Florida environmentalists demand legal rights to water and wildlife through constitutional amendments

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A network of environmental underdogs who last year proved they can beat the system at the local level are presenting their pro-nature campaign in Florida to voters statewide for 2022.

The network, through a political action committee called FL5.org, is calling for five proposed constitutional amendments to be entered into the general ballot in 2022.

Four of the initiatives call for tighter protections for Florida waters, wetlands, wilderness on the way to new or expanded toll roads, and iconic species such as Florida panthers, Florida manatees, right whales , sea turtles, black bears and bottlenose dolphins.

A fifth initiative would ban “captive wildlife hunting facilities”, also known as game farms, which peddle the hunting of animals such as deer, pigs, rams, antelopes and buffaloes. water locked within their limits. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission reports that there are 443 licensed hunting farms in Florida.

The campaigns are led by Charles “Chuck” O’Neal, father of Florida’s Rights Of Nature movement, which aims to establish legal rights for natural features such as rivers, springs, and wildlife.

O’Neal and his allies made waves last year, when Orange County voters, as the Orlando Sentinel reports, overwhelmingly endorsed their “Right to Clean Water Initiative” – ​​an amendment to the county charter granting citizens the right to sue on behalf of polluted local waterways. Donors said this made Orange County the largest municipality in the country to pass a nature rights law and the first to do so in Florida.

Orange County voters also removed a sitting county commissioner, Betsey VenderLey, and replaced her with environmental lawyer Nicole Wilson, who helped draft the language for the Clean Water Initiative.

Home builders and developers have urged lawmakers in the 2020 Florida legislature to ban the granting of legal rights to natural features, arguing it would be bad for business.

“They tried to preempt the rights of nature in Orange County. In 2020, they snuck into a preemption in the Clean Waterways Act, ”O’Neal told the Phoenix in an interview.

Associated Industries of Florida, industry lobbyists, approved the waterways legislation and its pre-emption on the rights of nature, saying that by 2020 it “deals with water quality and protects businesses of Florida against lawsuits by defining that people cannot sue on behalf of inanimate objects i.e. rivers, lakes, streams, etc.

Environmental groups have widely criticized the legislation, which was passed, saying it protects polluters and is too weak to clean up Florida’s waterways again soiled with blue-green algae and red tide. .

“I am frustrated with the way special interests are manipulating environmental regulations in Florida,” O’Neal told Phoenix columnist Craig Pittman last summer. “We are essentially handcuffed here at the local level when it comes to protecting our water supply. “

O’Neal responded with the five citizens ‘initiatives, for which his allies must obtain nearly a million voters’ signatures to vote in 2022. They do not solicit election contributions for marketing campaigns but rely on Floridians to vote for natural wonders. they love Florida.

“Ours is completely voluntary,” said O’Neal, adding that 35 environmental allies to date have endorsed FL5’s efforts. These include the Florida Springs Council, Save Our Rivers, Waterkeepers Florida, Campus Climate Corps, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

FL5.org’s proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution are:


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