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Breathing Easier...Reflections on Environmental Trends in the Tampa Bay area

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Read the article published May 4, 2014 by the Tampa Tribune written by Dr. Rick Garrity and see how far we have come in improving resource protestion in the Tampa Bay area.

A Healthy Environment, A Healthy Economy
By Rick Garrity
July 2013

How important is it for the air we breathe, the water we use for consumption, recreation, and commerce, and in general, the environment we live in, to be a healthy one? Is a healthy environment linked to a healthy economy? The answer to these questions rests with the quality of life that is desired. Consider that you could have a booming economy but live in an environment where you feel compelled to wear a protective face mask to guard against air pollutants, or drink only bottled water to avoid public water supplies, or fear that bathing in local waters or consuming locally caught fish might endanger your health. 

I don’t think we in the Tampa Bay area want to live with these environmental fears and concerns. Most of us have a pretty good idea that for the quality of life we have come to expect, a healthy economy must encompass clean air, clean surface water and groundwater, healthy wetlands, and an accompanying successful population of fish, birds, and other wildlife. In fact, quality of life is so important to this area that it is heavily emphasized in employee and business recruitment and real estate sales. Additionally, tourism to enjoy our natural resources is a major economic engine to the region. For all of these reasons, a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand. Sensible environmental standards protect our quality of life and compliance efforts are incorporated into the business models of many of our major and minor industries. 

As we recover from the difficult past five years of economic turmoil and focus on promoting a future healthy economy, we need to recognize that for the quality of life we desire and enjoy, the preservation and improvement of our environment must continue to go hand in hand with a prosperous economy. At the same time though, environmental regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) can and are improving processes to get applicants to a final permitting answer as quickly as possible. Just as industry should commit to responsible environmental stewardship, government agencies should commit to help industry comply with environmental standards. This involves regulatory agencies working closely with applicants to make the best decision possible while using a streamlined process.

Also, at EPC our compliance assistance program emphasizes an increased level of stewardship to assist businesses (especially small businesses) in complying with environmental regulations. These regulations are often complex and small businesses sometimes need assistance in understanding them and implementing proper controls. We have found that this approach has actually led to higher compliance rates over time. 
Another way regulatory agencies and industry can partner toward a healthier environment is through coordinated stewardship efforts. We have many successful examples of this in the Tampa Bay area including efforts by Tampa Electric Company and Hillsborough County to promote sustainable practices, savings in electrical usage, and promotion of alternative fuels. Another example is the joint efforts of Mosaic, area public utilities, regulatory agencies and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program to reduce nutrient pollution loading to Tampa Bay and even recommend appropriate science based regulatory levels to state and federal agencies. 

Still another tool at our disposal in promoting an economic resurgence is incorporating environmental remediation through the Brownfield Program which emphasizes redeveloping core industrial centers that have seen better times and have fallen into disuse.  There are many candidate sites to pick from to turn a blighted and possibly polluted commercial/industrial complex into a thriving tax paying commercial success. Over the past 9 years, EPC has been involved with more than 25 Brownfield projects which have resulted in an annual increase of approximately $1.5 million in property tax revenues not to mention new or increased sales tax collections resulting from new or revitalized establishments and many new jobs.

It seems clear that we have many of the components in place to react to the needs of prospective industries as they may seek to locate in Hillsborough County. We have long term air and water trend data to assist in siting and predict impacts, Brownfield site maps to assist industry in siting, streamlined processes in place to get applicants quick responses in permit applications while maintaining our local high quality standards. We have a history of local citizens and elected officials placing a high value on quality of life and insisting that these high standards go hand in hand with economic growth. And finally, we have a proven history of positive collaboration between industry and government working locally and using the best scientific data to solve even the most difficult issues such as numeric nutrient criteria. How important is environmental quality and a prosperous economy – very important and both achievable.

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