2 Local Lawmakers Seek To End EPC
March 7, 2009
Two Hillsborough legislators are backing efforts by Florida developers to eliminate local regulatory agencies such as Hillsborough County's Environmental Protection Commission.
State Reps. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, and Faye Culp, R-Tampa, say the county panel duplicates work done by state and regional agencies and creates obstacles for developers. They cite complaints from builders who have to get permits to fill wetlands from the local panel, as well as from state and federal regulators.
"I say we've got three organizations looking and doing the same thing. Why?" Glorioso asked Friday.
Culp, at a Feb. 27 House committee meeting, said she would like to "wave a magic wand and delete" the EPC.
For years, developers have been making the same arguments as Culp and Glorioso, pushing for the Legislature to eliminate what they say are unnecessary layers of local environmental protections. Now, with building at a near standstill and unemployment soaring, development groups see an opening to dismantle local environmental agencies in the name of economic development.
"We can't have the iterations and multiplications of duplication that we've lived with to this day," said Frank Matthews, a lobbyist for the Florida Association of Community Developers.
Supporters of local environmental agencies say their regulations are often more protective of wetlands and other natural resources than state agencies, such as the Southwest Florida Water Management District. For instance, the EPC requires permits to fill wetlands smaller than a half acre; the water management district, also known as Swiftmud, does not.
Local agencies also are closer to environmental problems and more accountable to their governments and residents, supporters say.
"We have a staff of knowledgeable professionals who are responsive to the thousands of environmental complaints we receive every year and are the first responders to those complaints," EPC executive director Rick Garrity told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Committee on Friday.
The committee, which includes Glorioso and Culp, is looking at a long list of changes that would "streamline" environmental permitting to help the building industry. Committee chairwoman Trudi Williams, a Fort Myers Republican, said most of the changes had been suggested by Matthews and other developer lobbyists.
Matthews said developers would be willing to work under local oversight if they weren't also required to abide by state regulations.
But county officials say it takes years for state agencies to delegate environmental permitting to local governments.
In recent years, Hillsborough County has taken over responsibility for state wetlands permits for construction of docks, seawalls and individual homes, as well as enforcement of state mangrove trimming laws. All those permits had previously been handled by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Larger projects, however, still require wetlands and drainage permits from Swiftmud and Hillsborough County. EPC officials say they have yet to discuss taking over those permits from the water district. Broward County is the only local government that handles all environmental permits.
Williams said the committee should have the permit changes rolled into draft legislation in a week to 10 days. No similar bills have surfaced in the state Senate.
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