Saturday, August 23, 2014

Florida Environmental Hero Roger Stewart Dead at 89

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The State of Florida has some of the best environmental rules and regulations in the United States (except when they don't to paraphrase Yogi Berra).  The state's rules are managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.  This organization is responsible for ensuring that the state complies with national environmental rules and also manages special guidelines established by the state of Florida.  Due to the unique issues environmental issues associated with Tampa Bay, the state created a special agency in Hillsborough County (home to Tampa) called the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) in 1967.  The first head of the agency was Roger Stewart.  He served in this role until his retirement in 2000.  You can read his obituary here.

I met Stewart several times.  He was a legend in the area.  He had a reputation as a no-holds barred advocate for the environment.  With the Tampa Bay area doubling in population every 10 years during his time as head of the organization, he had to deal with issues like air pollution, wetlands protection, storm water pollution, and sewage treatment.  It wasn't an easy job.  He got fired after appearing on 60 Minutes, but was reinstated when it was clear that his firing was politically motivated.  He called out politicians for their hypocrisy and shed light on bad practices.  He was strident in the application of the rules established by local, state, and federal agencies.  Many developers and polluters hated him for stopping projects or fining their polluting activities.  However, everyone respected him.  While many people were misusing the land during the boom years of the second half of the 20th century, Stewart was there trying to protect the area as best he could.  

Stewart serves as a reminder to us that one person can make the world a better place--or at least keep it from being destroyed.  

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