“I grew up in south Florida and every time I return home for the holidays, it looks different. I notice more development of sensitive natural areas like wetlands and upland pine flatwoods to make way for sprawling cookie cutter gated residential developments and the commercial retail they attract. This is in addition to the visible lingering damage caused by oil exploration in the Everglades. Due to the global pandemic, I am unable to go home this holiday season like so many others, but the destruction of my home state’s dwindling natural areas weighs heavily on me throughout the year. And for good reason. In the midst of a public health crisis, the Trump Administration is busy rolling back protections for the Sunshine State’s precious resources like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas minus the eventual change of heart.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the state of Florida’s request to assume federal wetland permitting responsibilities from the Army Corps of Engineers. Only two other states have been granted this extraordinary privilege—Michigan and New Jersey. Florida’s developers have been pushing for this handover to the state for decades. However, the state’s main environmental permitting agency—the Florida Department of Environmental Protection—neither has the funding, nor the required number of staff, to process the sheer volume of permits that go along with this responsibility. And as we’ve seen with the oil exploration in Big Cypress, the Department’s formal enforcement of state environmental laws and permits, including those pertaining to wetlands, is already in decline and in need of serious improvement, according to a report by the Florida Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. So, it is unclear how the agency will handle an increased workload.”