President budget falls short in CERP funding

OKEECHOBEE — Federal funding for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) once again has come up short.

In 2000 Congress authorized CERP as a framework for restoring, protecting and preserving the greater Everglades ecosystem. CERP was to be a 50-50 partnership between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the State of Florida, with the SFWMD acting as the local sponsor on behalf of the state.

President’s budget has fallen short in CERP funding for three years in a row. Trump’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget request to Congress, released earlier this week, included $63 million for construction, less than a third of what the state’s Republican leaders requested and a 31 percent cut from 2019 enacted funding levels.

According to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), from the start of CERP in 2000 through June 2018, the State of Florida and SFWMD have invested more than $2.3 billion in CERP-related project design, engineering, construction and land acquisition.

Federal funding has fallen behind by nearly $1 billion, while project costs continue to rise.
Last month, Senator Rick Scott, Senator Marco Rubio, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis urged President Trump to include a commitment of $200 million in construction funding for South Florida Ecosystem Restoration (SFER) in the federal budget. President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget request to Congress, released earlier this week, included $63 million for construction, less than a third of what the state’s Republican leaders requested and a 31 percent cut from 2019 enacted funding levels.

On March 12, Senator Scott, Senator Rubio, Congressman Brian Mast, and Congressman Francis Rooney released the following joint statement:

“For the third year in a row, the administration’s budget request underfunds critical projects in South Florida. It is incredibly short-sighted to continue to underfund a series of projects that are absolutely necessary to ensure the environmental sustainability and economic vitality of one of the most dynamic regions of our nation. Everglades restoration is critically important to the State of Florida and enjoys broad bipartisan support in Congress. Failing to meet the basic federal funding commitments to restore the Everglades is contrary to the administration’s goal of improving project partnerships and cost-sharing with states.

Successive Florida governors have remained committed to this goal, pushing state funding of this 50/50 federal-state partnership to historic highs. Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers envisioned a $200 million per year federal commitment when the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was first authorized nearly 20 years ago, and it is time for the administration to meet that commitment.”

Florida Audubon called the proposed federal funding “anemic.”

“This is the third year in a row that cuts to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers budget for Everglades restoration have been proposed,” stated Audubon Florida Director of Everglades Policy Celeste De Palma. “We need more investment in green infrastructure, not less. Everglades restoration is the blueprint to combat the harmful algal blooms that plagued south Florida last summer. Increased and steadfast commitment from the federal government at the $200 million level will ensure the completion of these critical projects now, not later. We are urging Congress to get it right, and I know we have strong leadership in the U.S. House and Senate to get us there.

“Everglades restoration is a 50-50 cost-share partnership between the State of Florida and the federal government. In 2016, Florida passed Legacy Florida Act committing $200 million per year towards Everglades restoration. This year, Governor Ron DeSantis is calling for an unprecedented investment of state dollars in Everglades restoration by recommending $360 million in his budget. Audubon will work with members of Congress to ensure the federal government’s full commitment to the River of Grass,” Ms. De Palma continued. “This past summer, Florida experienced the longest red tide on record and toxic blue-green algae blooms resulting in thousands of pounds of dead marine life and birds, shuttered businesses, angered visitors and beachgoers, and sickened Floridians. With a number of projects nearing completion within the next five years, sustained and increased funding from Congress can finally deliver the results so desperately needed by the people of Florida and our cherished birds and wildlife.”

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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