December 13, 2010
Cannon creates water policy committee, but questions about its purpose abound
By Virginia Chamlee
Last Tuesday, House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, announced the establishment of a Select Committee on Water Policy that aims to "thoughtfully address the profoundly important issue of Florida's water resources." But a review of campaign contributions given to one of the committee's leaders raises questions about whether environmental priorities will guide the committee's work.
In a press release regarding the newly formed committee, Cannon said that he is directing the committee to "conduct a comprehensive review of the state's water policies and recommend legislative actions to further ensure Florida uses its water resources in an effective and sustainable manner to meet future water supply needs."
According to the release, the committee will report its preliminary findings prior to the 2011 legislative session and its final findings and recommendations prior to the 2012 legislative session.
But who makes up the committee? And what, specifically, do members aim to accomplish? Canon named state Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, as chairwoman of the committee, with Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, serving as vice chairman.
In 1999, Williams was appointed to the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District by then-Gov. Jeb Bush and, during her most recent campaign, ran on a platform that touted a heavy focus on water policies and the environment.
Though Williams has portrayed herself as an environmental ally, many of her past campaign contributors are notable environmental foes. According to Ballotpedia, some of the top contributors of her 2008 campaign included Southern Gardens Citrus and Florida Power & Light.
The Florida citrus industry has been staunch in its opposition to a set of water quality standards, which environmentalists argue are necessary for the health of Florida waters.
As a utilities giant, Florida Power & Light will be affected by the standards. In fact, the Manufacturers Association of Florida - of which Florida Power & Light is a "Silver Board Member" - released a harsh statement (.pdf) in 2009 on the proposed nutrient criteria: "It makes no sense to establish federal water quality standards in Florida that are unattainable and with little or no benefit to the natural resources."
Though Williams has years of experience in environmental issues, only time will tell if she and the newly formed Water Policy Committee side with industry or the environment when it comes to matters of water quality and pollution.
Thus far, legislators have not announced the specific issues the committee will handle, but Cannon said he intends to use the committee process to spotlight specific environmental issues in the state: "These select committees will not be formed with any pre-determined agenda, but will instead provide a forum for the careful, public examination of serious policy issues with the goal of developing a broad consensus for reform."