The Right To A Cleaner Environment In Florida Has Been Considered Before; It Did Not Turn Out Well

A group called Florida Right To Clean Water is promoting a proposed constitutional amendment that they hope to place on the 2024 ballot.

The proposed ballot summary reads:

“Prohibits pollution of Florida’s waters by recognizing a right to clean water for all Floridians and Florida waters, including the Everglades, Florida Springs, the Indian River Lagoon, the St. Johns River, the Caloosahatchee River, Biscayne Bay, Tampa Bay, Pensacola Bay and all other waters within the state; provides for local lawmaking to protect clean water, and provides for enforcement and severability.”

Sierra has not taken a position on this proposal.

Interestingly, this is not the first time such a proposal to amend the Florida Constitution has been suggested.

When Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission convened in 1997, then Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Virginia Wetherell suggested that the group consider an environmental bill of rights, according to Clay Henderson’s recently published environmental history.

Whetherell’s proposal included the right to live in an environment free of toxic pollution of manmade chemicals, the right to protect and preserve our pristine natural communities, the right to ensure the existence of the scarce and fragile plant and animal species that share Florida, the right to outdoor recreation and the right to sustained economic success within our natural resources capacity, according to Henderson’s account.

Predictably, by the time the proposal emerged from the other end of the process, it had been reduced a much vaguer declaration stating that “adequate provision shall be made in state law for the conservation of natural resources.”

By that time, of course, there were already a number of provisions in state law intended–at least in theory–to promote natural resource conservation. That was the result of progressive legislation approved in Tallahassee in the early 1970s and strengthened in subsequent years.

But the problem with including conservation provisions in state law is that another crop of legislators can come along later and remove them.

That’s pretty much what happened beginning in the Rick Scott administration and continued to some extent ever since.

Constitutional amendments can be repealed, too, but that requires voter approval. That is a heavier lift than simply allowing some lobbyist’s buddy in the Florida Legislature to do the dirty work.

Whether the current proposed constitutional amendment or some similar measure is the answer and whether it could somehow become torpedo-proof when the Legislature convenes if voters were to approve it is part of the ongoing debate.

However, history does not give us reason to be optimistic.




Posted in Group Conservation Issues.