Political Foes Join to Save Florida Everglades

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Question: What issue begins with a capital E, has the support of both Gore and Bush, and is headed to Congress with an ambitious $7.8 billion request? Yes, it’s the Environment -- and specifically, the Everglades. On Thursday, Vice President Al Gore unveiled the most massive environmental restoration job in U.S. history: a 20-year project that aims to do no less than restore the natural flow of water to Florida’s great "river of grass." The Bush in question isn't George W. but Governor Jeb Bush, who believes the project is essential to restoring Florida’s precious natural resource -- and saving the state's booming economy from drying up.

"As development-obsessed as South Florida is," says TIME Miami bureau chief Tim Padgett, "the area’s leaders, including businesses, realize that this is one of Florida’s great economic and natural treasures." There are also some big political considerations pulling for the Everglades. Florida is a key electoral state that neither party wishes to antagonize on the eve of 2000. For Gore, says White House correspondent Karen Tumulty, "there is no issue as close to his identity as the environment, and the Everglades project is a perfect showcase; here he even gets political cover from someone named Bush." For the GOP, tacking the Bush name onto a popular environmental project provides great publicity while stealing some of Gore's thunder. The darkest cloud for the project is Capitol Hill’s willingness to open the purse strings: The concern is that Congress will commit something less than full funding. But the latest budget surplus figures could help release the needed dollars.