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Legislative Watch Environmental Watch by Christian Wagley

01/26/2022 8:38 AM | Anonymous

With the 2022 session of the Florida Legislature underway, I want to share with you some water and Gulf-related bills that might be of interest to Pensacola Beach residents:

First of all, let me remind us all that nutrient pollution that causes outbreaks of toxic algae is one of the biggest water issues Florida has faced in recent years. Pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus caused a slime of blue green algae that clogged lakes and rivers, as well as the destruction of seagrass that contributed to the worst year for manatees ever as hundreds starved to death in 2021. Off the Gulf coast multiple red tides have come ashore, believed to have been made worse by nutrient pollution.

The Governor’s Blue Green Algae Task Force made recommendations for solutions nearly three years ago, but none have been implemented. Now Senate Bill (SB) 832/ House Bill (HB) 561)has been introduced to carry-out some of the recommendations, such as requiring septic tank inspections every five-years, require that waterway restoration projects be carefully prioritized and for past projects to be assessed for effectiveness. This is a good step forward that will help reduce pollution in our waterways, with nutrient pollution also a problem in multiple waterways in the Pensacola-area.

Unfortunately, a bad bill has been introduced that would accelerate the loss of our vital seagrasses like the turtlegrass in Santa Rosa Sound. It’sSenate Bill (SB) 198/House Bill (HB) 349),which authorizes the creation of seagrass mitigation banks to offset impacts from development projects that destroy seagrasses. This would actually make it easier to destroy seagrass by promising to restore seagrass elsewhere, even though seagrass restoration through plantings has mostly been a failure. With our local Pensacola Bay system already having lost around 90% of its historic seagrasses, we can’t afford to lose anymore and are working to make sure this bill does not advance.

Finally, I wanted to point-out a bill that actually addresses the root cause of climate change and sea level rise that is having so many impacts on Florida. Senate Bill (SB) 366  and House Bill (HB) 81 would require that all electricity in the state be derived from renewable sources by 2040, and would create an advisory committee to reach these goals. Right now Florida is one of only about a dozen states that does not have such a requirement in place.

It’s the continued use of fossil fuels like oil and natural gas that cause the carbon emissions that are warming our planet. Our local rate of sea level rise has accelerated dramatically in the past 25 years because of this, putting shorelines along Santa Rosa Island and elsewhere in more rapid retreat. While the transition to renewable energy is already underway, large monopoly utilities and fossil fuel companies have worked to slow that transition in order to maintain investor profits. These bills would be a great step forward in prioritizing Florida’s residents and businesses who support renewable energy and the waterfront communities threatened by rising seas.  

These are a few of the bills we are following that affect us in NW Florida, and we encourage residents to call, email or otherwise speak with their state elected officials on these and other environmental issues of importance. Thank you and happy 2022 to all.

For a healthy Gulf,

--Christian Wagley

Christian works for Healthy Gulf, a nonprofit organization devoted to the Gulf of Mexico and the waterways and communities along its shore

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