Matt Connelly, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, accused the White House of using the Everglades to distract from more pressing national problems.
“It’s clearly a political move that highlights how desperate the president is to talk about anything besides his failed economic policies and political cronyism for campaign donors,” Connelly said.
Salazar insisted restoring the River of Grass had been his and the president’s top environmental priority from day one, Salazar said. He acknowledged there were decades of work ahead but argued “we have been able to move more the last 3 1/2 years than we have, I think, in the last 20 years."
The administration calculates that the $1.5 billion it has put into restoration in the president’s first term nearly matches the previous eight years under President George W. Bush — an uptick in federal funding that helped break ground on a number of long-stalled projects, including the bridging of Tamiami Trail. The White House banned the importation of the Burmese python that had invaded the Glades – an effort championed by Salazar – and after 18 months of intense negotiations cut a pollution clean-up deal with the state intended to resolve two long-running federal lawsuits.
How much Everglades support will resonate with typical Florida voters is uncertain but environmentalists heaped praise on the efforts by the administration. Historically, candidates from both parties have pledged to save the Everglades but so far Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney hasn’t taken a public position on continuing support for the $12.5 billion state and federal restoration project, said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida.
“It looks like Romney has ceded the Everglades to the president,’’ Draper said. “The message that Romney sends out about smaller government and less taxes is antithetical to Everglades restoration.’’
Miami Herald Staff Writer Marc Caputo contributed to the story.