Outlook on Florida Environmental Legislation
The Florida Legislature began its annual 60-day Regular Session on March 7. Here are some of the environmental issues that are expected to receive consideration this year:
Ownership of submerged lands in the state of Florida has been a hot topic for a number of years. Two bills have been filed this year (HB 1807 and SB 1824) that seek to resolve some of the contentious issues. The bills would grant title to certain submerged lands to owners that could prove they have been paying taxes on those lands. However, the owners could not deny the public access to the water for boating, swimming and fishing. The bills are opposed by the Florida Attorney General and the environmental community.
Representative Alexander, the Chairman of the House Water and Resource Management Committee, has proposed a 15-year pilot project for the Southern Water Use Caution Area that would allow permit holders, under certain circumstances, to sell water allocations. The idea of creating a water market would be to provide incentives for existing permittees to reduce existing uses.
Transfer of Water Rights
The counterpoint to Representative Alexander's proposal is a bill by Senator Campbell that would restrict the sale or transfer of water rights. SB 1022 provides that ownership rights to water may not be conveyed to a private person. Further, a permittee is not to sell or transfer rights it has under a consumptive use permit. Any attempt at sale or transfer will be considered a new use for which a new use permit would be required. This would include circumstances under which property is sold and the consumptive use permit is to be transferred.
Senator Latvala has filed SB 1406 providing additional incentives for development of brownfields. Significantly, the bill has been amended to include an authorization for the DEP to apply risk-based cleanup criteria to any contaminated sites in the state. This authority was previously limited to specified sites.
Under current law, DEP generally may not assess administrative fines. Rather, the agency must ask the court to impose any penalties. Legislation has been filed that would change this and grant to DEP the authority to assess administrative fines up to $50,000.
A bill has been filed that would require the Center for Environmental Equity and Justice to develop an interagency environmental justice strategy to address any disproportionate human health or environmental effects of various activities, including permitting decisions, on minority and low-income populations in the state and a methodology for considering environmental justice impacts on agency permitting and cleanup decisions.
Some House members are very interested in making significant changes to Florida's growth management laws. Others, including a number of Senators, favor legislation that would create a study commission to prepare recommendations for the 2001 session.