US House passes Water Resources Development Act; makes changes to SWFL water management, Lake O

US_Capitol_west_side 3-2-19

July 31, 2020 by David Silverberg

On Wednesday, July 29, the US House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), House Resolution 7575, by a voice vote.

A version of the bill having already been passed by the Senate, the bill now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature into law. Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) was a co-sponsor of the original bill.

The massive bill, which authorizes all water-related projects in the United States, has several sections directly related to Southwest Florida. (For earlier coverage of WRDA, see: “We tested SWFL candidates on their knowledge of a vital congressional issue. Here are the results.”)

In summary, the bill makes reforms to address problems raised by harmful algal blooms of the sort that plagued the area in 2018. At the time there were gaps in understanding and coordination among federal and state agencies; this bill addresses those.

It also tries to minimize the water releases from Lake Okeechobee (Lake O) that have been widely blamed for cyanobacteria blooms.

Lastly, it tries to speed work on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

In particular:

  • The bill orders a study of harmful algal blooms, which have plagued Southwest Florida and were particularly severe in 2018. This will be a demonstration program to study their causes, detection, treatment and prevention. Lake Okeechobee will be a particular focus along with the Great Lakes, New Jersey, Louisiana and California.
  • Projects related to CERP have been dragging on for many years. The bill orders their expedited completion, in particular feasibility studies for the C-43 reservoir. If the Secretary of the Interior determines that a project is justified, he can proceed directly to preconstruction planning, engineering and design. In addition to CERP, the bill expedites projects in Arizona, California and another South Florida project, the C-111 canal, in southern Dade County. It also makes changes to earlier WRDAs to authorize a proposed reservoir south of the Everglades Agricultural Area.
  • When it comes to regulating water releases from Lake Okeechobee, the federal government will finally take into account levels of cyanobacteria and “evaluate the implications” of stopping the releases and “seek to minimize unnecessary releases to coastal estuaries”—which in the case of Southwest Florida means the Caloosahatchee River. The Department of Interior will also coordinate the efforts of federal and state agencies responsible for “monitoring, forecasting, and notification of cyanobacteria levels in Lake Okeechobee.”
  • In addition to minimizing potentially algae-blooming water releases, the Secretary of the Interior is now required to issue a monthly public report about the volumes and statistics of Lake O water releases.

Despite its other changes, the bill is careful to ensure that nothing changes from the current situation around the lake—known as the “savings clause.” As the bill puts it: “nothing shall be construed to authorize any new purpose for the management of Lake Okeechobee or authorize the Secretary to affect any existing authorized purpose, including flood protection and management of Lake Okeechobee to provide water supply for all authorized users.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

US House passes major enviro bill benefiting SWFL; Florida senators, representatives split

07-24-20 Everglades Nat Pk SrThe Everglades.       (Photo: National Park Service)

July 24, 2020 by David Silverberg.

On Wednesday, July 22, the US House of Representatives passed the Great American Outdoors Act (HR 1957) by a vote of 310 to 107.

The bill, originally introduced by the late Rep. John Lewis (D-5-Ga.), establishes a National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to fund deferred maintenance on public lands like national parks, reserves and refuges and makes ongoing funding permanent and reliable.

Major Southwest Florida national parks and tourist destinations like Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve will benefit from the infusion of funds for upgrades, improvements and repairs.

The money will come from half the revenue the government receives from energy development including both fossil fuel and renewable energy sources. It will fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the money supporting conservation efforts, permanently providing it with $900 million per year. A second part of the legislation provides $1.9 billion every year for five years for public lands maintenance.

Having now passed both the House and Senate, it is likely to be signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Florida representatives and senators split on the legislation.

The Senate version of the bill passed on June 17 by a vote of 73 to 25. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) voted for it, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) voted against it.

Among Southwest Florida’s representatives, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) voted for it, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted against it and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) was absent.

All Florida Democrats voted for the bill, which reconciled both an earlier House version and the Senate version. In addition to Diaz-Balart, four Florida Republicans broke party ranks to approve it: Reps. Gus Bilirakis (12) Vern Buchanan (16), Brian Mast (18) and John Rutherford (4).

Rooney’s absence was ironic since he was a co-sponsor of the original legislation and actively promoted it.

“Ensuring that the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) receives appropriate and consistent funding is critical for the preservation of our nation’s parks and public lands,” he stated when the bill passed. “That is why I am a proud co-sponsor of the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act. This landmark legislation will establish the National Parks and Public Land Restoration Fund to make funding for the LWCF permanent and mandatory.

“Southwest Florida is home to some of the most beautiful and treasured natural landscapes. Throughout my time in Congress, I have worked to make certain that SWFL is given the resources needed to maintain its environmental quality. The Great American Outdoors Act is an extended effort to do just that.”

There had been strong support for the legislation by conservation and environmental groups.

The Nature Conservancy, a global non-profit environmental organization based in Arlington, Va., also praised the bill’s passage.

“At a time when our country needs to create jobs and rebuild local economies while also protecting nature and places where everyone can recreate outdoors, the Great American Outdoors Act answers the call on all fronts,” stated Jennifer Morris, chief executive office of The Nature Conservancy.

Environment Florida, a non-profit conservation organization, applauded the passage.

“With today’s passage of this bill, we’re one step away from putting a lock and key on funding that has always been intended for conservation projects — yet consistently diverted to other purposes,” stated Wendy Wendlandt, acting president of a national network of environmental groups that includes Environment Florida. “We’re closer to adopting a new consciousness for today’s world, that our lives are made richer if surrounded by more nature, rather than more extracted resources. We applaud the House’s bipartisan passage of the Great American Outdoors Act and ask that President Trump sign this important bill.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

We tested SWFL candidates on their knowledge of a vital congressional issue. Here are the results.

