Another attack on local rule

March 28, 2011
Florida lawmakers once again are seeking to gut environmental protections and strip local governments of their authority to respond to community needs.

Sen. Mike Bennett of Bradenton is sponsoring a growth management measure (Senate Bill 1122) that would, among other things, prevent local governments from adopting tougher environmental regulations than the state.

This is an attack on the Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission, which has better wetlands protections than the state, much to developers' chagrin.

The Legislature has tried such gambits several times before. Last year Sen. Ronda Storms of Brandon, to her credit, stopped a similar assault on local control.

Lawmakers and building interests are cynically using the weak economy to undermine local regulations under the guise of eliminating "duplication." An effort also is being made to prevent local governments from adopting rainy-season fertilizer bans aimed at preventing water pollution.

Such Tallahassee mandates ignore the fact that different communities have different needs. The state should establish baseline environmental protections and allow local elected officials ?? and the public ?? to determine whether more rigorous laws are necessary.

Tough wetlands protections ?? or fertilizer restrictions ?? that might be appropriate in an urbanized county probably would not be necessary in a rural county with vast stretches of undeveloped land.

State and federal wetlands laws are far from rigorous, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rarely denies a permit. Hillsborough adopted tougher regulations in the 1980s because the state and federal rules were insufficient. Hillsborough protects wetlands smaller than a half-acre, while the other agencies do not.

Moreover, EPC has worked with state regulators to streamline the permitting process and cut down on paperwork. And the local agency responds quickly to community needs. Last year a review found the agency had received roughly 6,000 complaints over three years and had responded to 97 percent of them within a week.

And notably, Hillsborough's wetlands protections did not stall development here before the bottom fell out of the building industry ?? the result of bad loans and over-construction.

This deceptive measure threatens natural resources and local authority. It should be rejected.

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