- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Aug. 2

The Ocala Star-Banner on solar power in Florida:

The Sunshine State should be a leader in the use of solar power.

Florida has the greatest solar potential of any eastern state, yet its cloudier neighbors to the north do a much better job of tapping the sun to provide electricity. There are 9 million energy customers in Florida but fewer than 12,000 rooftop solar systems - as compared to more than 43,000 rooftop systems in New Jersey, which has half the population.

Taxes are among the barriers to expanding the use of solar power in Florida. The problem provided a rare opportunity for bipartisan agreement in the state Legislature, which unanimously passed a ballot initiative that would extend a tax break to businesses that invest in solar energy.

Voters will consider Amendment 4 on the Aug. 30 primary election ballot. The Star-Banner recommends approval of the measure, which provides environmental as well as economic benefits.

Homeowners already get a break on their property taxes when they put solar panels on their rooftops. Amendment 4 would do the same for businesses, exempting the value of solar panels and other renewable energy devices from their property taxes for 20 years.

Florida needs to promote the use of renewable energy rather than relying on fossil fuels from out of state. Florida currently generates less than 1 percent of its electricity from solar power.

Solar energy makes sense for our environment and economy. The solar industry has seen job growth nearly 20 times faster than the overall national economy, according to the Solar Foundation, a nonprofit research and education organization. Amendment 4 would help solar companies create more quality jobs in Florida.

A state such as Florida, which relies on its natural beauty to attract visitors, should turn away from polluting energy sources to the greatest extent possible. Carbon emissions contribute to climate change, which causes rising sea levels, increased heat waves and other consequences that have the potential to devastate our state.

Amendment 4 shouldn’t be a tough sell for Florida voters, and it doesn’t seem like it will be. A recent St. Leo University poll found 68 percent of respondents supported the measure, with just 7 percent opposed and 25 percent unsure. The amendment requires the approval of more than 60 percent of voters to be part of the state constitution.

While the enthusiasm of Floridians for solar energy is welcome, voters need to be savvy about solar ballot measures. Another measure, Amendment 1 on the November ballot, received 77 percent support in the St. Leo survey - despite the fact it only reinforces the solar status quo.

Utilities helped put Amendment 1 on the ballot to thwart a competing initiative that threatened their energy monopoly. Backers failed to put the competing initiative on the ballot, yet Amendment 1 remained under the guise of being a pro-solar measure.

Amendment 1 would enshrine in the state constitution the right of businesses and homeowners to own or lease solar equipment - something they already have the right to do. It would do absolutely nothing to expand the use of solar power in Florida.

Voters should stick with Amendment 4 as a real way to help the Sunshine State reach its solar potential. More must be done, but Amendment 4 would be a good step in making solar power more affordable for and thus widely used.

Amendment 4 is a common-sense measure that both parties were able to get behind. The Star-Banner endorses the amendment and encourages voters to cast their ballots in favor of it on Aug. 30 and through early voting.

Online:

http://www.ocala.com/

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Aug. 1

The SunSentinel on protecting the state’s waters:

Against the backdrop of this summer’s water-borne ecological calamity on the Treasure Coast - a noxious bloom of blue-green algae - a Florida commission met this past week to consider a proposal to allow more cancer-causing chemicals in the state’s waterways.

While the issues aren’t directly related - nutrient pollution is the suspected cause of the algae bloom, not carcinogens - it’s reasonable to expect members of the Environmental Regulation Commission would at least demonstrate renewed resolve to safeguard Florida’s vital but threatened water supply. After all, the commission’s mission is to set “standards and rules that protect Floridians and the environment.”

Instead, the commission voted 3-2 in favor of the proposal. “There is more good than harm,” said the commission’s chair, Cari Roth.

With the health of Florida’s water - and therefore its environment and its economy - at stake, this is an unforgivably low standard. There is too much at risk to settle for “more good than harm.”

The proposal endorsed by the commission is a mixed bag, but more cancer-causing chemicals’ limits were increased than decreased. It’s industry friendly, even though some industrial polluters still aren’t satisfied.

The proposal also established limits for 39 currently unregulated chemicals, a fact touted by supporters. Yet criticism spanned the political spectrum.

Congressional Democrats from Florida fired off a letter expressing their “serious concerns” to Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, where the proposal is now headed for review. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and eight U.S. House members wrote that “it is critically important that we ensure Florida’s water-quality standards preserve the health and safety of all users, especially vulnerable populations like children, the elderly, and people whose livelihoods rely on the water, such as commercial fishermen.”

And a Republican state senator from Miami, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, called for the commission to reconsider its decision. “I cannot understand how allowing for the increase of not one but multiple known cancer-causing agents in our waterways throughout the state makes any logical sense,” Diaz de la Portilla declared in a statement he released following the vote.

