Gov. Ron DeSantis touted his proposed budget for environmental funding in 2022-23 but did not release the budget itself. The governor’s staff supplied a one-page handout in connection with his press conference in Naples Tuesday morning.
“With our recommendations … we will not only have kept the promises and met the standards that we set, but we will also have exceeded what we promised to do, DeSantis said, claiming his proposed budget if approved would bring environmental spending to nearly $3 billion on his watch. He had pledged when he took office in 2019 to dedicate $2.5 billion in federal and state funds to Everglades and water-improvement programs in Florida over his four-year term.
The handout says state and federal spending for environmental programs during his tenure includes:
- $660 million for Everglades restoration work
- $175 million for targeted water-quality improvements
- $40 million for an alternative water-supply grant program
- $50 million for springs restoration projects
- $35 million to combat harmful blooms of blue-green algae and red tide
- $500 million for Resilient Florida, a program to help Florida cities armor against sea-level rise, flooding and storm damage that is intensifying due to climate change.
Florida Chief Science Officer Mark Rains, also in attendance, said the funding is moving environmental protection in the right direction.
“The environment is a foundation of so much in Florida, from the economy all the way down to our way of life,” Rains said. “We face a lot of environmental challenges here in Florida, but we are a low-lying state, we’re surrounded on three sides by oceans, and so perhaps none are more pressing than sea level rise and recurrent flooding and building more resilient communities for our future.”
Florida Springs Council Executive Director Ryan Smart said the announcements do not address crucial parts of Florida’s environmental funding needs.
“Governor DeSantis’ budget announcement is most notable for what it is lacking. It cuts funding for springs restoration projects by $25 million from last year at a time when our springs are suffering and manatees are dying in record numbers,” Smart told the Phoenix.
“It leaves out land conservation funding that is essential to protecting our waters and wildlife. It includes no mention of Ocklawaha restoration, the most critical environmental restoration project to the springs and communities of north Florida. Hopefully, these errors and omissions are corrected in the governor’s final budget proposal to the Legislature.”
Everglades Foundation CEO Erik Eikenberg said in a press statement that DeSantis’ announced support for $660 million in restoration funds is commendable.
“Restoring the natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades to the Florida Keys supports much of our state and its health. This continued investment in America’s Everglades will not only help build critical water infrastructure that will advance the restoration of a national treasure, but it will create and save jobs, boost our state’s tourism-based economy, and yield tangible benefits for Floridians.
At the press conference with DeSantis, Florida Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton commended the governor and legislature for their commitment to environmental funding and illustrated the disconnect between needs and dollars in describing the Resilient Florida grant program created last year.
Hamilton said DEP in September received 581 applications for $2.3 billion worth of Resilient Florida projects, but with just $500 million to actually spend on them.
“This historic funding of $500 million will help us work with local communities to ensure they are prepared for the impacts of climate change, including sea-level rise, intensified storms inland flooding,” Hamilton said, adding that grants also will help cities plan what else they need to do to defend their communities from the worsening weather.
To watch Governor DeSantis' complete press conference, click here.
Portions of this report first appeared on the website of the Florida Phoenix, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to coverage of state government and politics from Tallahassee.