FILE - Earth Day Florida Everglades

Volunteers pick up trash on Earth Day at Virginia Key Beach Park, Monday, April 22, 2019, in Miami. The Ocean Conservancy and the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee held the event to launch the Super Bowl 2020 Ocean to Everglades (O2E) environmental initiative.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $91.4 billion fiscal 2021 budget request seeks $2 billion for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), including the second-year $625 million installment of his four-year, $2.5 billion Everglades restoration and water quality plan.

“We’re trying to not just do that again but make it recurrent over the next three years,” DeSantis said of his $625 million water quality budget request, which includes $322 million for Everglades restoration projects and $222 million for programs to fight blue-green algae, red tide and pollution by septic tanks and wastewater runoff.

Other components of DeSantis’ environmental spending request, which would exceed environmental spending in this year’s budget by $234 million, include:

  • $150 million for cleanup of contaminated sites;
  • $100 million for the Florida Forever program to preserve sensitive lands; $54 million for state parks;
  • $50 million for natural springs restoration;
  • $50 million for beach re-nourishment;
  • $40 million for alternative water supply grants;
  • $22 million for toxic algae/red tide bloom mitigations;
  • $9 million for coral reef protection;
  • $1 million to remove invasive pythons from the Everglades.

Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg applauded the governor’s proposed environmental spending plan.

“Gov. DeSantis is a true environmental leader who recognizes the importance of preserving our one-of-a-kind Everglades and the important role it plays in our state’s economy, and his budget proposal reflects this,” Eikenberg said in a statement.

But some conservation groups criticized DeSantis for earmarking only $100 million for the Florida Forever program and not adequately preparing the state for climate change.

On Monday, 123 Florida environmental groups and businesses wrote a joint letter to DeSantis and legislative leaders asking that environmental protection and resiliency programs be strengthened.

“There is no time to lose. If we do not act to save Florida’s environmentally sensitive lands from development now, we will lose the opportunity forever,” the letter, signed by chapters of Audubon, Riverkeepers and League of Women Voters among others, claims.

DeSantis maintains his budget request includes about $1 billion in local match “climate remediation” initiatives, such as electric car charging stations and “electric mass transit.”

Other examples include a proposed $6 million allocation for the DEP’s Resilient Coastlines Program, which helps communities and habitats prepare for rising sea levels.

DeSantis said he and Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz are developing a $1 billion state/local matching-grant program for resilience and mitigation.

“We’ll be able to award some projects to do things to combat flooding and make us more resilient to storms,” he said. “That’s a pretty significant amount, and that’s a priority for us.”

Florida Conservation Voters Executive Director Aliki Moncrief was unimpressed, saying DeSantis’ environmental budget is “business as usual.”

“The climate funding is nothing to write home about, and that’s unfortunate because we’re facing a crisis of epic proportions,” he said in a statement. “Florida needs much more bold action to invest in climate solutions.”

DeSantis said he based his Florida Forever budget request on what he thinks the Republican-controlled Legislature will approve.

“We’re doing $100 million. I think that’s been pretty strong from what had been done previously,” he said. “I think that this is something that we can definitely achieve. And I think we can get support in the Legislature.”

Senate Bill 332, filed by Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, would mandate no less than $100 million be annually allocated to Florida Forever.

Some conservation advocates say that under Amendment 1, adopted in 2014, Florida Forever should receive far more than $100 million a year.

Under Amendment 1, the state constitution requires 33 percent of real estate documentary stamp revenues be funneled into Florida Forever’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund to “acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands.”

DeSantis’ $100 million Florida Forever budget request “has to be measured against the $785.5 million of Amendment 1 money that will be available after debt service is paid,” the Sierra Club of Florida wrote in a statement, citing a state Office of Economic & Demographic Research (OEDR) August report. “All of it should be spent on the acquisition, improvement, restoration, and management of conservation and recreation lands.”

While calling the $100 million “an important commitment to conservation, it’s far below the level needed to make up for years of dismal environmental protection funding at the hands of state lawmakers,” the nonpartisan Florida Policy Institute said in a statement.

Florida Conservation Voters’ Moncrief called on DeSantis to restore Florida Forever to the $300 million it received annually more than a decade ago.