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    Bush lashes out at Everglades critics

    The governor supports changes to a cleanup bill; environmentalists want to get the public involved.

    By JULIE HAUSERMAN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 18, 2003


    TARPON SPRINGS -- Gov. Jeb Bush blasted environmentalists Thursday as they turned up the political heat on him for supporting an Everglades cleanup bill that the sugar industry is pushing through the state Legislature.

    "Environmental politics is like, so politically correct, so focused on perception rather than reality, that I'm going to do what's right," Bush said when asked about the bill during a visit to the Tarpon Springs campus of St. Petersburg College. "If you sense a degree of irritation in my voice, it's probably an accurate sense.

    "In all honesty, I think we're working hard to create a continued progress in the Everglades. I'm not going to be so worried about political correctness. I've learned that that's short-lived."

    Bush has called cleanup of the polluted Everglades one of his top priorities, and environmentalists have supported him for it.

    But starting Saturday, environmentalists will blanket Florida with TV ads urging people to call Bush to tell him to stop the bill that changes Florida's Everglades Forever Act.

    The hard-hitting ads talk about the influence of "Big Sugar" and show envelopes of cash being slipped into suit coat pockets. The Everglades Trust is paying for them.

    A growing list of Washington lawmakers -- Democrat and Republican -- have come out publicly to say the bill is bad news and threatens the flow of federal dollars for Everglades cleanup.

    U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton also expressed concerns about it this week. U.S. and Florida taxpayers are splitting the $8.4-billion cleanup tab, so cooperation with Washington is crucial.

    Thursday, Florida U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Bob Graham wrote a letter to Bush warning that members of a congressional budget committee have threatened to cut off money for Everglades restoration if Florida keeps making changes to the cleanup law.

    On the campaign trail for his run for president, Graham said there's concern in Congress that the bill "may represent a retreat from the state's Everglades restoration."

    Bush maintained Thursday that the bill won't harm the federal-state partnership. He said the bill will "enhance" the Everglades Forever Act, "and we'll do so without jeopardizing funding from our federal partners."

    Critics say the bill delays a key Everglades cleanup deadline by 20 years. Bush denied that.

    With the legislative session ending in two weeks and the bill moving rapidly, environmentalists are taking their case to the airwaves.

    "Big Sugar has hired 46 lobbyists, more than one for each senator," says one of the ads. "Why would Big Sugar contribute nearly a million dollars to Florida lawmakers?" says another. "Why? Because that's what it takes to pass a law allowing Big Sugar to pollute the Everglades -- and force Florida taxpayers to pay for the cleanup . . . How can we stop it? The answer is Jeb Bush. Governor Bush said restoring the Everglades is one of his top priorities."

    Jim Krog, a lobbyist for the Flo-Sun sugar company, said the ads are "disheartening."

    "This industry has done more for the restoration of the Everglades than anyone in the state, anyone in the country, anyone in the world," Krog said. "It's disheartening that you take an industry that works 10 years on trying to solve a problem . . . that it always deteriorates to this."

    U.S. Sugar Corp. issued a statement saying the environmentalists were "Crying wolf! Again."

    The Everglades Trust spent about $1-million to run the ads, said Nat Reed of Jupiter Island, a former environmental adviser to six Florida governors and to President Richard Nixon.

    "The governor has been badly briefed and badly misled, and I think he needs to listen very carefully to the Congress," Reed said at a Tallahassee press conference.

    -- Times staff writer Adrienne Samuels contributed to this report.

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