Fla. sugar farmers applaud House passage of Everglades restoration legislation

matt caldwellThe Florida House on Friday unanimously passed the Everglades Improvement and Management bill, HB 7065 , sponsored by Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres. U.S. Sugar Corp., Florida Crystals Corp. and Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida applaud the passage of the bill, which reflects an agreement by farmers, policymakers and environmental advocates.

According to a statement the three groups released to the media:

The bill will align state law and a bipartisan, state Everglades plan that Gov. Rick Scott and the Obama administration agreed to last year in order to move past litigation and finish restoration.

The language calls for Florida’s sugar farmers to continue their successful on-farm Best Management Practices (BMPs), paid for entirely by farmers, and recognizes their success as has been demonstrated by a reduction of phosphorus of 55 percent over the past 17 years. It extends the Agriculture Privilege tax, an additional payment made by Everglades Agriculture Area (EAA) farmers, until 2035. The legislation also establishes the appropriation framework and provides for funding for ecosystem restoration project construction. Sugar farmers have invested more than $400 million in restoration efforts to date.

“This legislation demonstrates the art of compromise between all parties and is a victory for all of us who have been part of Everglades restoration efforts for 20 years,” Robert Coker, Senior Vice President of U.S. Sugar said. “We are committed to striking the balance that allows us to grow the nation’s food and also continue to serve as partners in the state’s restoration plans.”

In addition to House passage, the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation amended SB 768, Everglades restoration legislation by Senator Wilton Simpson, to match the House bill. This will allow the Senate to move swiftly, pass this Everglades bill, and send it to the Governor for his approval.

“For two decades, the Florida sugar industry has worked together with policymakers, environmental advocates, and other stakeholders in the best interest of Florida,” Gaston Cantens, Vice President of Florida Crystals said. “This agreement is a continuation of that successful collaboration and spirit of cooperation we know will get the job done for restoration.”

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