Opportunists seeking to undermine the average citizens’ right to challenge environment damaging permits, tacked on an amendment to the much anticipated Everglades Bill HB813 in the final hour of the Legislature session that ended March 22, bypassing public debate and now awaiting the signature of Governor Bush.
The amendment sponsors, incoming Senate President Jim King and Rep. Gaston Cantens, R-Miami, argue, “If that person fishes in the water body to be altered by a permit… theywill have standing.” But environmental attorney, Tom Reese, who uses the specific statute under attack to enforce Florida’s environmental laws for Sierra Club and others, states “this legislation reverses 30 years of (a) citizen’s ‘standing’ right.”
Under the new guidelines only an environmental organization in existence a year with at least 25 members living in the county where the permit is being sought can challenge projects, leaving the language open to interpretation by the courts. For example, Reese notes that the bill refers to citizens. State law defines citizens as Florida residents or corporations, which could exclude corporations like the Sierra Club, incorporated in California.
Desperate, many environmentalists including, Eric Draper, Audubon’s director of conservation, lamented, “We can’t fund Everglades restoration and buy the land we need to buy without that bill”, with Audubon Vice President Charles Lee saying they’d worked to amend it to make it acceptable, since the bill doesn’t specifically prohibit a single ‘citizen’ from challenging permits.
However, a decade ago, environmentalists living in Sarasota County worried about the effect on the regional drinking water supply if the Consolidated Minerals mine went forward sucking out ‘this huge amount of groundwater,” according to David Guest, a lawyer who represented the group. They sued and blocked the mine. Although Guest doesn’t think Bush should veto the bill, because of its importance for the Everglades, even he admits “This bill would have foreclosed our participation.”
Rep. Cindy Lerner, D-Miami, one of 37 House members who voted against it reminds us all, “Public participation in the process is the cornerstone…of a democratic state.”
Sierra Club, Florida Consumer Action Network, 1000 Friends of Florida, Save the Manatee Club and 50 more groups join Attorney General Bob Butterworth in opposing the tarnished Everglades bill, and urge Governor Bush to veto the bill on his desk, call a special session of the Florida Legislature and remove the offending language.
The citizen’s of Florida deserve a bi-partisan bill eagerly awaited by all working to save what’s left of this country’s only sub-tropical kingdom and allow the state to sell bonds to pay for its share of cleansing the Everglades without any erosion of civil rights or gifts to special interests.
Article appeared on the Sierra Club Florida Chapter Website March 2002.