Federal Everglades funding on track
Much like the Everglades itself, the politics behind the Florida's famous wetlands can be murky and bewildering to the untrained eye.
It has been more than a year since we evaluated President Barack Obama's Everglades funding promise to restore the imperiled Florida wetlands. So, how much has changed in the intervening period of time?
On August 11, 2011 the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it would provide $100 million to secure easements from private landowners to restore wetlands in the Northern Everglades. An environmental easement is when a property owner sells development rights for land to the federal government. The government then takes steps to return the land to its natural state and to maintain it. In all, 24,000 acres of agricultural land -- in four Florida counties -- will benefit from the Department of Agriculture's cash infusion. This funding brings USDA's total contribution to Everglades restoration at $189 million, benefiting a total of 50,000 acres.
This newly announced funding comes on top of other financial contributions that the federal government has made to the Everglades. According to Kirk Fordham, chief executive of the nonprofit Everglades Foundation, funding for the Everglades has been a bright spot in the federal funding process for Florida.
Everglades funding remains a priority in President Obama's budget proposal. The president's budget for fiscal year 2012 requests $271.5 million for the Everglades. This is an increase over $254 million in FY 2011 and $248 million in FY 2010. The House of Representatives, however, lowered Obama's FY 2012 proposal by $32.7 million in its budget, leaving roughly $238.8 million. The ultimate amount, however, will depend on the contents of the Senate's version of the budget, which it has yet to approve.
In 2009 the Everglades also received $112 million in stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This extra funding kick-started several U.S. Army Corps of Engineer projects, including the Picayune Strand Restoration project. The plan is to take a failed residential development -- known as the Southern Golden Gate Estates -- in southwestern Florida and restore the 55,000 acre site to its natural state. The project"s designers hope that the area will become a sanctuary for native Florida plants and wildlife -- including the endangered Florida panther.
The ‘50-50' cost-sharing aspect of the promise refers to a deal struck between President Bill Clinton and Florida Governor Jeb Bush in 2000 and subsequently approved by Congress. The resulting plan, entitled the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), is estimated to take 30 years and cost approximately $13.5 billion. The federal government has historically been behind Florida in its funding commitments. This is, in part, because Florida had to secure the land before the Army Corps. of Engineers could begin projects. According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, from FY 2001 to FY 2008 Florida contributed $1.21 billion to the plan, while the federal government contributed $645 million from FY 2001 to FY 2010.
Keep in mind, however, that CERP is only a portion of overall funds that go toward Everglades restoration. Yet, the same disparity between federal and state funding exists in the total restoration money. The CRS report points out the federal funding from FY 2001 to FY 2010 averaged $257 million per year, while Florida funding averaged $970 million annually from FY 2001 to FY 2009.
Due to recent cutbacks in the state budget, the federal government is now taking on more of the cost. Florida"s contribution toward Everglades restoration has gone from a yearly high of $200 million in 2007-2008 to $50 million in 2011. The amount was cut further by Florida Governor Rick Scott to $17 billion but was raised slightly by the state legislature to approximately $30 million for FY 2012. Moreover the South Florida Management District -- the state agency in charge of Everglades restoration projects -- received a more than $120 million budget reduction as a result of Scott's statewide property tax cut.
The Obama administration seems to prioritizing protection of Florida wetlands. The recent announcement from the Department of Agriculture, the increase in funding in the federal budget and the cash infusion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, all indicate a strong commitment to this project. While the federal government still has ground to cover to match Florida's total expenditures as part of the 30-year plan adopted in 2000, it certainly is making progress on an annual basis. Thus, we rate this item Promise Kept.
Interview with Kirk Fordham, CEO of the Everglades Foundation.
Interview with Julie Hill-Gabriel, Director of Everglades Policy, Audubon Society of Florida.
Congressional Research Service report, "Everglades Restoration: The Federal Role in Funding,” March 11, 2010.
Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, 2010 Draft Report to Congress.
United States Department of Agriculture, news release, August 11, 2011.
Miami Herald, "US promises more money for Everglades restoration,” August 11, 2011.
Orlando Sentinel, "Everglades restoration takes big budget hit,” June 15, 2011.
Sun Sentinel, "Obama budget includes $271.5 million for Everglades,” February 14, 2011.
St. Petersburg Times, "If state funding is cut, federal officials say Everglades restoration will continue,” May 4, 2011.
Palm Beach Post, "Budget cuts likey to kill Florida environmental programs; even Everglades restoration in danger,” February 28, 2011.
Sun Sentinel, "Washington Expected to Take Lead in Restoration; Everglades,” May 16, 2011
Palm Beach Post, "Scott touts property tax cut bill at South Florida water district where public job cuts anticipated,” June 22, 2011.
St. Petersburg Times, "The Budget Picture,” May 7, 2011.
Obama's taken some important steps on this big project
The Everglades Foundation, Corps awards $53 million for Picayune Strand restoration work, accessed Jan. 7, 2010