Friday, November 20, 2020

Commissioner Nikki Fried Stands With Sierra Club to Oppose M-CORES and Florida's Assumption of the CWA Section 404 Program

These days, we don't often have the opportunity to thank an elected official for standing up for Florida's environment. With Thanksgiving on the horizon, it makes perfect sense to send our gratitude to Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried for taking a stand with us on two important matters. 

M-CORES

Last week Commissioner Fried released a comment on the development of a new 330-mile toll road system in Florida known as M-CORES. Sierra Club Florida opposed the legislation that created M-CORES and has been a leader in continued opposition during the Task Force process through the No Roads to Ruin coalition

“While I recognize the importance of long-range planning for future population growth and the need for economic development, I am troubled by M-CORES’ overwhelming lack of support, lack of demonstrated need, and the millions in general revenue diverted from a state budget facing economic shortfalls reminiscent of the Great Recession. As Florida deals with billions in projected revenue losses due to COVID-19, this project would put an unnecessary strain on the state's ability to fund urgent priorities. Just as compelling are the effects these unnecessary toll roads will have on Florida's environment and agricultural lands, with the potential to destroy millions of acres of farmland, state forests, and wetlands in their paths. This project threatens the unique character of our state’s rural lands and last undeveloped landscapes. I urge Secretary Thibault and the Governor to listen to over 10,000 Florida residents who have voiced their opposition to M-CORES and utilize the 'no build' option. We cannot afford to divert money into more toll roads while millions of Floridians continue to suffer.

SECTION 404 ASSUMPTION

On August 20, the EPA received a request from Florida's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to take over the administration of the Clean Water Act’s (CWA) Section 404 program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters within the jurisdiction of the state. In the 43 years since the CWA was amended to provide for state assumption, only two states have assumed administration of the Section 404 program, Michigan and New Jersey. Sierra Club Florida has long opposed Florida's 404 Assumption. 

Early this month, Commissioner Fried shared her concerns with this proposal. Of particular note is this comment:

The elimination of additional federal scrutiny for projects that have the potential to significantly impact Florida’s natural resources requires existing state programs to demonstrate the ability to protect those resources. A significant number of stakeholders have indicated noteworthy concerns that adequate evidence has not yet been provided to sufficiently demonstrate that DEP has the resources to tackle the substantial increases in workload that will be required by the delegation, or that existing state regulatory programs are adequate, to provide sufficient protections to the water resources of Florida in the face of increasing development impacts that continue to reduce the state’s open lands and agricultural landscapes. Given the value of the water resources and wetlands to the citizens of our state, any delegation of permitting authority to DEP must contain assurances that existing levels of protection of the natural resources will be preserved, and that sufficient resources are available for DEP to implement regulatory programs in an efficient and effective manner. Without those assurances, DEP will face the same fate as Michigan and New Jersey, the other two states that have assumed 404 permitting authority and required remediation of their state programs due to struggles in maintaining the required levels of regulatory integrity and resources to adequately implement the program.

TAKE ACTION!

Sierra Club Florida applaudes the Commissioner for both these stances and we encourage you to contact her and share your thanks for her opposition to M-CORES and Florida's proposed assumption of the Section 404 program. Here is how to reach her:

Phone: (850) 617-7700
Twitter: @NikkiFriedFL
Mail: The Honorable Nikki Fried
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Plaza Level 10, The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0800