Chalk one up for the clean water cause!

One of the worst bills of Florida’s legislative session is on the cusp of wholesale changes that would defang it. House Bill 789, filed by Rep. Toby Overdorf, initially sought to stifle environmental lawsuits by forcing anyone who challenges and loses a decision by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection or a water management district to pay the “prevailing party’s” legal fees.

There are already provisions in state law to prevent frivolous lawsuits — so the only reason we saw for this bill was to grease the skids for developers and polluters.

Another problematic part of the bill was Section 4, which would have required FDEP and water management districts to conduct “holistic reviews” of the coastal permitting process to promote efficiency — which could also mean less oversight.

Friends of the Everglades and other conservation groups objected to the bill’s potential to stifle environmental lawsuits and limit access to the courts. More than 500 Friends supporters called and sent emails to Rep. Cynthia Stevenson, Chair of the House Water Quality, Supply & Treatment Subcommittee, asking her not to agenda the bill.

Our voices were heard. On Monday, a committee substitute was filed for the bill which eliminated the offending sections, leaving only provisions governing design requirements for stormwater system side slopes and revising rules governing whether an individual may sue over damages to real and personal property from a discharge or other pollution not authorized by government.

That bill — which Friends of the Everglades does not oppose — will be considered in lieu of Overdorf’s original during the House Water Quality, Supply & Treatment Subcommittee meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 24, at 1:30 p.m.

Thanks to all who called and emailed on this issue; your voice helped make a difference!