By James Evans
SCCF Environmental Policy Director
Thanks to all of you who joined us last week in opposing the State of Florida’s plan to takeover wetland permitting authority from the federal government!
Because of you, more than 600 emails were submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of our campaign. We were not alone; other environmental groups, civic organizations and citizens throughout the state concerned about water quality and the future of our wetlands also stood in opposition.
In 2018, the Florida Legislature approved a plan for the state to assume Clean Water Act Section 404 wetland permitting responsibilities from the federal government. This action would transfer “dredge and fill” permitting responsibilities from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). The state argues that this action would “streamline” the permitting process by reducing review times and eliminating redundancies when reviewing projects.
Wetlands play a critical role in protecting water quality and are crucial to Florida’s economy. They are nature’s kidneys, helping to filter pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus that would otherwise enter our waterways and feed harmful algal blooms. Wetlands are essential in recharging our aquifers and supplying the state with clean drinking water. They provide critical habitat for wildlife and provide important buffers for storm surge and help moderate coastal flooding. In southwest Florida, we know that wetlands are an important component of Florida’s economy. In Lee County, outdoor wildlife-related tourism employs one out of five people and accounts for $3 billion in annual revenue.
The state’s proposal would result in less protection for Florida’s wetlands, lakes, springs, rivers, lagoons, estuaries, and waterways. Less protection would also impact critical habitat for Florida’s threatened and endangered species. The federal 404 permit review process allows for a comprehensive review by the EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. These agencies have extensive experience and expertise in threatened and endangered species listed at the federal level.
Florida has already lost more than 50% of its historical wetlands and we cannot afford to lose more. Extensive budget cuts related to the COVID-19 pandemic are projected to result in revenue losses of $5.4 billion over the next two years. The FDEP is currently reporting 279 vacant positions, which have not been filled since budget cuts between 2010-2018. Despite the lack of resources available, the state proposes to assume these new permitting responsibilities without adding additional staff. We firmly believe that Florida is not equipped to takeover federal wetland permitting responsibilities and that those duties should be left to the federal government, which has the capabilities and oversight to protect Florida’s greatest asset.
Again, we thank all of you who contacted the EPA through our campaign to protect Florida’s wetlands. Through our grassroots efforts and by standing together, we are protecting the natural systems that provide habitat for our wildlife and make Florida a world-class tourism destination.
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