TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order Thursday that will enable the state to spend $2.5 billion to address Florida's dirty waterways, including the Everglades.
The executive order comes after Florida faced one of its worst years with toxic algae and red tide on both coasts.
During his campaign for governor, DeSantis earned the endorsement of the Everglades Trust, which cited his refusal to take money from sugar companies operating around Lake Okeechobee. Many critics blame the sugar industry for the toxic algae being directed into Florida's waterways from the lake water releases.
"Our water and natural resources are the foundation of our economy and our way of life in Florida," DeSantis said. "The protection of water resources is one of the most pressing issues facing our state. That’s why today I'm taking immediate action to combat the threats which have devastated our local economies and threatened the health of our communities."
Executive Order 19-12, known as Achieving More Now For Florida’s Environment, will help establish a task force to reduce the impacts of blue-green algae over the next five years.
The order allocates $2.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration and protection of water resources, which is a $1 billion increase in spending from the previous four years.
According to a news release, it's the highest level of funding for restoration efforts in the state's history.
The Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency will be established under the executive order, which will oversee research and analysis to make sure all state agency actions are in line with environmental priorities. That new department will be overseen by a chief science officer who will coordinate and prioritize research, "to ensure alignment with current and emerging environmental concerns most pressing to Floridians," according a news release.
DeSantis also directed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to help coastal communities prepare for sea level rise.
The executive order also instructs the DEP to take necessary actions to fight any offshore drilling on Florida's coasts.
The action received praise from environmental groups Thursday and some questions from Florida lawmakers.
“After decades of delay, Gov. DeSantis has today placed Florida on a trajectory to complete the EAA Reservoir, not in 10 years, but in four," Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said. "He has clearly heard the cries of Floridians who have had enough of perennial algae outbreaks, and to scientists and engineers who confirm that construction of the reservoir will reduce algae-causing Lake Okeechobee discharges by more than half."
In an email, Sierra Club Florida officials said DeSantis "has done more to address Florida’s water quality crisis than Governor Rick Scott did in eight years.”
But the group also voiced some concerns about the executive order, including the lack of language in the order addressing climate change and the call for immediate work on the "poorly designed Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir." Sierra Club officials said the reservoir needs to be redesigned.
Florida Senate Democratic Majority Leader Audrey Gibson questioned where the $2.5 billion would come from.
“His order calls for the securing of $2.5 billion over the next four years to invest in Everglades restoration and protecting our water resources, but there is no identification of where that money will come from," Gibson said, asking if DeSantis will be asking for help from the Trump administration or the Florida Legislature.
DeSantis had several public speaking events around the state on Thursday to discuss the new policies.