Does U.S. House appropriation bill put Everglades funding 'at risk' as Rep. Mast claims ?
Will an appropriation bill approved Wednesday by the U.S. House help or hurt chances for building the reservoir to cut Lake Okeechobee discharges?
The bill includes the $200 million for Everglades restoration projects environmentalists and politicians agree is needed to speed up construction of the EAA Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area.
But in a news release headlined "House Democrats put Everglades funding at risk," U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Palm City Republican, called the measure "a bad bill that has no chance of becoming law."
Mast said he voted against the bill because leaders in the Democrat-controlled House "attached unrelated provision after unrelated provision" for defense, labor and health and human services to the measure, which will:
- Give it no chance of approval by the U.S. Senate and a high risk of being vetoed by President Trump
- Exceed current budget caps by $176 billion, triggering "automatic cuts to Everglades restoration and environmental protection programs”
The House appropriations bill is "a non-starter for the Senate and the White House because of the extreme liberal proposals that are included," Sarah Schwirian, press secretary for U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, said in an email Thursday afternoon.
What House Democrats put into the bill "doesn't really matter," said Nick Iacovella, press secretary for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican. "The $200 million for Everglades restoration has support on both sides of the aisle in both the House and the Senate, and the president supports it as well."
Here's what Iacovella said will happen:
- The Senate will approve its own version of a budget bill with full funding for Everglades projects.
- Then, a panel made up of senators and representatives, known as a conference committee, will reconcile differences between the House and Senate bills.
"When they go to conference, they'll approve the things everyone agrees on," Iacovella said. "So there's a very high likelihood (the Everglades funding) will make it in. I would be surprised if it's not in there."
If congressional leaders are unable to reach an agreement before the Oct. 1 beginning of fiscal year 2019-20, funding at last year’s levels, "far less than what we’ve fought so hard to get," would be locked in, Brad Stewart, Mast's deputy chief of staff, said Thursday.
"That is the biggest area of concern," said Julie Hill-Gabriel, vice president for water conservation at the National Audubon Society, "but Everglades funding is the bipartisan issue in the Florida congressional delegation, has support with congressional leaders across the country and is so strongly supported by the president that he changed his proposed budget to include it. That's a very strong signal that it's a top priority for everybody involved."
With the full funding, the EAA reservoir and stormwater treatment area can be built in eight years, the Army Corps of Engineers says. Without it, the project will be delayed at least a year and maybe much more.
The project includes a 10,100-acre, 23 feet deep reservoir that can hold 78.2 billion gallons of excess Lake Okeechobee water and a 6,500-acre man-made marsh to clean water before it's sent south to the Everglades.
When combined with other water projects under construction and on the drawing board, the project will reduce the volume of discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers by about 56 percent and the number of discharge events by 63 percent.
It also will send an average of about 120 billion gallons of clean water to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, both of which need freshwater.
The state and federal governments will split the $1.6 billion cost 50-50. The Florida Legislature and then-Gov. Rick Scott approved plans to pay the state's share in 2017.
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