EPC in danger of being âstreamlinedâ again?
Two years ago, Hillsborough County citizens successfully stopped an effort by developers and some Commissioners to eliminate the wetlands division of the countyâs Environmental Protection Commission, or EPC. But a new state-wide effort to eliminate all of Floridaâs local regulatory agencies in an effort to âstreamlineâ permitting for developers is supported by two state representatives from Hillsborough.
Republicans Faye Culp, who represents south Tampa and parts of western Hillsborough, and Rich Glorioso, whose district includes parts of eastern Hillsborough and southeastern Pasco County, are both are on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Committee. They support efforts to eliminate some roles of local agencies they say duplicate regulatory efforts of state and regional entities. Rep. Glorioso says cutting out that layer of local regulation could help developers get permits more quickly.
âI expect a bill this session that will be doing a lot of that in a lot of different areas. Youâve got to understand bureaucracy. Every bureaucratâs main job is to protect his job. Many, many never look at how you streamline the process. They never look at it from the customerâs point of view. â¦ Remember time is money for that person who goes in there and asks for that permit. Thatâs putting people to work. Every day longer they take is one more day that somebodyâs not working.â
But Mariella Smith, an environmental activist in Hillsborough County, says that people donât want to lose even more local control over development.
âIt just shows that these representatives are mind-bogglingly out of touch with their constituents. I just canât imagine a politician like Faye Culp, whoâs been in the business for a long time, being so far out of touch with what her constituents want, that she could say she wishes she could wave a magic wand and get rid of EPC when this countyâs citizens have proved over the last couple of years that they will not stand for any weakening of our local Environmental Protection Commission.â
The executive director of Hillsboroughâs EPC, Rick Garrity, says that the bill is likely to streamline regulations, including those for wetlands.
âWeâre just afraid a bill that comes out like that could be harmful to local government â to county environmental programs.â
Garrity says the EPC responds to over 2,000 citizen complaints every year and 97 or 98 percent of them are answered within a week. He says this is one reason why local control over regulation is important.
Thatâs where you get service to the citizens is at the local level. Weâre familiar with the environmental issues in the community and we have staff to address those issues. And itâs important to be able to have local county programs tailored to what the needs of that community and the natural resources in that area are. We have stricter wetlands regulations here in Hillsborough County than the state does. Thatâs what our Board has approved and that is how weâve been able to protect the natural resources of this area.â
Unlike state or regional regulatory agencies, Garrity says counties like Hillsborough are able to protect wetlands less than half an acre in area.
âThat is one of the important things in this area. We have over half of the stateâs nesting population of roseate spoonbills. Also 50% of the stateâs nesting population of white ibis are in this area. And those birds all use freshwater wetlands to forage in. Habitat protection, aquifer recharge, floodwater protections are all important functions of wetlands, both small wetlands and large wetlands.â
The streamlining proposal is supported by the Association of Florida Community Developers, whose lobbyist did not return WMNFâs call by airtime. Despite the advantages to having local control over regulations, Representative Glorioso prefers statewide rules.
âGive one solid standard. Do we have to increase that state standards to make them more restrictive? I donât know that may be the issue.â
Strict environmental standards help to protect wetlands, which save taxpayers money, according to environmental activist Mariella Smith.
âItâs very expensive for taxpayers to clean up pollution rather than allow wetlands to naturally protect our water bodies for free. So we expect our lawmakers to protect our wetlands in order to protect our pocketbooks besides protecting the wildlife that depends on these resources.â
Smith says sheâs surprised politicians have not learned a lesson because âcitizens have clearly said, âWeâre not going to stand for this.ââ
âWe picketed, we demonstrated, we filled County Center with hundreds of people, we sent hundreds and thousands of letters to our representatives in 2007 when they tried this -- led by the same people who are doing it again, incidentally. And we managed to throw Brian Blair out of office largely because of his handling of this issue and his leading the county to try to weaken Environmental Protection Commission and our wetland protections. And here these politicians are trying to do it from the state level.â
Blair lost his re-election bid last November to current Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, one of the people who stood up against Blair and others who wanted to eliminate the EPCâs wetlands division.
âI absolutely oppose such measures,â said Beckner.
WMNF asked Representative Glorioso if he was concerned that, like former Commissioner Brian Blair, his opposition to local environmental regulations could bring repercussions during the next election.
âActually not. Everybody thatâs talked to me since then says, âYouâre right, you canât have multiple agencies looking at the same thing.â Now, weâre not talking about reducing the restrictions. You know, I havenât talked about anything about what the restrictions are, Iâm talking about the agencies that review the process.â
Rep. Faye Culp did not return our call by airtime.comments powered by Disqus