Legislative session ends; did it set up a big environmental fight next year?

Click here to register for a March 21 livestream looking back at the 2024 Legislative session hosted by our friends at Friends of the Everglades.

The 2024 Legislative session is over, thank God. It could have been worse. But it could have been better, too.

A long-feared last-minute attempt to extend a ban on new fertilizer ordinances never materialized. Rep. Toby Overdorf’s polluter-friendly House Bill 789 sputtered and died. The University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Science (IFAS) did get funding to study fertilizer rates and update agricultural “best management practices” (to allow farmers to use more fertilizer), though legislators allocated $4 million instead of the requested $6 million.

A number of pro-“sprawl” bills passed this year which will allow developers to pave over wild Florida even more rapidly. Funding for Everglades restoration totaled more than $700 million, virtually all of it for “pumps and pipes,” engineering projects that should help but aren’t really “restoration” per se. Meanwhile, a bill that would have required development proposals within two miles of the Everglades Protection Area to undergo a more rigorous state review died just before the finish line — for at least the third year in a row.

Meanwhile, another budget item allocated $25 million to the Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University, for a “comprehensive water quality study” that will include scrutinizing the ecology of Lake O.

What’s the point? In his Substack newsletter, investigative journalist Jason Garcia lays it out, saying the study may address the long-contentious issue of Lake O water levels; AND the fact that the project seemed to be “particularly important to the Florida Senate, which pushed to fund the study during budget negotiations.” Incoming Senate President Ben Albritton “is closely aligned with the state’s agriculture industry,” and will likely be averse to any new attempts to curtail agricultural pollution in the lake. And given how much money he’s taken from Big Sugar,  Albritton is likely to be sympathetic to what the sugar industry wants for the lake.

The budget allocation, and separate but related legislation, require a report on the study to be delivered to Gov. Ron DeSantis and legislative leaders before the beginning of the 2025 session. Quipped Garcia: “This could be totally benign. It could also be the start of the next big sugar industry battle in Tallahassee.”

The 2025 Legislative season begins Tuesday, March 4, 2025.