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Daily Legislative Brief from March 11, 2020


SB 712 – Relating to Environmental Resource Management

On Wednesday, March 11, SB 712 by Senator Debbie Mayfield (R-Melbourne) was read a third time on the House floor and passed with 118 yeas and 0 nays.

Phosphorus and nitrogen are naturally present in water and are essential nutrients for the healthy growth of plant and animal life. The correct balance of both nutrients is necessary for a healthy ecosystem; however, excessive nitrogen and phosphorus can cause significant water quality problems. Phosphorus and nitrogen are derived from natural and human-made sources. Natural inputs include the atmosphere, soils, and the decay of plants and animals. Human-made sources include sewage disposal systems (wastewater treatment facilities and septic systems), overflows of storm and sanitary sewers (untreated sewage), agricultural production and irrigation practices, and stormwater runoff.

The bill includes recommendations from the Blue-Green Algae Task Force. The major topics in this bill include onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems (OSTDSs, commonly known as septic systems), wastewater, stormwater, agriculture, and biosolids. The bill directs the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to make rules relating to most of these topics.

In addition to DEP’s role in monitoring and inspecting OSTDSs and other runoff areas, the bill authorizes the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to perform onsite inspections of agricultural producers enrolled in best management practices (BMP) to verify that each practice is being properly implemented. The verification review will include a review of the BMP documentation including, but not limited to, nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer application records.

Regarding rights of nature:

The bill amends the Florida Environmental Protection Act to prohibit a local government regulation, ordinance, code, rule, comprehensive plan, charter, or any other provision of law:

  • From recognizing or granting any legal right to a plant, animal, body of water, or any other part of the natural environment that is not a person or political subdivision; or
  • Granting a person or political subdivision any specific rights relating to the natural environment.

The bill also provides that the prohibition on granting rights to nonpersons may not limit the:

  • Ability of an aggrieved or adversely affected party to appeal and challenge the consistency of a development order with a comprehensive plan, or to file an action for injunctive relief to enforce the terms of a development agreement or to challenge compliance of the agreement with the Florida Local Government Development Agreement Act; or
  • Standing to maintain an action for injunctive relief as otherwise provided by the EPA for:
    • Department of Legal Affairs;
    • Any political subdivision of the state; or
    • A resident of the state.

The bill also addresses a consumptive use study to be carried out by the department in conjunction with water management districts. The bill is a huge step forward in addressing Florida’s current water quality crisis and the data collected will prove invaluable in preventing further degradation of our waterways.

SB 712 will now go to the Governor.

AIF supports legislation that addresses water quality and protects Florida businesses from lawsuits by defining that people cannot sue on behalf of inanimate objects, i.e. rivers, lakes, streams etc.