Banning fertilizer bans: Dirty trick by Legislature will lead to dirtier water

Sneaky. Devious. Underhanded. Duplicitous.

Can you think of a better word to describe the stunt just pulled by the Florida Legislature? We’d love to hear it — and we suggest you let THEM hear it, too.

Tucked inside an “implementing bill” — which contains directions to implement the state budget — is a measure that would eliminate local governments’ ability to adopt strict fertilizer control ordinances for the next year.

While this ban on fertilizer bans would expire after that, it may be followed by legislation designed to make it permanent.

And that would definitely result in dirtier water across Florida.

As noted in the Miami Herald, as many as 117 local governments across the state would be required “to rely on less restrictive regulations developed by the University of Florida, which are supported by the state’s phosphate industry, the producers of fertilizer.”

Florida counties and municipalities routinely restrict fertilizer use during the summer months, when torrential rains wash nitrogen and phosphorus into waterways already full of nutrients.

But, writes the Herald, such common-sense measures have “taken a toll on phosphate industry revenues.”

Can’t have that!

Yet instead of introducing a bill that could be debated and voted upon by the Legislature, some wily legislator or lobbyist figured out a way to sneak this through the back door.

By putting it in the implementing bill, there are no votes on the measure — and perhaps the sponsor thought there’d be little scrutiny. But the conservation community noticed it as legislative leaders agreed to the $116 billion budget proposal Monday. Now, the only way the fertilizer measure gets scrapped is if Gov. DeSantis vetoes the entire budget.

Florida’s phosphate industry has been much in the news since the Piney Point disaster in early 2021, but in fact the industry has a long history of fouling Florida’s waters — and paying off its politicians.

The Mosaic Company, based in Tampa, is the largest phosphate producer in the world; according to state campaign finance records, the firm gave around $750,000 to state office-seekers and political action committees during the 2022 election cycle, while the Florida Phosphate Political Committee gave another $443,000.

Individual fertilizer and lawn care companies like TruGreen also give thousands to politicians and PACs. Indeed, TrueGreen employs former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli as a lobbyist, along with Keaton Alexander Griffin, whose father, J.D. Alexander, was a Florida state representative and senator for 14 years.

Insiders like these know how to shepherd a controversial rule through with little notice and less fanfare. But at what cost?

Fertilizer regulation based on local conditions is a key tool for local governments trying to curtail nutrient pollution. “Fertilizer runoff, along with rising temperatures and lack of oxygen, were found to be among the principal contributors to a 2020 fish kill in Biscayne Bay, prompting Miami-Dade to ban fertilizer use from May 15 to Oct. 31,” reports the Miami Herald.

The model ordinance developed by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) was crafted with the aid of the phosphate industry, which “heavily” sponsors IFAS, according to the Herald.

In other words: A key special interest influences “the science” — and now they’re crafting policy behind the scenes.

Legislative leadership contacted by the Herald failed to answer the newspaper’s questions about why a major policy proposal wasn’t debated and given a hearing, instead pointing out that the implementing bill allocates $6.2 million to IFAS to study the impact of the ban.

That’s irrelevant; this should have been done in the sunshine.

So tell your local legislators that you OPPOSE this back-door policy-making. Find your Florida Senators here; find your Florida Representative here.

Call; email; be polite. But tell them: Florida water policy cannot be made this way; that it IS being made this way is the reason our waters are in the shape they’re in — and will only get worse.