09-27-18 Big CypressBig Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades.    (Photo: National Park Service)

July 10, 2020 by David Silverberg

The campaign season is kicking into high gear. If you’re in the Fort Myers-Naples TV market and watch the local news in the 5:00 to 6:30 pm hour, you’re seeing a seemingly endless stream of political campaign ads marching across your screen.

However, television ads are, of course, just snippets, intended to give a fleeting impression of a candidate.

These candidates—and the others who can’t afford air time—are vying to represent Southwest Florida in the Congress of the United States.

But do they have any grasp of the real work of Congress? Do they understand the nitty-gritty of government operations? Have they paid any attention at all to the kind of legislation that really affects Southwest Florida and Floridians? Do they have basic local knowledge? Are they doing any real policy homework? Do they know what a congressional representative actually does? Do they care about impacting peoples’ lives in Southwest Florida?

The Paradise Progressive decided to ask all congressional candidates one question about one issue that’s fundamental to Southwest Florida that involves Congress, the federal government and legislation to see how they responded.

The question, issued on Monday, July 6, was: “As a member of Congress, what specific changes would you make to WRDA to benefit Southwest Florida and the 19th Congressional District?”

Would anyone even google “WRDA” to see what the acronym means?

The most important legislation you’ve never heard of

WRDA: it’s usually pronounced “word-DA” and it actually stands for the Water Resources Development Act.

It’s hardly ever mentioned in Southwest Florida, in either conversation or the media, or especially on the campaign trail. And yet, it has an enormous impact on the region and its livability.

That’s because WRDA is the broad, all-encompassing congressional act governing all water projects and management in the United States. It’s a gigantic piece of legislation that gives the government authority to dredge canals, build dams, raise levees, control floods, maintain harbors, alter rivers, manage water releases and do the million and more things that require water to serve people, make land more productive and keep pollution at bay.

In Southwest Florida WRDA impacts the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, the Herbert Hoover Dike, the Caloosahatchee River and all the other streams, creeks and lakes that manage and provide the life-sustaining liquid making human habitation here possible.

When it comes to Congress, it’s a piece of legislation where an individual representative can have a real impact and where he or she can make a real difference. Candidates can fulminate on all the grand themes they like, but once they’re in office and have to really deal with the nuts and bolts of governing, getting and spending federal money and representing their district, WRDA has to be a priority.

Because it covers so many activities, WRDA must be constantly reauthorized to keep up with new needs and changes. The bill’s preamble calls for a new WRDA reauthorization every two years and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida agrees, saying it’s needed “to provide consistent authorization of Everglades projects.” That’s a position echoed by the Florida Association of Counties.

A 2020 WRDA is in the congressional works and it may be presented to the full House by the end of July. Usually, it’s a bipartisan, politically neutral bill, since it deals with facts on the ground rather than ideology or partisanship.

As a demonstration of just how important it really is, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-4-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chose to keep it out of the $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the House on July 1. That bill was treated as partisan by Republicans and has gone to the Senate where it is likely to die. By contrast, a separate WRDA bill is getting Republican buy-in and the Senate has already passed its own version. Unless President Trump is completely bonkers by the time it reaches his desk before the end of the year, he’s likely to sign it.

For Southwest Florida, the 2020 WRDA will authorize the funding for restoring the Everglades through the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). It will also regulate discharges from Lake Okeechobee, making harmful algal blooms less likely—or more so.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), the retiring representative, was very active on WRDA to protect Everglades restoration funding and posted A history of Southwest Florida, WRDA and the Everglades on his website.

Various water-related local activist groups have already weighed in on the 2020 WRDA, in addition to the Conservancy.

“Lots of pieces to WRDA,” observed John Cassani, director of Calusa Waterkeeper, a non-profit, water purity advocacy group, to The Paradise Progressive. “Definitely needed but would not support the ‘savings clause’ issue if it gets into the legislation.” The “savings clause” essentially states that the legal state of existing water sources can’t be altered until new sources are found. In essence it protects the status quo around Lake O. It has long been the subject of controversy and debate. (For the full, official document involving the Savings Clause, see Annex B: Analyses Required by WRDA 2000 and Florida State Law.)

In Congress, on April 30, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-20-Fla.) circulated a letter advocating that the next WRDA treat all CERP sub-projects as “ongoing” projects—that way there wouldn’t have to be separate congressional authorizations for each project. It would speed and streamline Everglades restoration. In a show of bipartisan agreement, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-23-Fla.) signed on.

WRDA is a vast and sprawling piece of legislation. It’s the kind of thing that a member of Congress, especially from Southwest Florida, has to keep an eye on. It’s not the kind of thing that lends itself to hoopla or slogans. It’s the real work of Congress and it’s where congressional representation really counts.

So how did our candidates do?

The candidates respond

Of the dozen candidate campaigns running for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, four responded to the WRDA question. Their answers are presented here in full and unedited.

The Democrats

Both local Democrats running for Congress responded to the question. In alphabetical order:

Cindy Banyai:

04-07-20 Cindy Banyai“The Everglades are one of the most important aspects of both our water and our community here in Southwest Florida.  While I’m glad that the federal government has granted money to restore the Everglades and repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, I plan on ensuring this is a top priority of the government after I am elected to Congress.  Francis Rooney pushed the estimated completion time back to 2022 because he knew he was not going to run again.  Additionally, we need to continue to improve the process, allowing for more local input and control over releases, and speed of review of the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS). It is necessary to be able to adjust the LORS so more water can be provided during the winter months, when our estuaries need it, and less flows in the summer months where there can be damage to our ecosystem. As the champion of the people of Southwest Florida I’m going to fight to ensure our water and our community are protected and that the federal government upholds their plans to restore the Everglades.”

David Holden:

04-16-20 David Holden cropped“I strongly support authorization of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA). The WRDA authorizes important water resource studies and provides critical federal funding that Southwest Florida needs to adequately protect its’ vital natural resources. It is my great desire that the WRDA is authorized soon and that our federal government expends all resources available to combat the climate change crisis we face today.”

