by Merrillee Jipson
As a New Year’s present to local groups looking to restore, protect and preserve living natural systems—such as rivers and springs and the groundwater that is the source of drinking water—in their individual areas around Florida, Senator Albritton, chair of the Agricultural Committee, introduced SB 1382 on January 3, 2020. Section 1 of the bill introduces a spate of new programs associated with Florida’s already anemic environmental protections, complete with language such as “where technically and financially practical” that render those protections optional, giving Florida’s citizens only the illusion of protection.
The real gift, though, is in Section 2 – an addition to the Florida Statutes that states that “A local government … may not recognize … legal standing or legal rights … to a plant, an animal, a body of water or any other part of the natural environment which is not a person or a political subdivision ….” This is an obvious attack on SAFEBOR—the Santa Fe River Bill of Rights campaign—and other similar campaigns in Florida.
The agricultural and business communities have obviously taken notice of the almost half-dozen local Rights of Nature campaigns that have sprung up in grassroots groups all around Florida. These movements would not be necessary if the state were properly doing its job which, as Article 2, Section 7 of the Florida Constitution states, “It shall be the policy of the state to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty. Adequate provision shall be made by law for the abatement of air and water pollution and of excessive and unnecessary noise and for the conservation and protection of natural resources.”
Anyone who reads the news and is honest knows that those adequate provisions have neither been made nor weaker provisions adhered to. The laws written to protect our environment are written to allow a certain amount of harm. Imagine if the laws were written so that if I assault you, there would be no ramifications as long as you are less than 15 percent harmed.
Rights of Nature groups have long recognized and been frustrated with the inadequacies of the state legal structure’s inability to support the constitution as it pertains to natural systems. These groups are seeking remedies in their own communities to protect the environments in which they live.
This is democracy in action, and Albritton’s attempted subjugation of community rights is a direct assault on democracy and community rights. This wrongful and dangerous legislation is borne of a growing Big Brother mentality in government that is in direct conflict with democracy. That’s the thing about democracy – use it or lose it.
History will not judge well those who come down against granting rights to natural systems or giving communities the rights to protect those systems. These days, however, apparently historical judgement takes a back seat to the personal enrichment that comes from unrestrained growth at the expense of the environment that sustains all of us. Perhaps the thinking is that the ultimate collapse of our natural systems will leave no one in the future to judge.
It is in the public interest that SB1382 dies before democracy does.