On Monday, Rick Scott unveiled his plan for how he will deal with environmental issues in Florida if re-elected governor, a move that comes after months of being caught in the spotlight for his statements doubting man-made climate change and news of a secret trip with officials from Florida’s sugar industry.
Scott’s environmental plan, which outlines $1 billion in investments, focuses on improving the health of Florida’s water, pledging a $500 million investment into springs restoration and a $500 million into the development of an alternative water supply. It also includes plans for an executive order to protect water quality, but doesn’t provide details on what the order will entail, and plans for the governor to recommend $100 million for wastewater improvement in the keys, in order to better protect the coral reefs in the region. The plan, which is eight pages long, also mentions recommendations for additional funding for Florida Forever, a program that buys land in the state and turns it into protected areas, and increased fines for people and facilities who violate environmental rules.
But as the Tampa Bay Times points out, the governor’s new plan runs contradictory to the governor’s previous actions and statements on environmental issues. For instance, the paper notes, Scott vetoed the $305 million annual funding for Florida Forever in 2011. The paper also notes that Scott’s funding for springs restoration is slated to be parceled out over 10 years, which extends the plan past his second term in office, leaving it to the mercy of whatever governor might come after him. The plan also doesn’t explicitly mention the threat climate change poses to Florida, a state that’s particularly vulnerable to sea level rise.
The plan also comes after Scott received criticism for a secret hunting trip he took to U.S. Sugar Corp’s King Lodge, as well as the $534,000 in contributions he’s accepted from the sugar company. Sugar cane fields are a major source of the phosphorus pollution that flows into the Everglades, which can lead to algal blooms that reduce the oxygen levels in the wetlands. The sugar industry in Florida has been accused of skirting payments to help clean up the phosphorus pollution in the Everglades, a move that several environmental groups say has passed an increased percentage of the cost of cleaning up the wetlands to taxpayers.
“You have a major industry that is saying, ‘We are so powerful we don’t want to pay for our pollution treatment. … Taxpayers, you are going to pay for it. Tough luck,’” Albert Slap, board member for the Friends of the Everglades, told the Sun-Sentinel. “It stood Polluter Pays on its head.”
The governor’s plan also comes amid a campaign in which the governor dodged questions about his belief in climate change, saying only that he’s “not a scientist.” It also comes a few weeks after the BrowardBulldog.org revealed that Scott owned stock in a company that’s behind a 474-mile natural gas pipeline that could run through Alabama and Georgia into Florida as early as 2017.
Charlie Crist, one of Scott’s Democratic opponents for governor, met with a group of climate scientists last month (a meeting that Scott’s office is also planning for the governor). Crist has been fairly outspoken about his belief in climate change, especially after Scott refused to take a stance on it earlier this year. Last week, Crist unveiled his five actions that he’ll take on day one of his governorship if he’s elected, but none of them were environmental or climate related.