 

The Republicans

Two Republicans responded.

Darren Aquino:

04-12-20 Darren Aquino“The Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) of 2018 clearly stated that the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Storage Reservoir is part of the Central Everglades PLanning Project.  However, the Army Corps of Engineers’ bureaucracy still designated this as a ‘new start,’ thus delaying the needed project that would have otherwise been completed in time and under budget.  As your congressman, I will help diminish this act by the Army Corps. Furthemore, as your congressman, I will continue to support additional WRDAs that will provide needed insight and projects to aid water management and precision water ecosystems in Southwest Florida. We must stop the ‘Red tide’ and do everything in our power to do so. Republicans are the only ones who protect the environment. If you take a look at liberal communist China, they are destroying the environment every day. The Democrats and the Communists want to ruin God’s creations. It’s why they haven’t done anything when it comes to the environment in well over 40 years, and the first environmental efforts were done by Republicans. The Democrats and communists view environmental policy as punishing businesses and blue collar Americans, while ignoring the root of the cause. They have a deep hatred for America and our institutions.”

Casey Askar:

03-27-20 Casey Askar

“Sustained funding. Once a project is authorized, there must be sustained funding for completing that project. Time is money, and when it comes to CERP, the longer it takes to build these projects, the more it costs—both in terms of money and the harm that results from these projects not being online. The State of Florida has a track record of building projects faster and cheaper than the federal government. CERP is a 50/50 partnership between the state and federal governments. If the state can do it faster and cheaper, Congress should be passing those dollars onto the state to carry out the federal responsibility and stretch federal taxpayer dollars farther than they are going now. And they could do that by a block grant process.”

Of the other candidates:

  • State Rep. Byron Donalds (R-80-Immokalee): No response
  • State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral): No response
  • Dr. William Figlesthaler, Republican: No response
  • Mayor Randy Henderson, Republican: No response
  • Daniel Kowal, Republican: No available e-mail address
  • Christy McLaughlin, Republican: No response
  • Dan Severson, Republican: No response
  • Antonio Dumornay, Independent: No available e-mail address

Conclusion: Doing the homework

Election campaigns have always had a strong element of the trivial: There are people who make up their minds on a candidate based on his five o’clock shadow—or lack of it; whether he can shoot a gun or not; whether or not she wears a pantsuit or the cut of her hair.

But America has seen how damaging making judgments on these superficialities can be. Electing someone to office without preparation, or background or, for that matter, interest in government and its operations, can literally result in death, as we’re seeing with the coronavirus pandemic response.

Sending a representative to Congress to work on behalf of this region should be based on the person’s knowledge of government, the issues and their proposed solutions and ideas. Candidates should do their homework before they run and be familiar with their district’s vital interests. In the case of Southwest Florida, that means balancing the needs of human habitation with preservation of the natural environment.

That’s the ideal, anyway. In the race for 19th Congressional District seat, it’s now clear that some candidates—or their campaign staffs—are willing to devote some time and attention to what they will actually be doing if they get to Washington.

Or, at the very least, they’re reading and answering their e-mails.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

SWFL environment: On budgets and birds, Trump giveth and taketh away

02-07-20 Everglades birdsA flock of ibis on the wing.

Feb. 7, 2020 by David Silverberg

When it comes to Southwest Florida’s natural environment, President Donald Trump’s administration is both giving and taking away.

The giving consists of a reported $250 million request for next fiscal year’s federal budget.

The official request is scheduled to be revealed on Monday, Feb. 10 with the rest of the federal budget. The Everglades funding was widely reported in Florida media, attributed to a “senior administration official.”

The taking consists of a proposed rule that reinterprets the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to decriminalize the unintentional killing or injuring of migratory birds—a major consideration for the wildlife that inhabits Southwest Florida and the Everglades.

The money

The report of the $250 million request comes in advance of release of the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which is scheduled to be released Monday, Feb. 10.

If the $250 million is in fact requested as reported, it would provide a stark contrast with last year when Trump requested only $63 million of the $200 million the federal government had promised to provide Florida for Everglades restoration.

The inadequate $63 million request so alarmed Florida’s senators and representatives that on March 14, 2019 Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Rep. Brian Mast (R-18-Fla.) joined Florida’s Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to issue a letter to Trump calling for full funding. It was the third time since Trump took office that he had failed to meet federal funding obligations.

Trump took a trip to Lake Okeechobee on March 29, were he was lobbied by Florida officials and made vague promises to provide more money. Following the lawmakers’ complaints Florida did receive $200 million in the 2020 fiscal year budget.

This year is an election year and Florida is crucial to Trump’s re-election chances. Additionally, he is now officially a Florida resident.

When he announced his retirement after stating that he was open to hearing impeachment evidence against the president, Rooney stated that he had done what he had set out to do in Congress by getting the $200 million. Everglades restoration was a Rooney priority since his election in 2016.

The Paradise Progressive has requested comment from Rooney’s office regarding the budget request.

The birds

On Jan. 30 the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that it was proposing a new rule that decriminalized unintentional injuring or killing of migratory birds under the MBTA.

While the rule will not directly affect the large migratory bird populations of Southwest Florida, it does peel back one more layer of regulatory protection for them.

In the previous administration, the MBTA was interpreted as covering accidental killing and injury of migratory birds, making such injuries and deaths a criminal act.

While prosecutions were few, the rule provided regulators and prosecutors with an additional tool to prevent harm to migratory birds. For example, when birds were killed due to the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, BP was charged with criminal acts in addition to civil damages, providing further inducement for the company to settle with the government.

The rule has long been appealed by industry, which argues that it should not be held criminally responsible for accidental bird killings in the course of normal operations.

