes but were able to mostly contain the virus and substantially brought down new infections. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/new-york-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">New York</a> is a good example of this.</li><li>Places still in the first wave: Several states in the South and West – see <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/texas-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Texas</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/california-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">California</a> – had some cases early on, but are now seeing massive surges with no sign of slowing down.</li><li>Places in between: Many states were hit early in the first wave, managed to slow it down, but are either at a plateau – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/north-dakota-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">North Dakota</a> – or are now seeing steep increases – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/oklahoma-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Oklahoma</a>.</li><li>Places experiencing local second waves: Looking only at a state level, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/hawaii-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Hawaii</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/montana-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Montana</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/alaska-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Alaska</a> could be said to be experiencing second waves. Each state experienced relatively small initial outbreaks and was able to reduce spread to single digits of daily new confirmed cases, but are now all seeing spikes again.</li></ol><p>The trends aren't surprising based on how states have been dealing with reopening. The virus will go wherever there are susceptible people and until the U.S. stops community spread across the entire country, the first wave isn't over.</p>
What Could a Second Wave Look Like?<p>It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.</p><p>The <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F592454" target="_blank">1918 flu pandemic</a> was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm" target="_blank">more than 500 million people were infected</a> worldwide and upwards of <a href="https://theconversation.com/compare-the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-and-covid-19-with-caution-the-past-is-not-a-prediction-138895" target="_blank">50 million died</a> over the course of three waves.</p><p>It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.</p><p>Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351" target="_blank">genetically stable</a> than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.</p><p>Until a <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-needs-to-go-right-to-get-a-coronavirus-vaccine-in-12-18-months-136816" target="_blank">vaccine or effective treatment is developed</a>, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-simple-model-shows-the-importance-of-wearing-masks-and-social-distancing-140423" target="_blank">social distancing,</a> <a href="https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507" target="_blank">universal mask wearing</a>, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.</p>
- U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Now No. 1 in World - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Pass 100,000 - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. Coronavirus Cases Top 2 Million as All 50 States Start ... ›
By Eoin Higgins
Climate advocates pointed to news Sunday that fracking giant Chesapeake Energy was filing for bankruptcy as further evidence that the fossil fuel industry's collapse is being hastened by the coronavirus pandemic and called for the government to stop propping up businesses in the field.
- Fracking Industry's Propaganda Hypes Shale Gas Production and ... ›
- Another Blow to the Fracking Industry—Chesapeake Energy's ... ›
- Former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon Is Back to ... ›
By Neil King and Gabriel Borrud
Human beings all over the world agreed to strict limitations to their rights when governments made the decision to enter lockdown during the COVID-19 crisis. Many have done it willingly on behalf of the collective. So why can't this same attitude be seen when tackling climate change?
- The Crunch Question on Climate: How Can I Help? - EcoWatch ›
- The Power of Collective Action Gangnam Style - EcoWatch ›
- Scientist Finds Remarkable Way to Connect People Emotionally ... ›