MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Vice-President Joe Biden, wearing a ball cap and khaki pants, sat in the prow of an airboat Monday and surveyed an Everglades National Park bouncing back fromt he environmental brink. Biden said credit for brick and mortar projects to restore the “River of Grass” to its natural state goes to the President Barack Abama administration for getting to work on a plan that was approved 12 years ago but has never been adequately funded.
“Every project that has begun – every one – has been since” the Obama administration took office, Biden told a crowd of more than a hundred environmentalists, politicians and Glades activists.
Biden was accompanied on his Everglades tour by fellow Democrats U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Congressman Alcee Hastings.
In June, 2001, then President George W. Bush visited the Everglades, saying “this is an area that needs our protection.” Bush promised to work to accelerate funding for restoration projects but that did not come to fruition. Even former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the president’s brother, expressed exasperation with the slow progress of getting the nuts and bolts of the Everglades Restoration Act off the ground.
In recent years, several projects, some jump-started with state funds, and major efforts pushed by the Obama administration have gotten underway.
“It’s about preserving four our children and our grandchildren what has been here prior to us for a million years,” Biden said Monday beneath a bright sun on a coolish April afternoon.
The projects underway – and yet to begin – won’t just help nature, but will save the drinking water supply for some 13 million South Floridians. The Everglades feed the Florida aquifer which is the source of drinking water. With man-made ditching and dredging over the years, too much of the water has flowed, not into the acquifer, but into the sea.
“If we can’t capture the excess water going to tide and hold it in the Everglades, we won’t be able to maintain enough water for the growing population of South Florida to drink,” said Bob Johnson with the National Park Service.
The projects are also putting lots of skilled labor to work.
“As the construction boom turned down for residential and commercial properties, these same folks who would be out of work are here building projects to help restore nature,” said Julie HIll-Gabriel of the Florida Audubon Society. “The skies over the Everglades used to be dark with huge flocks of birds that have been decimated. This restoration will reverse that.”
As the vice-president toured the Everglades, the Republican National Committee released a statement calling it a taxpayer-funded political trip.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said the Biden visited was intended to distract attention from “President Obama’s plans to increase taxes, increase spending, and grow the size of government.”
When asked by CBS4’s Gary Nelson to respond to the GOP statement, Vice-President Biden said, “Tell them to come down here and see all the work we’re doing.” The crowd cheered.
Senator Nelson shot back at the Republicans, too.
“Ninety nine percent of Floridians know that the restoration of the Everglades is important,” Nelson told CBS4’s Nelson. “It has been this administration that has helped us get things moving.”