The House added a controversial environmental permit provision to an otherwise, routine rulemaking bill Thursday — reversing a stance adopted only days ago by ruling Republicans.
The House voted 76-39 to add a disputed “burden of proof” standard that critics say effectively will block many citizens and organizations from challenging licenses or permits issued to developers, mining firms or others looking to build in environmentally sensitive areas.
The rulemaking legislation (CS/HB 993) now containing the tougher challenge standard heads to Gov. Rick Scott, who is likely to sign it into law.
House Republicans said lifting the ability for far-flung opponents to weigh-in with lawsuits or other challenges to development permits was hurting the state’s economy.
“Advocates have brought a project to a grinding halt, only because they challenge the permit,” said Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City.
“Now,” Patronis urged House members, “take a chance to take your state back.”
Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, successfully got lawmakers last week to strip the “burden of proof” measure from a bill (CS/HB 991) that would prohibit local governments from requiring that state and federal permits be approved before granting local development projects.
Conservationists had derided the measure — approved in seven minutes late Friday night by the House — as among the worst environmental bills in years.
But critics also have said the local government legislation faced long odds in the Senate, where there’s been some resistence to a wide-ranging overhaul of environmental permitting. But with the Senate already embracing the tougher proof standard, the House joined in Thursday and included it in the rulemaking bill.
Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, predicted that tightening the legal grounds for challenging land-use permits would not withstand court challenges.
“This is the wrong thing for us to be doing,” Kriseman said.