“With five federal circuit courts of appeals divided on this question, it is important to bring regulatory certainty to the public by clarifying that the criminal scope of the MBTA only reaches to conduct intentionally injuring birds,” Rob Wallace, assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks stated. “That said, we will continue to work collaboratively with states, cities, conservation groups, industries, trade associations and citizens to ensure that best practices are followed to minimize unintended harm to birds and their habitats.”

The rule is in the proposal stage and members of the public have until March 19 to comment on it.

According to the FWS statement, comments for or against the rule can be made by going to:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2018-0090.
  • U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-HQ-MB-2018-0090; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; MS: JAO/1N; 5275 Leesburg Pike; Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.

We will not accept email or faxes. We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information you provide.

 Interested readers can follow the links to view the proposed rule and notice of intent.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

FGCU wetlands professor blasts Trump water rules, calls for citizen action

09-27-18 Big CypressA view of the Everglades.                             (Photo: Big Cypress National Preserve)

Jan. 24, 2020 by David Silverberg

President Donald Trump’s rollback of protections for streams and wetlands is “the darkest day for Federal protection of wetlands since it first started 45 years ago,” according to Prof. Bill Mitsch, a globally recognized wetlands expert and eminent scholar and director of the Everglades Wetland Research Park at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU).

“This is a horrible setback for wetland protection in the USA,” he wrote in a statement posted on LinkedIn.

IMG_5022
Prof. Bill Mitsch, 2019

“I have followed this tug of war for all these years between those who appreciate the many ecosystem services that wetlands provide, including cleaning our waters, sequestering and permanently storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and providing the best habitat for hundreds of threatened and endangered species, and the industrial-scale agricultural, energy, and real estate giants” he wrote. “It has always been a David vs. Goliath [battle].”

Mitsch was writing after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday, Jan. 23, finalized a rule that removed protections for many of the nation’s streams, rivers, wetlands and groundwater.

The rule was part of the “Waters of the United States” rule put in place in 2015 under the administration of President Barack Obama that protected a variety of streams, rivers and wetlands from pollution, in particular those that ran intermittently or underground and served as sources for larger bodies of water.

The Trump rule, called the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” eliminates many of the previous protections, meaning that developers and industries no longer have to get permits under the Clean Water Act before dumping waste and pollutants like pesticides and fertilizers into many waterways. However, it continues regulation of larger, navigable bodies of water.

“I terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all: the last administration’s disastrous Waters of the United States rule,” Trump boasted on Sunday at the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation in Austin, Texas. “That was a rule that basically took your property away from you.”

In Southwest Florida, with the Everglades and badly polluted rivers like the Caloosahatchee and the St. Lucie rivers flowing out of Lake Okeechobee, the rollback of protections could have a significant impact, especially on future algae blooms.

In response to a question from WINK-TV on the impact of the new rules on Southwest Florida, an EPA spokesperson stated:

“The waterbodies mentioned in your question – the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee River, and Estero Bay – are jurisdictional under the previous regulations and will remain jurisdictional under the new rule. Under the new rule, perennial and intermittent tributaries to these waterbodies would be regulated as ‘waters of the United States.’ In addition, those wetlands that are adjacent (as defined in the new rule) to these waterbodies and their perennial and intermittent tributaries would be ‘waters of the United States’ under the new rule.”

“Jurisdictional” waters are those still regulated under the Clean Water Act of 1972.

As the EPA explained in its statement:

“In the Clean Water Act, Congress explicitly directed the EPA and the Army Corps to protect ‘navigable waters.’ The Navigable Waters Protection Rule regulates these waters and the core tributary systems that provide perennial or intermittent flow into them. The Navigable Waters Protection Rule establishes four clear categories of waters are federally regulated:

  • The territorial seas and traditional navigable waters,
  • Perennial and intermittent tributaries to those waters,
  • Certain lakes, ponds, and impoundments, and
  • Wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters.”

However, it follows from the Trump rule that if waterways are not navigable or do not flow into a protected body of water or if wetlands are not immediately adjacent to jurisdictional waters, they’re no longer protected and can be subject to unregulated pollution.

Comment from Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), who has made water purity a centerpiece of his congressional tenure, was unavailable as of this writing. Similarly, there was no comment from Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) who has made water quality a priority of his administration. Nor was there any comment on the state water website, Protecting Florida Together.

Mitsch, who has spent his entire career studying wetlands and who has proposed a natural cleaning method he calls “wetlaculture” to clean polluted wetlands like the Everglades, put out a call for action in the wake of the Trump regulatory rollback.

“I am calling for those of us who appreciate some of the good things that nature has provided for us, whether you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent, to speak out about the rape of our landscape that will surely follow this action. I especially call upon those who are in the business world to help establish environmental bonds, local and state ordinances, and novel approaches to save our remaining wetlands. I also call upon the children and young adults, who are much more knowledgeable about wetlands than their parents and grandparents, to join the ‘silent majority’ who appreciate the role of wetlands to move forward, with or without our Federal government, to save our planet.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Water, wetlands and oil: The Rooney Roundup and Mario Monitor, enviro edition

05-10-19 Rooney Roundtable, facing the press 2 croppedRep. Francis Rooney faces the media on May 10 at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida days after his closed-door meeting on harmful algal blooms.                                   (Photo by the author)

524 days (1 year, 5 months and 9 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has faced constituents in an open, public town hall forum.

July 31, 2019 by David Silverberg

In Southwest Florida the three biggest environmental issues are water, wetlands and oil. Address those and you’re basically covering your environmental bases.

Certainly Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), whose district covers the coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island, was active on this front in the past three months as he aggressively positioned himself as a “green” Republican. He has managed to raise his lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters, the best political barometer of environmental sensitivity, from zero percent at the start of 2018 to 10 percent today.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) has never made much of an effort on the environment even though his district covers much of the Everglades. He has an 11 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters and as long as he keeps his Cuban-American constituency happy in Hialeah, which he does with regular fulminations against the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes, he doesn’t need to make the effort.

