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Everglades Policy (7-25-03)

The Everglades is a wetland system in South Florida comprised in part of the Florida Bay, Everglades National Park and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Due to the effects of development, construction, agriculture, and landscape changes for flood control, the Everglades has shrunk to one-third of its original size with a substantial decrease in water quality. Since federal involvement in Everglades restoration began in the 1980's, the scope of the restoration and the number of stakeholders in the projects have greatly increased. Recent efforts to implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program have focused measures on restoration of the ecosystem instead of supporting agriculture and controlling the water supply. As restoration moves forward, earth scientists provide key understanding of aquifer recovery, mapping the freshwater-saltwater interface through time, and tracking chemical changes of groundwater.

Most Recent Action

The report (H. Rept. 108-195) accompanying the Fiscal Year 2004 Interior Appropriations bill (H.R. 2691) passed by the House on July 17 contains language expressing concern that recent changes to Florida's 1994 Everglades Forever Act threaten the future of Everglades restoration. Clearly stating its position on the State bill and rulemaking process, the Appropriations Committee calls for "clean water by December 2006, no mixing zones, no relief from achieving the 10 parts per billion standard, and restoring integrity to the process." The bill includes stipulations that Federal funding for Everglades restoration be linked to specific progress on improving water quality. In order to ensure that the State of Florida is meeting its obligations, the bill calls for a report to be filed jointly by several federal agencies and favorably approved by the Committee prior to funds becoming available. In addition, the bill language recommends that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) file a report "indicating whether the amendments adopted by the State of Florida to its 1994 Everglades Forever Act have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency as a change in water quality standards consistent with the requirements of the Clean Water Act." The Appropriations Committee also directs the Science Coordination Team (SCT) of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force to "develop a science plan focused on the gaps in scientific information that are needed to further restoration efforts," and to assess whether it has sufficient staff to accomplish its goals.

The report (H. Rept. 108-235) accompanying the Fiscal Year 2004 Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 2861), passed on July 25, also contains language directing EPA to file reports indicating (1) whether the agency endorses the amendments as consistent with the Clean Water Act, (2) whether the new numeric criterion will result in improved water quality for water entering the Everglades consistent with the Consent Decree entered in United States v. South Florida Water Management District. (7/25/03)

On July 8, Florida's Environmental Regulation Commission (ERC) approved a rule for calculating phosphorus levels in the Everglades that has been criticized by federal agencies, environmental groups, and the sugar industry. The rule provides a mechanism to meet a 10 parts per billion (ppb) standard by establishing where, when, and how often to measure phosphorus levels. This water quality standard was signed into law by Governor Jeb Bush (R) as part of the Everglades Forever Act. Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Audubon of Florida, complained that the measure cannot enforce the 10 ppb standard because it averages phosphorus concentrations from different locations over a five-year interval. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also expressed concern over the long averaging period, warning that parts of the rule may conflict with federal law. The Department of the Interior stated last month that the rule would allow too much phosphorus to enter the ecosystem. Despite the role of the sugar industry, a major source of phosphorus contamination in the Everglades, in shaping the rule, sugar companies (including U.S. Sugar) expressed disappointment over its complexity. (7/11/03)

On June 18, 2003, the House Appropriations Committee released its proposed fiscal year (FY) 2004 funding levels for the Department of the Interior, including $68 million for the ongoing Everglades restoration project. The appropriations, however, come with some restrictions. The bill states that Florida must prove that it is "meeting its obligations to improve water quality consistent with the terms of the Consent Decree." The Consent Decree is a 1991 federal and state agreement that established interim and long-term phosphorous concentration limits for Everglades National Park. The evaluations will be made by Interior, the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice. The bill is the federal government's response to the new legislation passed by the Florida state government in late May that will extend the phosphorous criteria deadline from 2006 to 2012. The Miami Herald reported that Representative Ralph Regula (R-OH) said: "We just want to make sure that they'll live by the original agreement because obviously they've changed their mind.'' In response, Deena Wells, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said, ''We're committed to meeting our obligation under the consent degree" (Miami Herald). (6/20/03)

