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Environmental concerns are among top priorities of DeSantis budget proposal

An eight-foot long alligator silently swims through the waters of the Florida Everglades at Everglades National Park, Fla. Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
An eight-foot long alligator silently swims through the waters of the Florida Everglades at Everglades National Park, Fla. Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is putting environmental concerns among his top priorities for a second year as his $96.6 billion budget proposal released Thursday includes $2.2 billion for priorities such as the Everglades restoration, water quality issues, and managing growth.

“In Florida, we know our environment is our economy, and a lot can be done with this funding,” said Susan Alvi, Audubon Florida's director of policy development who oversees the group's legislative efforts. “The greatest existential threat is climate change and setting aside funding to make the state resilient is important.”

Resilience is a term that when used against the backdrop of sea-level rise points to how a community bounces back after a natural disaster, events like hurricanes or floods made more severe due to the warming oceans.

DeSantis' budget will likely be challenged as it makes its way through the Florida Legislature during its upcoming session, which begins next month.

Alvi, who was not involved in drafting the governor's budget, said the current iteration has money allocated for key environmental concerns such as $655 million for the Everglades restoration, $78.3 million of which is to build storage ponds and to conduct research on how to better protect watersheds surrounding the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, which run from to the west and east, respectively, from Lake Okeechobee to the ocean.

DeSantis also wants to spend $9.9 million to combat invasive species like the growing python population in the Everglades, $7.2 million to increase boater safety, $4.2 million to continue red tide research, $4 million to control the spread of invasive plants, $3 million to restore lakes and streams, and $750,000 toward the recovery of coral reefs .

The current $101.5 billion budget DeSantis signed contains $625 million for environmental spending. This includes more than $415 million for Everglades restorations.

“We are headed in the right direction. Setting aside funding to keep the state resilient is important,” Alvi said. “We are extremely grateful to see the governor continuing his steadfast commitment to funding conservation and the Everglades restoration.”

DeSantis frustrated environmentalists when he had a split view on the concept of global warming. When running for governor in 2018 he said he was not a climate change believer and, later, that he wasn't a climate change denier.

Soon after being elected in 2019, DeSantis issued an executive order directing billions to water quality improvements and the Everglades restoration, earning the admiration of environmentalists. Months later he signed legislation that allowed a trio of toll roads to go through sensitive wildlife areas, including land used by the endangered Florida Panther, frustrating environmentalists.

Eric Sutton, the executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said he feels that the money the governor is trying to send to the Everglades restoration, and the other environmental efforts, is important.

“We are proud of the conservation successes we are achieving under his leadership,” Sutton said of DeSantis. ”Florida’s natural resources are abundant and we will continue to work hard to conserve and manage these great resources for future generations.”

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, accelerating change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

Updated: December 9, 2021 at 8:36 PM EST