But the 19th Congressional District is extremely environmentally sensitive, as Rooney learned to his pain last year.

Water

Water quality is Rooney’s number one issue, according to his website. But while he campaigned on promoting pure water in his first race in 2016, he was caught completely flatfooted last year when both red tide bloomed in the Gulf of Mexico and blue-green algae filled the canals of Cape Coral and the Caloosahatchee River.

For weeks over the summer, as the blooms gathered strength, nothing was heard from Rooney. It was a serious lapse that his Democratic opponent, David Holden, tried to exploit in the general election. (Full disclosure: this author helped.)

Rooney won his race in the 2018 midterm election, but he’d received a wake-up call. In 2019 he began working to make up this deficit.

On Jan. 10, he introduced the Protecting Local Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act (House Resolution (HR) 414). This consisted of a three-word amendment to the Stafford Act (The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act), which provides the legal framework for disaster response. The bill would add “or algal blooms” as major disasters subject to federal action. The bill was cosponsored by eight Republicans and six Democrats, some members signing on as late as June.

However, after being referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s emergency management subcommittee in February, the bill hasn’t made any further progress in the House.

Rooney had some success in 2018 bringing together federal officials to see local conditions and in May 2019 he tried again. This was to be a grand gathering of Southwest Florida officials like mayors and experts from relevant federal agencies to coordinate their responses to “harmful algal blooms,” as they are now known, or HABs. Rooney’s team over-hyped the gathering but then had to suddenly announce that it was closed to the press and public, causing outrage and charges that the meeting violated Florida’s Sunshine Law.

According to Rooney, officials of one federal agency refused to attend the meeting if it was public and that agency was widely believed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It was a measure of the Trump administration’s descent into secrecy that this once most public of agencies, whose very mission depends on its relationship with the press and public, has now drawn a curtain over its activities.

If it was, indeed, the CDC that insisted on secrecy, it was an instance of the administration screwing Rooney—and royally. To ensure the meeting proceeded with CDC participation, he bore the brunt of the criticism for closing the meeting, which he did not in fact have the authority to do and which, argued the lawyer for WINK-TV, violated Florida’s Sunshine Law.

But adhering to the spirit and letter of the Florida Sunshine Law has become a lower and lower priority in the great state of Florida. Indeed, the meeting was blessed by the presence of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

Rooney tried to make up for the public and media outrage with a subsequent meeting on May 10 that served as a public airing of grievances for conservation groups and environmental activists. They were able to vent and it brought him some favorable press but he was the only elected official present and the auditorium at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida was not exactly “the room where it happened,” as it’s put in the musical Hamilton. There were no elected executives or government experts present and no decisions were made. Still, Rooney had thrown a sop to the press and public.

But whatever good the meeting had done now faced a new threat—the possibility of another government shutdown because of conflict over reaching a budget agreement or raising the federal debt ceiling. In the January 2019 government shutdown essential government operations had been affected; in particular, national weather forecasting, so essential to Southwest Florida, was cut back.

This particularly affected the response to HABs; the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a key player in monitoring their development. A NOAA expert was at the May 7 closed-door meeting and NOAA weather predictions are essential to warning of HABs or red tide so that local officials can prepare. If the government shuts down and NOAA stops working, Southwest Florida will, literally, be at the mercy of the tides.

Accordingly, on June 14 Rooney introduced the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act (HR 3297), which would exempt NOAA forecasting from any government shutdown. The bill has, as of July 9, nine cosponsors, six Democrats and three Republicans. Ironically, one of the first cosponsors was Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.), a progressive member of the “The Squad” and the target of President Donald Trump’s twitter rage.

The legislation is even more ironic in that Rooney voted repeatedly against bills in January to end the government shutdown and then voted again against a two-year budget deal negotiated between President Trump and House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), which will bring stability to the budget and debt ceiling processes. In effect, he was saying it was OK to shut down the government and keep it shut down, just not the agency essential to his district’s health and well-being that he cared about.

All that said, the bill was referred to the House Science, Space, and Technology; Natural Resources Committee’s water subcommittee, where it remains.

Wetlands

The Everglades are the wetlands that dominate Southwest Florida’s existence and restoring and preserving them is part of a half-century continuum of environmentalist activism. However, politically, the nuts and bolts of Everglades restoration come to a matter of dollars and cents—in particular federal versus state dollars and cents.

The US federal government is pledged to provide $200 million per year for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) whose centerpiece is the creation of reservoirs that will clean water from Lake Okeechobee before it’s allowed to flow out the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. This is intended to equally match state funds for CERP.

Rooney has been an advocate for the Everglades since his 2016 run and has consistently pursued measures to complete or advance their restoration.

This year in his Fiscal Year 2020 budget, President Trump allocated only $63 million for CERP, setting off howls of protest among Florida lawmakers. Florida’s two senators, along with Rooney and Rep. Brian Mast (R-18-Fla.), sent a letter to Trump protesting the underfunding. Diaz-Balart, notably, did not sign on although his district covers more of the Everglades than Rooney’s.

Trump agreed to come to Florida to see and be seen on the site and on April 29 he toured Lake Okeechobee and the Hoover Dike where he was met by DeSantis and virtually the whole Republican Florida delegation including Diaz-Balart and Rooney. The latter buttonholed him and—as Rooney would put it— “carpet-bombed” him about Lake O and CERP.  Trump subsequently reversed course and asked that the full $200 million be included in the budget request.

Rooney worked hard along with other Florida members to get the money approved by Congress and succeeded. It was included as part of a two-year compromise budget deal reached by Trump and Pelosi. Trump tweeted that it should be passed: “House Republicans should support the TWO YEAR BUDGET AGREEMENT which greatly helps our Military and our Vets. I am totally with you!”

And then, when the budget deal was placed before the House of Representatives for approval, Rooney voted against it (!), denouncing it as irresponsible.

If ever there was a disconnect between the ideal and the practical, between the ideological and the pragmatic, between sight and blindness, between success and failure, this was it.