Previous Action

On May 21, 2003, Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R) signed legislation (S.B. 054A) that would revise the state's Everglades clean-up plan. The bill will extend the time frame over which phosphorus levels in the Everglades' water must be lowered to 10 parts per billion (ppb). Bush signed the bill with hope that the state Senate and House would amend the bill to, as Bush said in a press release, "clarify the bills language." State senators did just that by amending the bill's language by stating the standards "will be met." The former language was "maximum extent practicable." The amended bill will extend the phosphorous criteria deadline from 2006 to 2012. On May 27, 2003, the legislation passed the state Senate by a vote of 43-4 and the state House by a vote of 96-18. The primary source of phosphorus in the Everglades is agriculture. According to E&E News, "The sugar industry and state officials lobbied for delaying the deadlines because they said the technical demands of meeting those regulations would take longer than originally thought." From a press release Gov. Bush said the bill "is strong legislation." He continued saying: "Our intentions has always been to complete this work at the earliest possible time. I am convinced this bill does not deter us from this goal..." Not everyone shares his sentiments. The Sierra Club has nicknamed the bill the "Everglades Whenever Act." (5/28/03)

On March 26, 2003, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) released the report South Florida Ecosystem Restoration: Task Force Needs to Improve Science Coordination to Increase the Likelihood of Success. The report was requested by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies to examine whether sound scientific information was guiding the South Florida ecosystem restoration efforts. The GAO reported that the $576 million spent by federal and state agencies between 1993 and 2002 on scientific research, monitoring, and assessment did result in progress towards developing and understanding scientific information required for restoration. The funded activities were mostly in support of the first goal of restoration -- "getting the water right" -- and include development of adaptive management tools and discovering the key factors responsible for the ecosystem's degradation. The report, however, identified numerous scientific gaps remaining that, the GAO believes, could hinder the success of restoration. The gaps occurred at different project levels, from the ecosystem level -- such as the effects of invasive species, pesticides, and pollutants -- to project levels -- such as understanding water salinity in Biscayne Bay. In addition, the report found that the Everglades project's Science Coordination Team (SCT) lacks the proper coordination, direction, and resourses needed to carry out its responsibility. The GAO recommended that the Secretary of the Interior improve communications and coordination between the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force and the SCT, and within the SCT itself in order in enhance the science supporting the restoration. (4/10/03)

On March 26, 2003, the Department of the Interior (DOI), in its role to provide science to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project, came under scrutiny at a hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies. Many of the subcommittee members expressed concern over the lack of scientific coordination and the appearance that DOI is not an equal partner in the Everglades restoration project with the State of Florida and the Army Corps of Engineers. See AGI's Summary on Wetland Hearings for additional information. (4/11/03)

Background

South Florida's ecosystem is defined by the Everglades -- a subtropical wetland that includes 16 national wildlife refuges, four nation park units, 6.5 million people, and a large agricultural economy. Originally seen an unproductive swamp, the Army Corps of Engineers's Central and Southern Florida project contained and redirected the water in 1950's and 1960's to control floods and encourage urban and agricultural development. Today, instead of a sheet of water slowly flowing south from Lake Okeechobee to the Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, water dominantly flows east-west through 1000 miles of canals, 720 miles of levees, and almost 200 water control structures. The change in water flow has resulted in a reduction of water flow to the Florida Bay, southern Florida receiving too much water during the rainy season and too little during the dry, and the Everglades decreasing to half of its original size with a degraded water quality.

Federal efforts to restore the South Florida's ecosystem began in the 1980's, mostly though the coordination of the Army Corps of Engineers. As restoration efforts continued and other agencies became increasingly involved, Congress formally created the South Florida Restoration Task Force in the Water Resources Development Act of 1996 to coordinate the restoration. The task force, which includes state, local, and tribal members, with the Secretary of the Interior as the group's chair, is charged with developing consistent policies, strategies, plans, priorities, and actions for restoring the Everglades. The developed plan, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), was approved by Congress in the 2000. CERP identified three restoration goals: to "get the water right" by restoring natural hydrologic functions and water quality; to restore, preserve, and protect natural habitats and species; and to foster compatibility of built and natural systems. To accomplish these goals, the Task Force has identified over 200 projects to be completed over the next 50 years at a cost of $15 billion.

For additonal information of wetlands policy, see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/wetlands.html.

Sources: Associated Press, E&E News, Environmental Protection Agency, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Fiscal Year 2004 Appropriations Bills (Interior, VA/HUD reports), General Accounting Office, Greenwire, National Academy of Sciences, Wetlands Internationa, Miami University, Florida International University, and The Miami Herald.

Contributed by Annette Veilleux, 2002 Fall Semester Intern; Charna Meth, 2003 Spring Semester Intern; and AGI/AIPG 2003 Summer Interns Deric R. Learman and Brett Beaulieu.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on July 25, 2003

 

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