Biden pitches record Everglades funding, but GOP wants more

By Hannah Northey | 03/29/2022 06:28 AM EDT

Florida Republicans during Everglades press conference this year.

Florida Republican Rep. Brian Mast speaking during a press conference on the Everglades with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other state leaders this year. @GovRonDeSantis/Twitter

President Biden’s historic request yesterday for more than $407 million to restore the Everglades was cheered by Democrats and appeared to soothe one prominent Florida Republican, but did not fully allay his fears.

The president’s proposed fiscal 2023 budget includes the largest-ever ask for Everglades funding from an administration.

Army Corps of Engineers officials at a press conference yesterday confirmed that the bulk of the money — more than $300 million — would go toward the Everglades Agricultural Reservoir (EAA) reservoir, if the budget is approved by Congress.

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The reservoir, part of a larger suite of restoration projects, has emerged as a lightning rod among Republicans who earlier this year accused the White House of withholding infrastructure dollars and forcing the project’s funding to maneuver through a tricky appropriations process (E&E News PM, March 28).

The reservoir, located south of Lake Okeechobee, is being constructed to catch and filter nutrient-supercharged water before it flows south into the Everglades and beyond. The project is a collaboration between the federal government and Florida.

Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Florida had blasted the White House at a press conference earlier this year for “sending a middle finger over to Florida” after the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t include the reservoir when doling out $2 billion under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (Greenwire, Feb. 2).

The corps responded by pushing back and urging patience, reassuring lawmakers and advocates that the funding could appear in future spending bills.

While Mast welcomed the budget request, the congressman in a statement yesterday also made clear the White House hadn’t fully met his demands, pointing to a bipartisan letter Florida’s delegation sent last week, urging President Biden to budget $725 million for the project.

“The president’s budget request is trending in the right direction, but it is still a far cry from the full $725 million per year that is needed and that we requested with bipartisan support,” Mast said. “I’ll continue to push the Administration for full funding and fight to ensure that it’s spent where it’s most needed. The EAA Reservoir needs to be the top priority.”

Notably, the fiscal 2022 spending package that moved through Congress in recent weeks includes $350 million for restoration efforts in South Florida, including work in the Everglades. Mast backed an earmark to help secure the money (E&E Daily, March 10).

Other Republicans remained mum. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who led the press conference this year in Florida to accuse the Biden administration of leaving the reservoir unfunded, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Democrats cheer budget ask

Democrats — even those who signed the letter asking for $750 million — applauded the president’s budget request yesterday.

“The @POTUS ’23 budget commits $407M for Everglades restoration — more than any President ever sought. It will protect this ecosystem’s biodiversity, climate mitigation impacts and our water supply. This request flows from committed #Everglades work by colleagues and advocates,” tweeted Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

Wasserman Schultz’s tweet was linked to a video touting the infrastructure bill’s inclusion of more than $1 billion for work in South Florida, which would go toward other projects tied to the reservoir. Earlier this month, the congresswoman took credit for the inclusion of $350 million in the 2022 omnibus spending package, which arrived on the heels of the corps including $1 billion for South Florida.

Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of Florida, who also signed the letter asking for $750 million, issued a statement yesterday applauding the budget’s inclusion of “hundreds of millions for Everglades Restoration to protect Florida’s drinking water.”

The Biden administration’s request for the Army Corps includes $6.6 billion in discretionary funding for the agency, less than the $8.3 billion included in the newly minted $1.5 trillion fiscal 2022 omnibus spending package. Administrations routinely request cuts for the corps knowing lawmakers will fully find the agency.

In addition to $407 million for the Everglades through the corps, the administration also requested $12 million for work on the program in the region through the Department of the Interior. The funding would build on more than $1 billion the corps set aside for South Florida through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (Greenwire, Jan. 19).

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