Environmental politics take a turn for the birds

Toni Jennings, environmental hero. This is a joke, right?;;No, explains Florida Audubon Society President Clay Henderson. Jennings, the Republican state Senate president from Orlando, actually was among those honored late last month at the environmental group's annual Conservationist of the Year banquet.;;Jennings and state Sen. Jack Latvala, a Palm Harbor Republican, shared the Legislative Excellence Award for "guiding an environmental agenda through the Legislature in 1997." Apparently in Florida, environmental heroism becomes a matter of relative merit.;;;Jennings is avidly pro-business, so much so that only days after receiving the Audubon award, she promised business leaders gathered at the Greater Orlando Business Alliance luncheon that she would put business interests at the top of her list. Moreover, her family is in the construction business -- hardly a field favored by grassroots environmentalists who pursue growth-management and other laws designed to safeguard pristine lands, whose development compromises underground aquifers as well as other wildlife reserves.;;Also, although Jennings has in recent years demonstrated a heightened interest in environmental issues (roughly coincident with the GOP's embrace of green causes, which was roughly coincident with surveys showing the majority of Americans think environmental issues are important), Jennings has never served on a legislative committee dealing with environmental issues.;;While perhaps not an environmentalist in the traditional sense, Jennings has helped mitigate environmental hazards in bills headed for passage. "We have been able to contain the Senate, to stop bad ideas," Henderson says. In other words, things could have been worse.;;Even more jarring was Audubon's choice of St. Joe Corp. for its Corporate Award. A company descended from the original land barons that ruled Florida, St. Joe is the state's largest landowner and a company deeply involved in timber sales. But Audubon saw clear to fete the company for leaving the "sugar cartel" that has held up Everglades preservation efforts and offering to preserve property in conservation areas, Henderson says. Also, St. Joe is working with Audubon and The Nature Conservancy to preserve 1 million acres in North Florida and rejuvenate downtowns in South Florida.;;"This is a bigger change than the Republicans," says Henderson. (Party officials, including that noted environmentalist Jeb Bush, recently formed a nonprofit environmental organization just in time for the election.) ;;Asked about St. Joe's past support of The Madison Institute, a Tallahassee-based conservative think-tank, Henderson replied, "I don't know what they gave the Madison Institute. We're happy with what we got.";;This fiscally based point of view might help explain the Audubon's choice for the "Outstanding Community Award": the Town of Celebration. While room for the town was accomplished by bulldozing the natural topography, its inhabitants plan to build "a culture of conservation into their community." High on the agenda: the establishment of an Audubon Nature Center.
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