The Florida Legislature is reviewing a bill that would expedite the state's environmental review process for plastics and boat manufacturers. If the bill passes, state agencies will have just 90 days to accept or reject a company's proposal to site a plant or expand existing facilities.
The bill amends the 2-year-old Florida Jobs Siting Act by adding plastics, fabricated metals and boat manufacturing to a list of industries eligible for the fast-track environmental reviews.
The amendment also significantly cuts the number of jobs a company must create to be eligible for the faster service. For projects proposed in counties with populations of 50,000 or more, firms must create only 25 new jobs, compared with the current 500-job requirement.
The Senate will vote on its version of the bill April 11, while the House version, HB207, makes its way through committees, said Republican Rep. Evelyn Lynn of Ormond Beach, in Volusia County, who introduced the bill in the House last month.
The bill is the brainchild of Drew Page, president of Volusia County Business Development Corp., a private economic development agency in Daytona Beach. Page said he asked Lynn to revise the existing bill to help Florida compete with other Southeastern states for plastics and boat firms' business.
There are eight to 10 plastics manufacturers in his county, and the firms employ between 10 and 850 workers. Among them are Sherwood Medical Co. in De Land and injection molder Apogee Plastic Technologies Inc. of Daytona Beach, he said.
``We want to make sure that these plastics firms qualify for fast-track permitting,'' he said.
Plastics are ``ancillary businesses to so many other things,'' Lynn said. She also said lowering the job threshold requirement will lure potentially smaller businesses to the state - businesses that may want to expand later.
Page added: ``We're in a competitive business. There are roughly 16,000 organizations like ours in the United States, all trying to protect the companies we have. We're competing for their business.''
But the bill's opponents, such as Sierra Club lobbyist Susan Caplowe in Tallahassee, claim 90 days is not enough time to review a company's proposal.
Bill Newton, staff director with Florida Consumer Action Network in Tampa, said he also fears that fast-tracked firms would not be scrutinized as closely by the environmental agencies involved in the review. And, Newton said, there has been no analysis done to weigh the benefits of jobs created against the cost of pollution.
Dan Hendrickson of FCAN in Tallahassee complained that there is no provision in the bill for company histories, giving firms that have left unclean sites behind in other states a fresh start on Florida soil.
Lynn claims the streamlined review process, for which companies pay a fee, will be ``every bit as stringent'' as it is now. But the details have yet to be worked out, since no firm has taken advantage of the existing law, though it has been on the books for two years. The reason for that, Lynn said, is the hefty job threshold requirement.
The fee schedule under the fast-track process would depend on the size of the project. Currently companies that create as many as 200 jobs pay $80,000-$150,000 for faster service.
Without the fast-track process, the time frame for procuring environmental permits is arbitrary, Lynn said, sometimes taking years. The 90-day review will require state government to be both ``effective and efficient.''
``As far as I'm concerned, it's the way government should be operating,'' she said.
Establishing a plant in Florida is an ``in-depth process,'' agreed Bob Davenport, sales manager for boat maker Schat Watercraft Inc. of Oak Hill, also in Volusia County.
``You've got to talk to about every agency there is,'' he said by phone April 5. ``As time goes on, [the process] keeps snowballing, they keep adding something new.''
Florida is a center for boat builders, which use fiberglass in a manufacturing process that emits styrene. Boat makers Boston Whaler Inc., Sea Ray Boats Inc., OMC Chris Craft Inc. and Wellcraft Marine also have Florida operations-and all are on Citizens Fund's list of the top 50 emitters of carcinogenic waste. The Washington consumer and environmental group based its findings on Environmental Protection Agency data released in 1992. Also on the list is Sherwood Medical.
``These companies are among the most dangerous polluters,'' said FCAN's Newton. ``They're the last people that should be fast-tracked. Because [they are emitting] known carcinogens, you could make an assessment of jobs vs. death.''
However, he said some firms, like Wellcraft, have reduced their toxic emissions in recent years.