04.28.2011 1

EPA Imposes Will on Florida, Costs Estimated to Top $1.5 Billion

By Bill WilsonA federal judge has granted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority over the issuance of water permits in the Everglades, and giving the state of Florida until July 1 to comply with the ruling.  By then, Florida is required to show what steps it is taking to reduce phosphorous fertilizer runoff from sugar and other farms into the Everglades.

Florida has promised that it is “vigorously pursuing” its appeal to the case, Jennifer Diaz, a Department of Environment Protection spokesperson said.  She said granting the EPA permitting authority is “essentially federalizing Florida’s Everglades restoration permitting process”.

Prior to the ruling, Florida’s Environmental Protect Department was responsible for issuing the permits, a power that by the judge’s ruling now resides solely with the EPA.

Judge Alan Gold, a Bill Clinton appointee, has now ruled that Florida must comply with the EPA’s edicts regardless of cost, ignoring a plea from the South Florida Water Management District that the EPA’s proposed regime would not be financially feasible.

“At an estimated cost of more than $1.5 billion over the next nine years, the projects and schedules put forward by the EPA are, regrettably, not achievable within our existing revenue streams,” District Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle wrote to Judge Gold.

She cited that the District “has a statutorily imposed maximum taxation authority” that because of declining property values has resulted in ad valorem revenue decreasing by over $150 million, and that its discretionary budget has plummeted by $61 billion.  Plus, with general revenues for the state plummeting by $5.42 billion since 2007, “appropriations to the District for Everglades restoration have fallen by $224 million”.

That means the District has nearly $300 million less than it had a few years ago to meet an additional $1.5 billion financial obligation.  Judge Gold ruled, however, that a previous “termination of the [A-1] Reservoir construction will allow for freeing up funds and efforts to be directed elsewhere”.

But, the only problem is, funds were never fully dedicated to the project.  According to South Florida Water Management District Project Manager Neil VanAmburg, talking to Construction Today magazine while the project was still active, “Once we agree on a price, the project becomes a cost reimbursement situation up to the maximum price agreed upon.” Meaning, as the construction firms Barnard Construction and Parsons Corp. worked on the reservoir, they were reimbursed by the District.

When the project was halted in 2008 by the District, $272 million had already been expended, not to mention another $41 million in penalties and fees because of the cancellation, according to the Palm Beach Post.  The total cost of the reservoir was said to be $800 million.

That means what Judge Gold is saying is that the $487 million that was not spent on the reservoir will help pay for the $1.5 billion cleanup of the Everglades.  Except that $487 million is not sitting in some bank account, nor is the $313 million wasted on the reservoir redeemable by the District.

In fact, the reservoir was cancelled to make room for then-Governor Charlie Crist’s $197 million U.S. Sugar deal to purchase 26,800 acres from U.S. Sugar.

That cuts the “savings” of cancelling the reservoir to just $290 million.  But again, that money is not sitting in a bank account.   And according to Sunshine State News, the deal “took nearly three years to negotiate and close and it left the district broke. Yes, pretty much flat broke.”

So, there are no “savings”.  There is just 26,800 acres of sugar plantations. The Sunshine State News writes that “[n]ot a single reed or drop of water or creature that lives in the River of Grass is likely to see benefit from this deal for more than a decade — maybe long after that.”

Why? “No significant work can start without money,” the editorial notes.  So, what is Florida doing with the land then? The editorial fumes, “the district is leasing 18,000 acres of the land to somebody, anybody, because there’s nothing that can be done with it.” Good job, Charlie!

The ultimate irony is that the A-1 reservoir was being built to help clean the Everglades.  But then it was cancelled to make room for the U.S. Sugar deal, which is supposed to help clean up the Everglades.  And now the judge is saying to use the money already spent on the U.S. Sugar deal to pay for the cost of the EPA’s edicts, which again, is somehow supposed to clean up the Everglades.

In classic liberal double-counting, the judge is ordering Florida to spend money to clean the Everglades that has already been spent.

Counting the money spent on the reservoir, the U.S. Sugar deal, and now the EPA, the District will have spent $2.01 billion to clean up the Everglades when all is said and done, $510 million of which was wasted and never dedicated to cleaning up anything.

That is why District Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle wrote to the judge, “[I]n the end, it is South Florida’s taxpayers who alone are expected to carry the heavy financial load to meet the Court’s mandates.” She speaks from hard experience.

Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government. You can follow Bill on Twitter at @BillWilsonALG.

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