Fortunately, the House passed the budget deal. As this is written it is before the Senate and if passed there, it is expected—expected—to be signed by the President.

If it becomes law, that budget will include funding for Everglades restoration, which Rooney worked so hard to obtain and then voted against.

Oil

In a break with conservative anti-taxation orthodoxy, on January 24, Rooney signed on as a co-sponsor of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019, (HR 763), introduced by fellow Floridian Rep. Ted Deutch (D-22-Fla.). Of the original six co-sponsors, Rooney was the only Republican.

Today the bill has 58 co-sponsors—and Rooney remains the only Republican.

The original Deutch bill imposes a fee on the carbon content of fuels, including crude oil, natural gas, coal, or any other fossil fuel product that emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“Francis Rooney Endorses Large Tax Increase,” raged the website of Americans for Tax Reform, a fiercely anti-tax group led by lobbyist Grover Norquist. “Rooney claims the bill is ‘revenue neutral’ but this is not a truthful assertion. The bill is a tax increase, a very large tax increase.” The group urged readers to call Rooney and push him to take his name off the bill.

Rooney didn’t and on July 25 he both doubled down on it—and tried to make his support more palatable to conservatives.

Rooney introduced the Stemming Warming and Augmenting Pay Act (SWAP Act) (HR 4058) and he signed on as the only other co-sponsor of HR 3966, sponsored by Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3-Ill.), who also co-sponsored Rooney’s bill. Both bills would use taxes taken from fossil fuel polluters and use them to reduce Social Security taxes, increase payouts to Social Security beneficiaries and establish a trust fund that would help low-income people offset energy costs.

Rooney’s bill, however, has a big tradeoff: It would prohibit the federal government from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act for 12 years.

It’s a classic business approach to a problem, using money instead of regulation to get a desired result: if you pollute you pay—but you’re also unregulated. As its acronym implies, it’s a swap.

It joins another Rooney bill introduced on June 21, the Eliminating the RFS and Its Destructive Outcomes Act (HR 3427).

And what is RFS? RFS is the Renewable Fuel Standard, a program administered by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. It requires that transportation fuel sold in the United States have at least a component of renewable fuel. It was put in place in 2005 to reduce pollution and fight climate change.

Science versus Trumpism

The irony of Rooney’s situation is that he’s making more progress on environmental issues in a Democratic House than he did in the Republican-dominated 115th Congress.

This also applies to issues of oil exploration and exploitation. He teamed with Rep. Kathy Castor (D-14-Fla.) to oppose oil drilling in Gulf coastal waters. This was a far cry from the previous Congress when his efforts to protect the shore were repeatedly blocked by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-1-La.), the House Majority Whip, who defended the oil and gas industry and its interests.

When Rooney introduced a bill to protect coral reefs from the harmful effects of chemicals in sunscreen (HR 1834), he was joined by three Democratic co-sponsors and only a single Republican.

His position on carbon taxation and his increasing number of breaks with the Trump line are getting him fire on the right and it is possible that he will face a primary challenge—for being a RINO (Republican in Name Only) of all things.

It’s now more difficult to simply label Rooney as a blindly loyal Trumpist as he was when he first took office. Then, he shared the stage and defended his master and railed against socialism, gun control and refused to admit the reality of climate change. He readily sought the media spotlight, held wildly contentious town hall meetings and called for a political purge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation so that Trump could fill it with willing hacks and sycophants.

While Rooney’s positions on budgets, social issues, labor and immigration still mark him as a hard right-winger, it’s clear that he’s learning that if he’s going to be effective on the environment, Southwest Florida’s primary, existential issue, he has to both compromise and make common cause with the Democrats, liberals and even—gasp!—progressives he once disparaged so readily.

He also seems to have awakened to the contradictions and absurdities of Trumpism, as shown in his increasing number of votes in 2019 against the President’s line. This is a president who is indifferent toward environmental protection—when he isn’t actively hostile to it. If Southwest Florida is going to remain livable, this president has to be resisted.

Yesterday, July 30, Rooney was named a member of the House Science Committee. Science is supposed to be factual, objective and realistic. That’s tough to pursue with a president who is delusional and even deranged and who dismisses any fact he doesn’t like as “fake.”

When Congress reconvenes in September it will be interesting to see if Rooney can navigate between science and Trumpism and where his true commitment lies—and how that will play at election time.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg

The Paradise Progressive will be on hiatus in August and September.

 

Rooney votes against bill preventing oil drilling in the Everglades

Seismic trucks in Big Cypress 10-3-17Seismic trucks explore for oil deposits in Big Cypress National Preserve.    (Photo: Conservancy of Southwest Florida)

483 days (1 year, 3 months, 29 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has met constituents in an open, public town hall forum.

June 20, 2019 by David Silverberg

Yesterday, June 19, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) voted against House Resolution 2740, a spending bill that includes prohibitions against oil drilling in the Everglades.

Also opposing the bill was Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R-25-19).

The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 226 to 203. It will now be considered by the Senate.

The massive, nearly $1 trillion spending bill, which primarily funds the federal departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, has an amendment that puts a one-year moratorium on the issuance of wetland permits by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The moratorium covers the 2020 fiscal year, from Oct. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2020.

“We must do all we possibly can to protect our sensitive River of Grass,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-23-Fla.), declared in a statement following the vote. “Drilling within the Everglades Protection Area is reckless, rapacious and symbolizes just how much those who advocate for the senseless pursuit of fossil fuels will risk, even if it destroys our most treasured ecosystems. It’s absurd it even has to be said, but we must fight any drilling in the Everglades.” A company has applied to do exploratory drilling in western Broward County, part of Wasserman Schultz’s district.

