While Washington is sorting out the details of a major infrastructure package—The American Jobs Plan—they’ll also be working on an annual appropriations budget for Fiscal Year 2022. Individually, each allocation of funds represents major potential to invest in America’s Everglades, but together, they create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—one that could fully fund Everglades restoration and save a national treasure.
Restoring America’s Everglades is a unifying effort
Everglades restoration is unique in its ability to create a rare consensus in Washington—its unifying nature and all-around benefits make it a palpable endeavor for most.
The New York Times even put out an article recently about the potential federal dollars, conceding that all the money talk would undoubtedly lead to plenty of disagreements in Washington, but that there was “one environmentally important project that boasts remarkable bipartisan agreement…” They were, of course, referring to Everglades restoration, later describing it as a “mom-and-apple pie issue” that most Floridians—and Americans alike—have no trouble agreeing on.
Photo: Jason Stemple
And with the undeniable benefits to everyone from a restored Everglades, it’s no surprise that there’s bipartisan support to include record funding for restoration in both the 2022 budget and the proposed infrastructure package—funding that would put the plan back on track after two decades of delays.
In fact, in early March, the Florida Congressional delegation signed a letter urging Biden to include $725 million for Everglades restoration in the FY22 appropriations budget proposal. The letter, led by Senator Marco Rubio, was signed by nearly every member of the Florida delegation—including all 16 House Republicans and all 11 House Democrats—highlighting landmark consensus with ink from both sides of the aisle.
Even more recently, there’s again been a push to work between party lines in an effort to save the Everglades. Many are now calling on Washington to include full funding for all authorized projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) through the upcoming infrastructure package.
Photo: Jason Stemple
The opportunity of a lifetime
“This infrastructure package is a historic opportunity to fully fund Everglades restoration and combat Florida’s ongoing public health crisis caused by the federal government discharging toxic water from Lake Okeechobee nearly every summer,” said U.S. Congressman Brian Mast, who led another bipartisan letter to Washington with Congressman Darren Soto and several other members of the Florida delegation.
In the letter, they requested that full funding for authorized Everglades restoration projects be considered for inclusion in the infrastructure package. Mast supported the request by adding:
“Fully funding Everglades Restoration as part of this package would create more than 65,000 jobs, protect the environment and improve public health not just for Floridians but also for the 130 million visitors attracted to the state each year by America’s Everglades and Florida’s other environmental marvels.”
Since CERP was approved by Congress back in 2000, the state of Florida has spent about $4.5 billion on the plan, while Congress has only invested $1.7 billion—a far cry from the equal share agreed to 20 years ago.
Image: Courtesy of U.S. Congressman Brian Mast
Particularly in recent years, the state’s investment has overshadowed federal support, mostly due to the fact that when Governor Ron DeSantis took office back in 2019, he pledged $2.5 billion over four years for Everglades restoration and the protection of Florida’s water resources.
Fortunately, the fact sheet for the American Jobs Plan—unveiled by Biden earlier in the week—does mention the inclusion of Everglades restoration in the package, calling on Congress to invest in “the protection and restoration of major land and water resources like Florida’s Everglades and the Great Lakes.” Many agree that investment should close the deal on funding restoration to make up for a slow start from the Federal Government.
Jeb Bush, who was Governor of Florida when CERP was authorized, agrees that it’s time to get the funding back on track, saying in a recent Miami Herald Op-Ed, “The coming infrastructure bill is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the federal government to balance the ledger and make up for lost time.”
Photo: Jason Stemple
A win-win investment
It’s time that Washington invests in the plan with more conviction, because that’s exactly what it is—an investment. It’s an investment with irrefutable benefits. It improves water infrastructure, creates thousands of jobs, restores habitat, protects public health, and safeguards recreational opportunities for generations to come.
Once the CERP projects are complete, they’ll alleviate over 60% of the harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers and provide desperately needed clean water to the Everglades and Florida Bay. “You would be hard-pressed to find any infrastructure investment that could have as profound an impact,” argues Bush.
Now, that’s no small order. The suite of infrastructure projects that make up CERP represent the largest restoration project in the world, but after decades of delays, we have a very real chance to see the plan funded through this infrastructure package. This is a historic opportunity for the Federal Government to recognize the will of the people by fully funding all of the authorized projects. As Bush concludes, “This is a golden opportunity for Florida. We can’t let it slip away—and we have no time to waste.”
Thank you for using your voices to make Everglades restoration a unifying effort and a top priority for our elected officials. It wasn’t always that way, and without you helping to sound the alarm, it might still absent from the conversation. Now, we have to do everything we can to ensure funding for Everglades restoration is included in The American Jobs Plan.