Many stories have been written anointing me as the “only Senator to oppose the Everglades restoration” due to my vote against the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2000. My opposition to this important project has since changed, largely in part to my friend and colleague Sen. Marco Rubio.
Despite the rigor he faced then on the presidential campaign trail earlier this year, he worked with others to reach out to me privately and explain the importance of the Everglades to his state.
On the table was the authorization of another component of this restoration effort — Central Everglades Planning Project, also known as CEPP. This project isn’t simply the restoration of one of America’s greatest natural treasures, it’s for the preservation and protection of south Florida’s communities who depend on clean, managed water to drive tourism and agriculture.
CEPP utilizes updated technical information and incorporates several components of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), authorized in WRDA 2000 and subsequent acts. The project is designed to capture and treat water south of Lake Okeechobee and restore more natural water flows to the Everglades and Florida’s coastline.
Marco was asking for this project because he recognized an opportunity to address a genuine need. At that time, WRDA wasn’t slated for consideration in my committee until after the Florida presidential primary, and Marco wasn’t running for reelection to the U.S. Senate. He simply brought forward a compelling case, and we put CEPP into the base of the WRDA 2016 bill.
In addition to CEPP, WRDA 2016 addresses other critical priorities for the State of Florida, to include authorizing the Port Everglades deepening project and storm damage protection for Flagler County, modernizing cost shares for port deepening projects that haven’t been improved in the past 30 years, and improving the beneficial use of dredged material to restore degraded ecosystems and strengthen coastal resiliency.
The legislation would also require the U.S. Army Corps, in coordination with Gulf States, to develop and implement a plan for oyster bed recovery that were damaged by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and for the Corps to study improvements for storm water retention and flood protection for Daytona Beach.
As chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, I have held four hearings on this matter, and on April 28, my committee reported WRDA to the Senate for consideration with a strong bipartisan vote.
Marco has joined me in calling for Senate leadership to bring this bill forward. In July, he spoke on the Senate floor about his recent visit to the St. Lucie River area, calling it “an economic disaster in addition to an ecological crisis.” He highlighted to all his colleagues of the urgency for CEPP authorization in WRDA, its importance for clean water as well as tourism and its impact on the livelihood of one in three Floridians.
We are committed to making CEPP and WRDA 2016 a reality. As the Senate returns in September, I will be advocating for its swift consideration during the next work period.
Congress has a chance with WRDA 2016 to show it can put aside party politics and continue working for the American people, for the good of our nation’s economy and for the protection and restoration of important parts of our environment like Florida’s Everglades.