The Ledger

Nov 18, 2017

Should environment be in the States Constitution?

The environment has entered the discussion before the Constitutional Revision Commission.

Panel member Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, an activist from an area of Florida affected by discharges from Lake Okeechobee, has proposed two amendments to be included on the 2018 ballot.

One would add an elected Commissioner of Environmental Protection to the Florida Cabinet, which would remove environmental protection from the direct authority of the governor and bring clearer accountability for state environmental policy decisions.

The other would add a provision to the constitution to give people the right to a clean and healthful environment.

It proposes to amend Article 2, Section 7 of the Florida Constitution to add this language:

“The natural resources of the state are the legacy of present and future generations. Every person has a right to a clean and healthful environment, including clean air and water; control of pollution; and the conservation and restoration of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment as provided by law. Any person may enforce this right against any party, public or private, subject to reasonable limitations as provided by law.”

If the latter proposal reaches the ballot and if Florida’s voters approve it, the question is how it would be implemented by the Florida Legislature and what kind of litigation its enforcement would generate.

I base that on the legalistic parsing the 2014 Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, which was intended to generate revenue to restart the Florida Forever program, suffered at the hands of the Florida Legislature.

We’re still waiting for substantial funding of the program rather than siphoning the money away for routine agency operating expenses and local pork barrel public works projects that other legitimate sources of revenue could fund.

The amendment potentially dedicates hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the Florida Forever program. However, the Florida Senate is reviewing a $100 million proposed appropriation. Gov. Rick Scott is recommending only $50 million.

After all, this is the same group of Tallahassee “leaders” who argue about whether pollution exists and whether doing anything about it is a priority and just how clean the environment should have to be.

Expect a lot of discussion of what defines “reasonable limitations.”

Elevating environmental protection to the Cabinet level position — the governor and cabinet already deal with some environmental issues sitting as the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund — could provide higher visibility to environmental issues.

But again, it would be up to the Florida Legislature to approve the environmental agency’s budget and the statutes that govern it and give it authority to do anything useful.

If you would like to share your thoughts on these amendments, contact the Constitutional Revision Commission at .