February 6, 2020 —Miami Herald
President Donald Trump’s forthcoming budget includes a quarter-billion dollars toward Everglades restoration, a reflection of Republican lawmakers’ growing emphasis on the ecosystem’s recuperation and the president’s intense focus on a key 2020 battleground state.
According to a senior administration source, Trump has included $250 million in his 2021 budget for environmental projects in the Everglades. It was not immediately clear what specific projects the money would fund, but the proposal comes amid a push to create a massive reservoir to clean the polluted water that flows from Lake Okeechobee following outbreaks of toxic algae that have fouled estuaries and coasts in recent summers.
The money, if approved by Congress, would be an increase of the historic $200 million appropriated toward Everglades restoration in the current budget as part of a $1.4 trillion 2020 budget approved in December.
Trump is expected to release his budget for next year Monday.
“The Trump administration takes the environmental harms caused by algae blooms to the Everglades very seriously, which is why we’re working closely with Florida and other states that are consistently impacted by these blooms,” Chase Jennings, press secretary for the Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement. “President Trump is committed to the strict standards and funding surrounding algae blooms in order to provide clean, untainted water to all Americans.”
Trump’s decision to propose more money for the Everglades in his forthcoming budget continues a reversal of his tepid interest from one year ago. Trump’s environmental record has also been heavily criticized, with the Sierra Club this week calling him “the worst president for the environment and climate in the history of the United States.”
His initial 2020 budget included $63 million toward the Everglades — one-third of what was sought by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a key Trump ally who has made Everglades cleanup a staple of his administration. Trump increased that amount to $200 million weeks later following a visit to Lake Okeechobee and lobbying by South Florida water managers, DeSantis and other Republicans, including U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.
Last week, Rubio, Scott and Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast wrote letters to Trump, asking him to increase the federal money flowing to the River of Grass. In their letter, Rubio and Scott asked Trump to put the money toward South Florida Ecosystem Restoration, a suite of water management projects intended to clean the water from Lake Okeechobee and restore a more natural flow to the Everglades.
“Everglades Restoration is the single best way to improve Florida’s water quality and environment,” Rubio said in a statement, noting his efforts to secure the $200 million in the 2020 budget passed by Congress. “This year the President agreed to our request to increase it to $250 million. The next step is once again work the entire Florida delegation and use my role on the spending committee to get it done.”
The proposed funding would go to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is working with the state to create a $1.6 billion reservoir to help store excess polluted water from Lake Okeechobee. When the massive lake swells, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases water east and west through tributaries. That water, polluted with decades of agricultural runoff and septic tank seepage, has sparked severe outbreaks of toxic blue green algae.
Trump’s budget also includes a $15 million program intended to help predict and prevent severe algae blooms.
Along with the 10,000-acre reservoir, a state plan to create a 6,500-acre marsh-like area to clean water running south aims to help remove pollution from the Everglades and flagging Florida Bay. At a pace of $200 million a year, the Army Corps has said the reservoir project could be completed in eight years. The state project is slated for completion in half that time.
The reservoir, which is not yet under construction, has become a top priority for state and federal lawmakers, although there are questions about how effectively it will clean water. The U.S. Army Corps is also bolstering the lake’s Herbert Hoover Dike.