Everglades bill draws powerful enemies
By CRAIG PITTMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 30, 2003
TALLAHASSEE - A powerful new voice has joined the chorus of critics condemning the Legislature's plan to delay cleaning up the Everglades: U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Young joined five other Republican members of Congress - three from outside Florida - in blasting the Everglades bill Tuesday.
If the Legislature passes the plan, they said, Gov. Jeb Bush should veto it.
In a written statement, Young said the bill "will have negative impacts" and "limit the state's ability to achieve water quality that is protective of the Everglades' environment."
Despite strong objections from Congress, environmentalists and an Indian tribe that lives in the Everglades, the bill passed the state Senate on Monday and could come up in the House for final passage as early as today. But the collapse of budget negotiations between the House and Senate makes that uncertain.
Bush said Tuesday that he was "impressed" with the Senate version of the bill, which delays the cleanup from 2006 to 2013, and he expects it will pass the House. When asked about Young's opposition, Bush said simply: "I haven't seen it."
A spokesman for the sugar industry, which has hired dozens of lobbyists to push the bill through, said he had not seen it either and could not comment.
In the two-page joint announcement, Young was joined by Ralph Regula, R-Ohio; David Hobson, R-Ohio; Charles Taylor, R-N.C.; and two of his Florida colleagues who have spoken out against the bill previously, E. Clay Shaw and Porter Goss. Hobson and Taylor head appropriations subcommittees.
That list "leaves little doubt about the depth to which this issue has penetrated Congress," said Charles Lee, vice president of Audubon of Florida.
But Lee said he wonders if Bush and state lawmakers are listening. "It's like our political leaders are in a state of denial," he said.
Eight members of Congress issued a statement Tuesday supporting the bill. "We believe the Legislature is dealing responsibly with its obligation to enact strict, technically achievable and enforceable water quality rules as part of the federal state partnership on the Everglades restoration," they wrote.
The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Lincoln Diaz Balard, both Republicans from Miami; Mark Foley, R-West Palm Beach; Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo; Kendrick Meek, D-Miami; Jeff Miller, R-Pensacola; and Adam Putnam, R-Bartow.
But their collective clout doesn't come close to that of Young, Taylor and Hobson.
The congressmen said they are unsettled by the Legislature's cleanup delay because the state and federal government are partners in an $8-billion project to restore the Everglades' historic flow over the next 20 years.
The restoration plan won congressional approval two years ago, but federal funding could dry up should congressional leaders decide the state isn't holding up its end. The partnership between Congress and the state hinges on the state cleaning up phosphorus flowing into the River of Grass by December 2006, a deadline set by a court settlement and a state law called the Everglades Forever Act.
Phosphorus runs off farms and lawns and can turn the Everglades into a stagnant swamp of cattails instead of a flowing river of sawgrass. It hit a high of 300 parts per billion, but a decade of cleanup efforts by the state and the sugar industry have cut it to double digits - but still more than the 10 parts per billion scientists say the Everglades needs.
Now the Legislature wants to delay the deadline. The House wanted a 20-year delay, which the sugar industry supports. The Senate extends it to 2013.
Senators said their version would mollify federal concerns, but Young and the other congressmen said the bill remains "inadequate."
Young and his colleagues were particularly vexed that the bill leaves uncertain exactly when the Everglades will be cleaned up. And instead of setting a strict pollution limit, it requires only that the pollution be cleaned up "to the maximum extent practicable."
"This creates significant ambiguity and diminishes the standard," Young and the other congressmen wrote.
A federal judge who has overseen the cleanup for more than a decade has called an emergency hearing in Miami on Friday because, he said, he had been reading news accounts about the Legislature's actions with "considerable apprehension."
- Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.
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