BRADENTON – Manasota-88, a local environmental group, says that the ability to protect Florida's environment and dwindling natural resources is in jeopardy. In its most recent newsletter, the group says that by promising economic development, developers are successfully lobbying to "streamline" the development process in such ways that will make the efforts of activists less effective.
"During the last 18 or so months, industry, developers, contractors, bankers etc. have complained vigorously that environmentalists, planners and others were using the permitting process, and other regulations to create obstacles to economic growth," Manasota-88 said in its December newsletter. "Under the guise of streamlining permitting, a push to weaken environmental and growth management legislation was passed."
The group says that the current ecosystem management program is doomed to fail, because the Department of Environmental Protection and Water Management's Districts cannot adequately utilize a “wetlands avoidance policy” in their regulatory decisions. The avoidance policy would allow the DEP to deny permits for wetland destruction when there was not an overriding, compelling public interest demonstrated, and the group says it should be the standard in environmental resource permitting.
The group also says it expects the 2013 legislative session to bring more efforts to make permitting easier in what they call "one-stop-shops" for developer permitting, and have called on Governor Scott to take a leadership role in strengthening DEP's policies.
Manasota-88 chairman Glenn Compton said that the developers' efforts are no different than during periods of economic expansion, but explained that periods of slower economic activity bring a climate in which policymakers are reluctant to vote against anything cloaked in the promise of economic growth. Compton, however, warns that such logic can be economically short-sided.
"Policy makers need to understand that Florida's economy is based largely on the health of our environment, and therefore good economic policy is closely tied to good environmental practices,” said Compton. “Florida's growth management laws have already been gutted, so any further deregulation is going to have a significant impact, because there's not much left."
Compton said that the past few legislative sessions have already created significant deregulation and that the group is expecting a full-court press by developer-friendly lawmakers in 2013 to pretty much wipe out any remaining barriers to unfettered growth.
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