House overhauls environmental permitting in seven minutesby John Kennedy | April 29th, 2011
The House spent seven minutes amending, debating and voting on legislation Friday night that conservationists have condemned as one of the worst bills in decades for Florida’s environment and waterways.
The House voted 95-16 to approve a measure (CS/HB 991) which would streamline or erase broad portions of environmental permitting, make it easier for rock mining projects to commence, and blunt the ability of local governments to enforce regulations.
House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, rushed the vote on the legislation. But several amendments included in the bill were aimed at softening some of its toughest edges.
Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, got lawmakers to approve an amendment eliminating a ‘burden of proof ‘ provision that would have effectively blocked citizens from challenging any license or permit issued to developers, mining firms or others looking to build in environmentally sensitive areas.
While home-rule — returning power to local governments — has been a popular theme this legislative session, some provisions of the bill do the opposite. The bill would prohibit local governments from requiring state and federal permits be approved before granting local development permits.
“This will have a chilling effect on local governments looking to protect wetlands,” said Janet Bowman of the state’s Nature Conservancy.
Despite the House’s swift move on the legislation, critics say it faces long odds in the Senate, where there’s been little support for wide-ranging overhaul of environmental permitting.