Both the congressional Democrats and the Republican state senator pointed out a glaring flaw in the commission’s process. Two of its seven seats - reserved for representatives of the environmental community and local government - have been left vacant by Gov. Rick Scott. “I cannot help but think that the vote would have not been 3-2 in favor, but 4-3 against, had a full commission been given the chance to vote on this proposal,” Diaz de la Portilla wrote.

If he is sincerely interested in the commission fulfilling its mission, Scott will heed the advice of his fellow Republican, Diaz de la Portilla, and order another vote on the proposal after he fills the two vacancies.

Meanwhile, responding to the Treasure Coast’s algae crisis, Scott blamed Nelson, whom he might challenge for the Senate in 2018, for not securing enough federal dollars to prevent releases of nutrient-polluted water from Lake Okeechobee. Such transparently partisan politics will only bog down progress in solving Florida’s water problems. It’s worth remembering that Tampa Bay, plagued by nutrient pollution in the 1970s, was successfully cleaned up after local, state and federal leaders in both parties closed ranks and worked together.

Scott has pledged to seek money in the next state budget for grants to replace septic tanks, one of the primary sources of nutrient pollution. Earlier this year, the governor and the Legislature made a long-term financial commitment to restoring the Everglades, springs and Lake Apopka by establishing the Legacy Florida program. These are positive steps, but much more needs to be done to protect Florida’s water supply.

Regional water management districts, whose budgets were slashed by Scott in 2011, need to be re-empowered with sufficient funds and appointees committed to carrying out their critical responsibilities. Money set aside for water and land conservation by voters when they approved Amendment One in 2014 needs to be invested for that purpose, not diverted to agency salaries and other operating expenses.

And water-quality standards need to be raised, not lowered.

Online:

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/

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July 31

The Miami Herald on the Zika virus:

Bad news - they’re here. The Zika-carrying mosquitoes - despite all the spraying - have arrived in Miami-Dade County, responsible for at least four local victims contracting the disease. They are the first to be infected by mosquitoes in the continental United States.

And the situation grew more dire Monday morning. The number of local Zika cases jumped to 14 and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory warning pregnant women to avoid visiting sections of Miami.

What do we do now?

First, Florida needs to make a specific request for federal funding. A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told the Editorial Board on Sunday that the department, so far, hasn’t received one. Why this dangerous delay?

Second, the do-nothing Congress, which went on recess before approving adequate funding to bombard the infected stingers wreaking havoc in the region, should come back early and lift a finger to protect the public.

That was the unequivocally strong message from Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio on Friday, as local and state health officials, along with Gov. Rick Scott, confirmed that the newest cases are people who had not traveled and been infected abroad. That means that now you can catch the virus just by stepping out of your house and encountering the wrong kind of mosquito.

“Congressional members should go back to Washington and approve additional funding before this becomes a full-blown problem,” Sen. Rubio said. “We have waited far too long to address this issue.”

We could not agree more and commend him for his well-placed concern. In June, the Editorial Board urged Sen. Rubio to be a forceful voice for the well-being of his constituents, so it’s good to hear his clarion call.

Now, he, along with Gov. Scott, needs to be equally committed to jettisoning the politics that have been injected into stemming a potential crisis and work to get a clean funding bill passed in Congress, not one larded with nonrelated items from the GOP’s agenda. That’s what did in the most recent attempt to secure funding. Democrats balked at the bills that included measures that would make it more difficult for women trying to access contraceptive services through Planned Parenthood and similar organizations and cut $540 million from the Affordable Care Act.

The Department of Health And Human Services says that this year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has moved $8 million for Florida in the fight against Zika. The money can, among other things, enhance mosquito control and monitoring, provide epidemiology and laboratory staff, equipment and supplies, and help contribute data to the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry. Zika causes brain-damaging microcephaly in women’s fetuses. In addition, the CDC awarded on July 1 about $27 million to the state in Public Health Emergency Preparedness funding, which can be used to support Zika response efforts.

Now the onus is on the state of Florida to come through with a formal funding request. The delay is irresponsible.

Before Friday’s troubling revelation, Florida had 300-plus Zika cases, more than any other state.

Back in February, President Obama asked Congress for $1.8 billion to fight Zika. But Congress sat on its hands, while the Obama administration shifted $510 million for Ebola to fight Zika, a stopgap measure.

The Senate eventually cut the president’s request to $1.1 billion, while the House allocated only $662 million. But the chambers, ultimately, approved nothing.

Blame the House for its attempt at legislative blackmail by attaching poison-pill provisions that Republicans knew Democrats would never accept - which is unacceptable.

We need funds to stage a D-Day on these mosquitoes. As Sen. Rubio reminded fellow lawmakers: “This is not a partisan issue; Zika bites everyone.”

Online:

http://www.miamiherald.com/

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