The massive Energy and Water Appropriations bill for the next fiscal year, which passed the U.S. House 240-177 Friday, makes a big winner of the Florida Everglades. It earmarks $123 million for repair and restoration efforts within this national treasure, one of the largest wetlands in the world.
The spending plan even answers Gov. Rick Scott's call for the federal government to move more quickly on shoring up the deteriorating Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, by providing $64 million for the structure's repair. It's the dike's poor condition -- its risk of breaking -- that necessitates the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' damaging releases into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries during exceptionally rainy periods.
The problem is, the bill has significant hurdles to overcome for the appropriations to stay intact. Even if the Senate passes its version of the bill and is equally generous to the Everglades, President Obama has threatened to veto it. While he supports Everglades restoration -- and made a point of saying so when he visited the national park on Earth Day -- the legislation contains other provisions he particularly objects to, for example, funding cuts to alternative energy programs.
The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Everglades Caucus, said this about the bill's passage in the House: As Floridians, we are lucky to have the Everglades in our backyard, and we must do everything we can to restore it to its natural state for future generations. ... As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have worked tirelessly with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to include full funding to restore the Everglades in this legislation, and I am very pleased with its passage."
Florida Congressman Tom Rooney, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said the bill will provide critical funding for Everglades restoration, water infrastructure, and energy security projects, while cutting red tape.
This bill includes funding I requested for Everglades restoration and water infrastructure projects, which are critical to keeping Florida beautiful and maintaining our states economic growth, Rooney said. In addition to funding vital water and restoration projects in Florida, our bill will help ensure the safety of our nations nuclear stockpile, advance energy independence, cut red tape, and strengthen our infrastructure, while meeting strict spending caps to save taxpayer money.
Freshman Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo called the bill "a step in the right direction to ensuring that environmental cleanup and energy programs expand and thrive throughout the country."
He said $10 million provided to an environmental infrastructure account will help the Florida Keys Water Quality Improvement Program and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Here's a breakdown on some of the appropriations linked to Florida:
- $35.4 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers
- $64.1 million for Hoover Dike Seepage Control
- $9.5 million for Tampa Harbor operation and maintenance
- $2.75 million for the Okeechobee Waterway
- $123.7 million for South Florida Ecosystem Restoration
- $700,000 for Intracoastal Waterway operation and maintenance
- $400,000 for Manatee Harbor operation and maintenance
Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith