Proposed bill targets environmental groups with legal fees for challenging state permits

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Aerial photo of downtown Tallahassee, Florida and the State Capitol
Aerial photo of downtown Tallahassee, Florida and the State Capitol. By felixmizioznikov via iStock for WMNF.

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A bill, filed in both the state senate and house in early December, would force environmental groups to pay up to $50,000 in legal fees if they lose their challenges to state environmental permits.

Senate Bill 738 was filed by Republican Senator Danny Burgess of Zephyrhills. He told Politico it is a balanced bill seeking fundamental fairness. But, it could make environmental groups think twice before challenging permits issued by the Department of Environmental Protection.

“If they were to file a challenge and lose, it could cost them tens of thousands of dollars. So, obviously, that’s gonna impact people’s decision to actually challenge some of these things that they feel are wrong in the first place.”

Gil Smart is the executive director of Vote Water, a water pollution advocacy group.

“There seems to be this myth, that there is a whole bunch of environmentalists out there trying to throw up every possible roadblock, filing all sorts of frivolous challenges. I don’t believe that to be the case. I believe that when you get challenges, a lot of times the people who file those challenges believe them to be legitimate, believe the issues to be real, and believe that the concerns were ignored.”

It’s similar to another bill signed into law last year that requires citizens who challenge a local comprehensive plan amendment to pay the legal fees if they lose their suit.

The legislative session begins January 9th, 2024.

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