Posted by: reefrescue | February 24, 2010

Florida snubs US Coral Reef Task Force Washington DC summit

Florida a conspicuous no-show at annual coral reef summit in Washington

by Paul Quinlan, Palm Beach Post

Florida takes great pride in its copious coral reefs, which rival even those of the Caribbean, the state’s environmental agency boasts on its website. Imagine, then, the surprise among delegates at this week’s annual gathering of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force in Washington that the state of Florida — for the first time in anyone’s memory — was a no-show.

“Florida didn’t even send anyone at all – not even a staff person,” marveled Dan Clark, of South Florida reef conservation group Cry of the Water, in a telephone interview from the meeting.

An higher-up at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which usually sends a top staffer to task force meeting, told Clark that Gov. Charlie Crist had cut travel for state workers because of the state’s budget woes. But the feds even offered to pick up the tab for whomever Florida would be willing to send, a surprised task force staffer told Clark at the meeting.

It’s not clear why Crist didn’t take them up on the offer, and a spokesman for the governor would not return calls for comment. Was it in protest to the tougher pollution limits the EPA wants to impose on state waterways? An attempt to duck the debate over whether to protect reef habitat at the expense of future beach replenishment projects? Simple oversight?

“It’s politics, no doubt,” said Clark, suggesting the Crist doesn’t want to appear to be cozying up to environmentalists as the gap between him and front-runner GOP Senate rival Marco Rubio grows. “I hate to read too much into it, but I’ve got to wonder if the governor is distancing himself from environmental issues.”

Phone calls to the governor’s press office on Tuesday yielded this statement on Wednesday from Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller, which says, in essence, the state didn’t want to spend either its own money or the federal government’s by flying someone to Washington:

“Although the State of Florida did not send a representative to the United States Coral Reef Task Force this week in Washington DC, we remain fully committed to the effort. Both the state and federal government are currently facing economic challenges. After careful consideration, we have determined that sending employees to conferences and events – specifically those out of state – is not critical to the agency’s mission. We must be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, at a state and federal level. We look forward to continuing to work with our federal partners in protecting the nation’s coral reefs.”

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