As states wrestle with reducing their operating budgets, environmental policies are landing on the chopping block. This is certainly true in Florida.

While dealing with the budget, the legislature in the Sunshine State rewrote several of the state’s environmental laws last Friday at a pace that the Miami Herald described as “head-spinning speed.” In a mere seven minutes, the state House of Representatives debated and accepted six amendments to a bill that would streamline, and in some cases erase, broad portions of the state’s environmental permitting process. While state representatives did not pass a few provisions that would have removed environmental protections, they did allow more development in wetlands, allow owners of leaking fuel tanks to avoid penalties, and limit the ability of local governments to require state and federal permits. All this happened before the legislature adjourned by 8 p.m.

Environmentalists are furious about the pace and results of last Friday's session, but they are celebrating a few small concessions they gained. If one particular amendment had been accepted, it would have prevented citizens from challenging future development projects based on environmental concerns. That provision was rejected. Another provision aimed at preventing local governments from regulating rock mining was also rejected.

But there are still plenty of concerns. The Miami Herald quoted Debra Harrison of the National Parks Association saying, “In 30 years of working to protect Florida’s unique natural wonders, never have I witnessed such an egregious and blatant dismantling of those protections.” Harrison added that the bill that will now be considered by the state senate eliminates 35 regulations, “under the false pretense of stimulating the economy when, in fact, the only economic benefit will be to those special interests who crafted the bill.”

These new measures are destined for the Florida state senate, but it’s unclear if they will be passed into law. Meanwhile, debate about the state’s operating budget is also raising environmental concerns.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that the Florida legislature is ironing out the details of a $67 billion-plus plan that would “slash dollars flowing to restore the Everglades and guard endangered species and protect environmentally threatened lands.” In all, the reductions proposed by the legislature would result in cuts of more than $4 billion to schools, employee benefits, health care and environmental programs.

Ultimately, Gov. Rick Scott will have the final say. After that, only the next round of elections will have the power to change the way things are done in the Sunshine State.

Florida legislature puts the environment in tough spot
As states like Florida try to balance their budgets, the environment often gets the short end of the stick.