Obama Trip to Everglades Draws Scott Funding Rebuke

Randall Weiseman Ag "Outdoors", Florida, General, Industry News Release


news service florida logoTHE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, April 21, 2015………. Gov. Rick Scott wants the federal government to catch up on payments for the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee, as President Barack Obama heads to South Florida on Wednesday to discuss climate change.

Obama is set to appear at Everglades National Park to address the economic impact of climate change, a topic and phrase that was not mentioned in a release from the governor’s office Tuesday.

“President Obama needs to live up to his commitment on the Everglades and find a way to fund the $58 million in backlog funding Everglades National Park hasn’t received from the federal government,” Scott said in the release.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, Obama spoke of combating the threat of climate change in South Florida.

“The Everglades is one of the most special places in our country,” Obama said. “But it’s also one of the most fragile. Rising sea levels are putting a national treasure — and an economic engine for the South Florida tourism industry — at risk.”

Obama added that the impact of climate change “can no longer be denied —or ignored” because it means stronger storms, deeper droughts and longer wildfire seasons.

“The world’s top climate scientists are warning us that a changing climate already affects the air our kids breathe,” Obama said. “Last week, the surgeon general and I spoke with public experts about how climate change is already affecting patients across the country. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.”

Scott became embroiled in a controversy after the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting last month reported that former Department of Environmental Protection officials said they had been told to avoid phrases such as “global warming” and “climate change.” Scott has denied that he prohibited state agencies from mentioning “climate change” or “global warming.”

In the release Tuesday, Scott said Florida is seeking “real solutions when it comes to protecting our environment.”

“We also need the federal government to step up their commitment to Everglades restoration by immediately requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to repair the Lake Okeechobee dike,” Scott said. “As we continue to make important investments in our environment, the president’s latest budget cuts millions from the repair of the Lake Okeechobee Dike — the rehabilitation of which is critical to the protection of South Florida’s estuaries.”

Obama’s trip comes as some environmental lobbyists are turning their focus from the Legislature toward Scott in seeking funding for land acquisition and the Everglades. The governor, House and Senate have taken different stances on the issues in their budget proposals.

“Against the House and Senate budgets, Governor Scott’s budget offers a compelling framework for funding conservation needs,” Audubon Florida advised members in a weekly newsletter Saturday.

Scott proposed designating $150 million annually for land acquisition and management, $150 million a year for the Everglades for 20 years and $50 million a year to protect natural springs.

The House has proposed selling $205 million in bonds for the Florida Forever program and using about half of the money for water resources, protection of the state’s natural springs, Kissimmee River restoration, and ranchland preservation. The Senate is offering $37 million for land acquisition, which includes the Kissimmee River restoration and springs preservation.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers with the firmest grasp on the state’s budget have been cool to efforts to use a voter-backed increase in funding for conservation land acquisition and management to purchase U.S. Sugar land to serve as a reservoir and flow-way for water from Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades.

A 2010 deal requires the state to purchase 46,800 acres, of which 26,100 acres would be used for construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir, by Oct. 12. Otherwise, Florida would have to buy an additional 157,000 acres to get the land for the reservoir.

Lawmakers note that among their reasons for opposing the purchase, estimated to start at $350 million, is that U.S. Sugar is currently not a willing seller.