TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- As toxic algae blooms ravage Florida's coastline for the third consecutive summer, progressive environmentalists are accusing Gov. Rick Scott of contributing to the crisis through his administration's deregulatory agenda.
- 7 South Florida counties in state of emergency
- Environmentalists: Scott policies led to algae blooms
- Scott says his policies have been a boon for the environment
Throughout his two terms, Scott has sought to foster economic growth by eliminating or curtailing many of the state's growth management and environmental protection functions.
His critics point specifically to the abolition of the Department of Community Affairs and the downsizing of the Department of Environmental Protection's enforcement division as touchstone events that have allowed developers and agricultural interests to send polluted water to Lake Okeechobee, which in turn has helped trigger the algae blooms.
"He instituted an immediate policy to make sure that any positions that had not been filled by the time he got there remained unfilled," Aliki Moncrief, the executive director of Florida Conservation Voters, said of the Scott administration's stewardship of DEP. "So, he essentially hobbled the agency's -- and the enforcement section specifically -- ability to continue the regulatory work."
But Gov. Scott -- who on Monday declared a state of emergency in the seven South Florida counties hit hardest by the blooms -- has sought to cast his time in office as a boon for the state's environment.
As he campaigns to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, Scott often mentions the pro-environment funding he's approved, including $187 million to catch and contain polluted water in the 2018-19 budget alone.
And Scott has said his close relationship with President Trump is paying dividends, with the federal government committing to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on repairing the Herbert Hoover Dike, a critical backstop against toxic discharges.
"I think it's very important to continue our efforts to take care of our environment," Scott said alongside Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke earlier this year. "I want to also thank the Trump administration for their commitment to make sure that we have the funding for Lake Okeechobee, so we can finish repairing the dike."
But Moncrief takes exception to the governor's characterization of the dike repair as directly related to the algae blooms. Controlled discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee are the chief contributor, she argues, and that water has been unnecessarily polluted.
"He has exacerbated, over the last eight years, a situation that could have been... we could have been better off today if he had done things differently," Moncrief said. "There's a lot of factors in this very complicated problem, and he is one very big one."
On Monday, Sen. Bill Nelson asked the Centers for Disease Control to provide residents affected by the toxic algae blooms with information on any short or long-term health effects.