Florida governor rebuffs call for red tide emergency declaration

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rebuffed calls for an emergency declaration to address a red tide outbreak in Tampa Bay that’s killed hundreds of tons of fish and other marine life, saying Wednesday it would do more harm than good.

DeSantis held a newss conference in St. Petersburg to reassure the Floridians that the state is responding to what is believed to be the worst red tide outbreak in Tampa Bay in decades. He said the state prepared in advance for red tide outbreaks and has the resources necessary to handle the problem without an emergency declaration.

Environmentalists, local leaders and Democrats have pushed Desantis to declare an emergency.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, a Democrat who wasn’t invited to the news conference, criticized the governor on Twitter, saying, “The politicization of the governor’s response to red tide is truly sickening. My team and I are focused on fixing the mess that was sent our way.”

When asked about the comment, DeSantis said he wasn’t the one making the issue political.

“How did I politicize red tide?” DeSantis said. “Is that credible to say that? This is something I’ve tackled from Day 1 in office. It’s never been political. They were the ones who we’re saying, ‘You’ve got to declare a state of emergency.’ And so we asked them why. Well, they didn’t know why. They just wanted to do it for a political talking point.”

DeSantis said a state of emergency would only send the wrong message and hurt tourism across the state.

“The fact is we budgeted for this, we have money for this,” DeSantis said. “That would not allow us to do anything that we are not already doing. The only way that would be helpful is if I had no money and I had to access unallocated general revenue … Literally the only that would do is hurt some of these people because it would send the message that somehow all of Florida has problems.”

Jaclyn Lopez, the Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said that the call for an emergency declaration isn’t political.

“It seems to be fairly uniformly requested by local government, fishermen, environmentalists, residents — anyone who has to live with the reality of this putrid, life-choking red tide and associated fish kill,” she said in an email. “The red tide in Tampa Bay is a serious environmental and human health emergency. It is not going away any time soon.”

Red tide, a toxic algae bloom that occurs naturally in the Gulf of Mexico but is worsened by the presence of nutrients such as nitrogen in the water.

Many experts say blame for Tampa Bay’s unusually large outbreak rests with the old Piney Point phosphate operation in Manatee County. A leak earlier this year in a reservoir at Piney Point dumped more than 200 million gallons (757 million liters) of contaminated water into the bay.

Nutrients that feed red tide can get into Tampa Bay and Gulf waters through other sources as well.

DeSantis dismissed Piney Point as a cause .

“The scientific consensus is clear: It didn’t cause the red tide. The red tide was hear. I think the biggest impact on Tampa Bay was (Hurricane) Elsa,” DeSantis said.

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