“This appropriations package contains nearly $1 trillion in discretionary spending and is $176 billion above current spending caps,” complained Rooney in a statement. “Even with all this excessive spending, Democrats inserted language to explicitly prohibit any funding for securing our southern border – which seems to be the only area where they have found a passion for spending constraints. Congress has a responsibility to address its spending addiction in a serious manner, not by playing politics with border security. Equally as bad, the legislation is openly hostile to those of us that believe in the sanctity of life.”

Rooney also opposed provisions in the bill that support a woman’s right to choose. Those included providing grants to Planned Parenthood and the bill’s opposition to what is known as the “Mexico City policy,” a Trump administration policy that prohibits federal funding for humanitarian organizations that provide abortion counseling or referrals. He also objected to funding in the bill for Affordable Care Act “navigators,” people who help others apply for health insurance.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg

Follow-up: Trump at Lake O — he came, he saw, he left

03-29-19 Trump at OkeechobeeFlorida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Maj. Gen. Scott Spellmon, President Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rick Scott and Rep. Greg Steube at Lake Okeechobee on Friday.   (Photo: AP)

March 31, 2019 by David Silverberg

As predicted by The Paradise Progressive last week (Analysis: Follow the money when Trump comes to Lake O), when President Donald Trump visited Lake Okeechobee on Friday, March 29, he came, he saw, he boasted—but real results were sparse.

The Paradise Progressive: If he behaves as he has in the past, his visit will be a narcissistic exercise in self-praise…

Donald Trump: “This project was dying until we got involved,” he said. He also called Everglades restoration “very, very important. It was very dangerous and it’s a big project. But it’s a great project for Florida. And Florida is a state that’s a phenomenal state. A very important project.” Exactly in what way Everglades restoration is “very dangerous” remained unexplained.

The Paradise Progressive: …a vicious vilification of enemies real and perceived…

Donald Trump: “They set up these caravans.  In many cases, they put their worst people in the caravan; they’re not going to put their best in.  They get rid of their problems.  And they march up here, and then they’re coming into their country; we’re not letting them in our country.”

The Paradise Progressive: …and digressions into irrelevant or peripheral topics.

Donald Trump: “I want to just thank the Army Corps of Engineers, who’s been fantastic.  I said, ‘Let’s go.  We need a wall also on the border.’  You know that, right?  I’m looking at all these walls; I’m saying, ‘Southern border, too.  Don’t forget our southern border.’  And we’re right now building a lot of wall in the southern border.”

As for the topic at hand, funding Everglades restoration projects and repairs to the Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, when asked by a reporter about providing more money than currently in his proposed budget, Trump responded: “We’re going to be doing more.  We’re going to be doing more.”

To which the reporter responded, quite correctly: “When?  How much?”

To which Trump replied: “Soon. A lot. More than you would ever believe.”

This prompted the next day’s headline in the Naples Daily News: “Trump makes vague Everglades promise.”

As also predicted, Trump’s visit was an opportunity for Florida officials—all Republicans—to lobby him for more Everglades money, which they did while lavishly thanking and praising him. These officials included Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio and Reps. Greg Steube (District 17), Brian Mast (District 18), Francis Rooney (District 19) and Mario Diaz-Balart (District 25).

This was a stark contrast to the event on March 14 when Rubio, Scott, Rooney and Mast sent a formal letter to the White House complaining that the latest proposed budget underfunded Everglades projects and failed to meet previous federal promises.

At Lake Okeechobee on Friday, Rubio in particular tried to cajole Trump along. “You have a chance, Mr. President, and your administration, to go down in history as the Everglades President — as the person who helped save and restore the Everglades,” he said.

To which Trump replied: “We have a chance to go down as many things.”

Liberty lives in light
©2019 by David Silverberg

Analysis: Follow the money when Trump comes to Lake O

Trump addresses rally regarding Everglades cropped 10-23-16Donald Trump addresses a rally at the Collier County Fairgrounds on Oct. 23, 2016 after flying over the Everglades from Palm Beach.     (Photo: The author)

March 28, 2019 by David Silverberg

After underfunding Everglades restoration work in his proposed budget, President Donald Trump can be expected to distract from this shortfall by touting work on the Hoover Dike and the planned Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir when he is scheduled to visit Lake Okeechobee tomorrow, Friday, March 29.

Announcement of the visit was issued on Tuesday, March 26, by Judd Deere, deputy White House press secretary who tweeted: “@POTUS to visit Lake Okeechobee Friday to tout work on dike repair, EAA reservoir.”

Further details of the visit were not available as of this writing but it will coincide with Trump’s latest weekend vacation trip to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach.

According to a White House statement regarding the trip:

“The Herbert Hoover Dike project exemplifies the Trump Administration’s efforts to promote federal and state collaboration on infrastructure projects that benefit its surrounding communities, which is why it was prioritized in the president’s 2019 budget request.

“President Trump is visiting Florida on Friday because he understands that these investments are vital to minimizing potential impacts, including harmful algae blooms, and improving water quality during rainy seasons in the years ahead.”

In fact, far from prioritizing the Everglades projects, the trip comes after Florida Republican lawmakers banded together on March 14 to decry the administration’s underfunding them. The Hoover Dike repair and EAA projects are critical to cleaning water from Lake Okeechobee before it can flow out the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. Polluted water last year led to blue-green algae blooms in the rivers and fed red tide in the Gulf, damaging Southwest Florida’s tourist season, marine life and overall environment.

In a statement criticizing the president’s proposed budget, Florida’s senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and representatives Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Brian Mast (R-18-Fla.) announced:

“For the third year in a row, the administration’s budget request underfunds critical projects in South Florida. It is incredibly short-sighted to continue to underfund a series of projects that are absolutely necessary to ensure the environmental sustainability and economic vitality important to the State of Florida and enjoys broad bipartisan support in Congress. Failing to meet the basic federal funding commitments to restore the Everglades is contrary to the administration’s goal of improving project partnerships and cost-sharing with states. Successive Florida Governors have remained committed to this goal, pushing state funding of this 50/50 federal-state partnership to historic highs. Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers envisioned a $200 million per year federal commitment when the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was first authorized nearly 20 years ago, and it is time for the administration to meet that commitment.”

