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Turning the Toxic Tide: Florida is at historic crossroads; its leaders must act decisively

USA TODAY Network | Florida Editorial Boards | Treasure Coast | October 19, 2018

We must return to the culture of responsible stewardship that predominated in years past. Over the past decade we have abandoned that legacy as leaders sought to boost economic growth at the expense of the environment. Regulatory agencies were dismantled and defanged, “business-friendly” guidelines replaced the more measured, cautious policies that had previously been in place.

There may have been a legitimate economic rationale for this approach in the immediate wake of the 2008 financial crisis. But it is clear, now, that budget cuts and deregulation have contributed significantly to our ecological plight.

That course must be reversed.

No longer can we prioritize economic growth over environmental preservation. Indeed, there must be a new understanding that, here in Florida, clean water is necessary for sustainable economic progress.

Key state agencies must be revitalized and depoliticized. Funding must be boosted, even if this means higher taxes. There must be more enforcement, more inspections, tougher standards.

Government, ultimately, must assume an activist role.

In a state where low taxes and small government remain cherished ideals, these suggestions may rankle. But what is the alternative? Our environmental crises now approach the severity — and notoriety — of historic disasters such as the Love Canal toxic waste site or the Cuyahoga River fire.

The red tide is our Times Beach, Missouri; blue-green algae is our Flint, Michigan.

In the past, government — facing these historic challenges — moved decisively.

The Love Canal disaster, for example, helped bring about federal “Superfund” legislation; the Cuyahoga River fire motivated federal lawmakers to pass the National Environmental Policy Act and create the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency.

Florida’s government must respond to our crises with a similar sense of urgency.

Our problems are many, our time short. We risk leaving our children a legacy of degradation and destruction. The Florida we have known may be one they never get to experience.

We must turn the toxic tide, lest the toxic tide turn Florida into a paradise lost.

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