Florida Chamber, industry leaders back State in environmental permit battle

by | Mar 5, 2024

The Florida Chamber of Commerce and other statewide trade organizations have filed a brief supporting Florida’s request to pause a court decision that could overhaul the environmental permitting process, arguing that immediate changes would cause regulatory confusion and harm the economy.

Amidst a legal confrontation that positions environmental safeguards against economic advancement, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, supported by a coalition of business and development organizations, is advocating for moderation.

The Chamber, alongside the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Florida Community Developers, the Associated Industries of Florida, Mosaic, and various development firms, have filed an amicus brief with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, backing the State of Florida’s plea for a suspension of a court ruling poised to alter the environmental permitting framework.

The legal dispute is centered around the Section 404 permitting process, an aspect of the Clean Water Act that controls the discharge of materials into U.S. waters. The conflict emerged from a court consideration to halt the annulment of this process, especially in instances potentially impacting species protected by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The amici curiae (friends of the court) contends that nullifying the existing permitting process without an interim suspension would precipitate regulatory confusion and economic disruption, particularly affecting the housing market. The groups collectively call for a strategy that allows the permitting process to proceed within a restructured framework, thereby averting the “cascading economic calamity” depicted in their brief.

“Because affordable-housing construction requires a stable regulatory environment and economies of scale, these homebuilders plan meticulously for large residential subdivisions, and they rely on long-term projections to bring a home to the market,” the document reads. “Given the existing housing shortfall in Florida, vacatur without a stay will devastate Florida’s housing supply and the rest of the State’s economy.”

The State’s proposal, in response to the legal challenge, draws inspiration from the permitting frameworks of both Michigan and New Jersey and serves as an alternative approach designed to maintain a balanced and effective permitting process while addressing the court’s environmental concerns. Florida’s model would grant permits for projects that either have no impact on listed species or may affect them but are not likely to adversely affect them, relying on technical assistance and informal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Given Florida’s unique geography and topography, homebuilders throughout the State often must obtain permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and the State’s analogous permitting scheme,” the Florida Homebuilders Association wrote. “Vacating the Section 404-permitting process in Florida would create needless uncertainty for the Association and its members as they continue to meet the needs of a growing State.”


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