Earthjustice today voiced its opposition to a bill that would seriously undermine a key environmental protection law. Earthjustice urged Florida lawmakers to vote down Senate Bill 280 and House Bill 257, which would amend Florida's Environmental Protection Act and eliminate citizen involvement in opposing activities like offshore oil drilling that threaten Florida's environmental quality. If the current bill had been in effect in 1996, offshore oil drilling would have been approved in Florida waters.
"If it weren't for Florida's Environmental Protection Act, we would have offshore oil drilling right now. Is that really what the legislature wants?" said David Guest of Earthjustice.
Florida law allows citizens to challenge permits for activities that could be harmful to the environment. The amendment under consideration would prevent citizen intervention in permit processes, unless the permit had been denied to the polluter. According to Guest, the rollback could open the door to unchecked environmental degradation from activities like offshore oil drilling, as citizen concerns would be removed from the debate.
"This legislation would turn the permitting process into nothing more than a rubber-stamp for polluters' activities," said Guest.
Earthjustice used the citizen intervention provision five years ago on behalf of Florida Wildlife Federation and other environmental organizations to prevent the state Department of Environmental Protection from granting a permit for offshore oil drilling off the coast of Florida. The Department had attempted to issue the permit. Guest, who handled the successful permit challenge, said that if the proposed amendments had been in effect then, there would be offshore drilling in Florida's coastal waters today.
"Citizens were the only ones arguing to protect Florida's coastal waters from drilling," said Guest. "To ignore their concerns in the future is to surrender environmental protection to a one-sided debate."