Federal funding for Everglades restoration is also critical to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plans, which call for $2.5 billion in spending on water quality projects over the next four years. As noted in the statement, $200 million each year was long pledged for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

Analysis: The visit and the visuals

Why is Donald Trump suddenly so concerned about Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades that he’s making a trip to see them for himself?

Some answers suggest themselves:

  • As the White House statement declared, the purpose of the trip is to “tout” the president. He will praise himself for Everglades support that he has not offered in this or past budgets. This is part of his post-Robert Mueller victory lap.
  • With Florida a crucial—perhaps the most crucial—state in the 2020 election, it will be an effort by Trump to keep Florida in the Republican column by creating favorable publicity and exciting supporters.
  • It is an effort to mollify the Republican lawmakers who banded together to criticize the lack of Everglades/Okeechobee funding in the budget proposal.
  • It is an effort to support Gov. Ron DeSantis, who owes his entire success to Trump and is now trying to actually address Florida’s water and environmental problems. DeSantis’ efforts, however, are undercut by Trump’s budget proposal, his insistence on money for his border wall and the potential for his national emergency and funding reprogramming to actually take money away from repairs to the Hoover Dike and other critical US Army Corps of Engineers projects in southern Florida.
  • It is an effort by the president to establish some environmental credentials, since his every action since taking office has been inimical to Florida’s environmental health.

For their part, DeSantis, Rubio, Scott, Rooney and Mast will no doubt use the occasion to lobby the president to bump up funding for the Everglades-Hoover Dike projects, either with special supplemental funding proposals or through executive actions, since he’s already put his budget proposal before Congress. Put another way, they may try to convince him not to take Everglades funding away as he pulls together money to build his border wall. As part of this, they will also no doubt extravagantly flatter him and his efforts for Florida.

Very interesting in all this is the total absence of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), whose district covers nearly all of the Everglades. Diaz-Balart did not sign on to the Rubio/Scott/Rooney/Mast statement and he has not made any statements regarding Everglades funding and the president’s budget. He will likely be present when the president tours the Hoover Dike and the Everglades but he has otherwise been a cipher on this issue.

In conventional politics, a presidential visit to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades would be the occasion for the president to announce new funding for these vital projects. That may actually happen this time. All the groundwork should be have already been layed to have the president make a grand gesture of support and call for a bipartisan effort to ensure that this work gets done.

But this is not a conventional president. If he behaves as he has in the past, his visit will be a narcissistic exercise in self-praise, a vicious vilification of enemies real and perceived and digressions into irrelevant or peripheral topics.

This is not the first time Trump has seen the Everglades or spoken regarding the infrastructure surrounding it. On Oct. 23, 2016 he visited the Collier County Fairgrounds during his presidential election campaign.

“A Trump administration will also work alongside you to restore and protect the beautiful Florida Everglades,” he pledged in a disjointed speech. “Our plan will also help you upgrade water and waste water. And you know you have a huge problem with water, so that the Florida aquifer is pure and safe from pollution, we have to do that. We will also repair Herbert Hoover Dike in Lake Okeechobee, a lake [with which] I’m very familiar…”

He also provided some rambling observations of the area.

“I just flew over,” he said following his helicopter flight from Palm Beach. “I just flew over and let me tell you, when you fly over the Everglades and you look at those gators and you look at the water moccasins, go on, you say, ‘I better have a good helicopter!’ I told the pilot, ‘You sure we’re OK? Those are big! Because that’s a rough looking site down there!’ You don’t want to be down there and I’ve heard for a long time go around the Everglades it’ll take you longer but…” he said, trailing off and addressing other, unrelated topics.

(On a side note, it is very interesting—and alarming—to listen to Trump’s 2016 speech again. It’s full of slurred words, incomplete thoughts and unconnected statements. The whole speech can be heard on C-SPAN.)

Floridians should not be distracted by the breathless local media coverage, the hoopla, the rhetoric and the ceremony of a presidential visit. The ultimate test of Trump’s latest excursion—and the success of Rubio, Scott, Rooney and Mast—will be whether the Hoover Dike repairs and the federal portion of CERP are fully funded.

All else is commentary.

Liberty lives in light
© 2019 by David Slverberg

Rooney breaks with Trump again, joins Rubio, Scott and Mast in decrying Everglades underfunding in new budget

03-14-19 os-ne-scott-rubio-trump-everglades-20190313
Florida Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott denounce Trump’s new budget for its lack of Everglades restoration funding.    (Photo: Orlando Sentinel)

March 14, 2019 by David Silverberg

In yet another break with President Donald Trump, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) has joined Florida’s Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and Rep. Brian Mast (R-18-Fla.) in criticizing anemic funding for Everglades restoration in the president’s proposed budget.

The full text of their joint statement (their capitalization):

“For the third year in a row, the administration’s budget request underfunds critical projects in South Florida. It is incredibly short-sighted to continue to underfund a series of projects that are absolutely necessary to ensure the environmental sustainability and economic vitality important to the State of Florida and enjoys broad bipartisan support in Congress. Failing to meet the basic federal funding commitments to restore the Everglades is contrary to the administration’s goal of improving project partnerships and cost-sharing with states. Successive Florida Governors have remained committed to this goal, pushing state funding of this 50/50 federal-state partnership to historic highs. Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers envisioned a $200 million per year federal commitment when the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was first authorized nearly 20 years ago, and it is time for the administration to meet that commitment.”

Neither Rooney nor his office issued a separate statement regarding his position.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), whose district includes parts of Lee and Collier counties and a substantial portion of the Everglades, did not join the other lawmakers. A request for comment has been made to his office.

(This report will be updated as new developments warrant.)

Liberty lives in light
© 2019 by David Silverberg