Changes needed to how Florida sets environmental standards

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By MATT WILLHITEmatt willhite
Exclusive to Palms West Monthly
Posted Sept. 20, 2017

Florida’s Environmental Regulation Commission (ERC) is a seven-member board which sets standards and rules relating to air pollution, water quality, and waste management. Each member is selected by the governor to fill one of the seven seats which include representatives from the agriculture industry, the development industry, local government, the environmental community, citizens, and members of the scientific and technical community.

In the summer of 2016, the ERC voted 3-2 to raise the allowable concentrations of roughly two dozen known carcinogens – such as beryllium, cyanide and benzene – in our water. This controversial and narrow vote was taken while two seats sat vacant, including one which was vacant for over a year. Both the agriculture representative and the scientific and technical community representative voted against this measure. Had the two vacant seats been filled – one for the environmental community and one for local government – it is extremely likely that the proposed changes would have been voted down.

Clean water is fundamental to Florida’s overall success for a number of reasons. Agriculture and tourism are Florida’s largest economic drivers. Without clean water, these industries cannot obtain sustainable growth, as tourists will not want to visit our state and agricultural products will become contaminated by chemicals. Additionally, from a public safety standpoint for our own citizens, we need to ensure our drinking water is not contaminated with things that can make us sick and increase our risk of cancer. This will also save money on healthcare costs for the state.

Lastly, clean water is essential to preserving our fragile ecosystem here in Florida. Recent toxic algae blooms in South Florida have made people sick, closed our beautiful beaches and wounded our economy. Allowing higher concentrations of toxic chemicals in our water is nonsensical.

For these reasons, I filed a bill last year with Sen. Linda Stewart, HB 861 and SB 198, which would accomplish two main goals. First and foremost, it would mandate that any vacancies on the Environmental Regulation Commission be filled within 90 days. Second, any changes to our air and water quality standards would be required to be passed by four affirmative votes from the commission.

Last session, HB 861 was passed unanimously through its first committee but died in the House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee’s last meeting due to time constraints.

SB 198 passed unanimously through the Senate and was ready for the House floor but was never taken up for a vote prior to the end of the legislative session.

Clean air and water should not be a partisan issue. There are countless consequences that can arise when changes are made to our air and water quality standards. In order to make the best decisions for Florida, we need to be sure that all sectors are represented and that a majority of the full commission concurs with any proposed changes. I fully intend to file this legislation again next year and work diligently for its passage.

After introducing this bill, I spoke with many Floridians who were not aware that a vote to increase the concentration of known carcinogens in their water supply had even taken place. There are hundreds of local and state boards across Florida, some taking monumental votes which can have a serious impact on your quality of life. I urge you to stay as informed as possible to ensure your voice can be heard on these important issues.

As the 2018 legislative session approaches, please know my office is always available to answer questions about this legislation or any other topic.

You can call us at (561) 791-4071 or email Matt.Willhite@myfloridahouse.gov and a member of my staff will be happy to help.

State Rep. Matt Willhite was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2016. He represents Florida’s 86th District, which includes Wellington, Royal Palm Beach, Loxahatchee Groves, Haverhill and parts of West Palm Beach and Greenacres.

Pictured above: In this June 29, 2016 file photo, boats docked at Central Marine in Stuart, Fla., are surrounded by blue green algae. The 153-mile-long Indian River Lagoon has been plagued by harmful algae blooms. Water quality testing data analyzed by the AP showed the average phosphorous level – a byproduct of fertilizers and human waste that algae thrive on, rose nearly 75 percent between 2000 and 2016. Photo by Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post via AP

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