A sneak legislative attack destined to undermine fertilizer bans — a key tool for local governments trying to limit nutrient pollution in waterways — was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday.

Ignoring veto requests from Friends of the Everglades, Sierra Club, Captains for Clean Water and many other environmental groups, DeSantis failed to veto a line in the budget bill, Senate Bill 2500, that funds a $250,000 study examining whether fertilizer bans with summer “blackout” periods are effective. Shortly thereafter, DeSantis signed SB 2502, the budget implementing bill, which stipulates that as the fertilizer study is conducted over the next year, local governments are prohibited from adopting or amending strict new fertilizer ordinances. 

The provision had been slipped into the implementing bill at the urging of a fertilizer industry lobbyist, former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli. Friends of the Everglades is concerned this is a first step in undermining, or even altogether killing, fertilizer bans with summer “blackout” dates. Dozens of Florida counties and municipalities have such ordinances.

“It’s astounding that, even as Lake Okeechobee is lit up with toxic algae, Florida lawmakers are passing legislation that will make it harder for local communities to limit phosphorus and nitrogen pollution that fuels toxic-algae blooms,” said Eve Samples, executive director of Friends of the Everglades. “It’s yet another example of the disconnect between Tallahassee politicians and the environmental needs of Florida.”

Nitrogen and phosphorus-rich runoff can have serious impacts on water quality, and dozens of Florida counties and municipalities rely on rainy-season fertilizer restrictions to reduce excess runoff known to feed toxic algae outbreaks.   

The budget allocates $250,000 for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) to study the effectiveness of seasonal fertilizer restrictions. However, in a May 11 letter to DeSantis requesting the veto, Friends of the Everglades, Sierra Club, Florida Springs Council and more than 50 other allied organizations pointed out the science was already clear about the effectiveness of rainy season fertilizer bans.

“No one, including UF-IFAS, which has spent millions of state (FDEP) dollars studying the same between 2005-2011, has ever determined that avoiding fertilizer application before Florida’s heavy summer downpours is anything but the cheapest, easiest and best way to stop urban stormwater pollution at its source… There is no reason to waste taxpayer dollars to restudy established fact,” the letter stated.

Friends of the Everglades will be closely watching for any attempts to expand this fertilizer ordinance ban during the 2024 legislative session that begins in January. In the meantime, you can read up on other important environmental legislation that was enacted during the 2023 session by visiting our Legislative Accountability page.