Florida's Environment Agency Makes Do With Smaller Budget

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, June 11, 2008 (ENS) – Governor Charlie Crist Wednesday signed into law a stripped down $66 billion budget that provides just $2 billion to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, to preserve and enhance the state’s land and water resources.

Florida’s environmental programs have lost roughly one billion dollars per year over the past three budget years.

The 2007-2008 budget appropriated about $3 billion for environmental programs, about $1 billion less than the environmental appropriations in the 2006-2007 budget.

“Historic economic times such as these demand leadership, commitment and fortitude to make tough choices,” Governor Crist said while signing the upcoming budget into law.

Florida’s Caladesi Island State Park
(Photo credit unknown)

The 2008-09 budget includes $264.4 million to protect and restore Florida water resources, $300 million to fund the state’s land conservation program Florida Forever, as well as $55.9 million to enhance recreation and public access areas.

In addition, next fiscal year’s budget includes $78.75 million to promote energy diversity and conservation, encourage the development of alternative and renewable energy technologies and address climate change.

The governor did veto one provision passed by the Legislature that would have spent $300,000 for lake restoration near Leesburg.

“I applaud Governor Crist, Lt. Governor Kottkamp and the Florida Legislature for their leadership and commitment to Florida’s environment, especially during tight budget times,” said DEP Secretary Michael Sole.

The energy diversity $78.75 million appropriation includes $5 million for the solar rebate program, $7 million for the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficient Technologies grant program and $8 million for bioenergy project grants.

The upcoming budget also includes $50 million for the Florida Energy Systems Consortium, a collection of Florida’s internationally recognized state universities focusing on research and development of innovative energy technologies and strategies, as well as $8.5 million to Florida Gulf Coast University for its solar field installation.

The DEP is provided $250,000 to initiate rule-making for a cap and trade program to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The 2008-09 budget includes $7.7 million for alternative water supply projects as well as almost $203 million for grants and loans to upgrade and improve water systems and stormwater projects.

Also included is $15 million for the Water Restoration Action Plan to restore, protect, and sustain water resources in the Southern Water Use Caution Area. The plan includes the development of large-scale surface water reservoirs on both the Upper Kissimmee and Lower Peace Rivers to slow saltwater intrusion and to replace agricultural use of fresh groundwater with on-site surface water resources.

The 2008-09 budget includes $50 million to fund Everglades and Lake Okeechobee restoration activities as well as protect the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries. Restoring the ecosystem will protect water quality in the lake, rivers and estuaries of the system as well as return a natural flow of water across America’s Everglades.

The 2008-09 budget provides $34 million to develop and enhance state parks, aquatic preserves and greenways and trails.

In addition, $21.9 million will assist local governments in protecting the state’s beaches, the first line of defense against storm surges from hurricanes and other catastrophic storms.

DEP’s state park system is one of the largest in the country, with 161 parks spanning 700,000 acres and 100 miles of sandy beach. Last year, Florida’s park system hosted a record-breaking 19.5 million visitors and provided $936 million to local communities, generating more than 18,700 jobs.

In addition, $66 million is provided to continue the Florida Communities Trust Program for investment in green space and recreational areas.

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