TALLAHASSEE, Fla., April 1 (UPI) -- Environmentalists say a bill in the Florida Legislature backed by the sugar industry would delay for 20 years the deadline for reducing the flow of fertilizer containing phosphorous into the Everglades.
The bill is being introduced by leaders in the House of Representatives and is scheduled for a committee hearing Wednesday.
Representatives of U.S. Sugar Corp., Flo-Sun Inc., and other growers said the bill merely provides a needed update of the 1994 Everglades cleanup plan.
"There's no boogie man here, there are no gotchas," said Robert Coker, U.S. Sugar senior vice president. "This is the next logical step in cleaning up the Everglades."
But Audubon Society lobbyist Eric Draper called it the "Sugar Forever Act."
"This bill ensures that the sugar industry will be able to pollute the Everglades until 2026," Draper said.
The reduction of phosphorous is a major component of the federal-state Everglades Restoration Plan. The project carries an $8.4 billion price tag, making it the most expensive environmental project in history.
Other key elements include the purchase of land to filter any pollutants that continue to flow into the Everglades and rerouting and destroying flood control canals.
Environmentalists point out that the sugar industry has hired several top lobbyists to push for the bill. They include two former House speakers and former chiefs of staff to two Florida governors.
"They are loading up on lobbyist hires," said Charles Lee, an Audubon vice president. "It has all the earmarks of a nasty end run inserted into the middle of a legislative session."
Coker said environmentalists were overreacting.
He said the list of lobbyists looks so long only because it names every member of a particular firm.
"The is the ultimate case of Chicken Little, the sky is falling," Lee said.
The bill also would continue a property tax scheduled to expire this year in Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and other counties in the South Florida Water Management District used to pay for the cleanup.
Environmentalists said that tax should be levied only on the sugar industry.