September 30, 2015

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson speaks on Senate floor about Miami Beach tide floods

Climate Time 01 EKM


Florida Sen. Bill Nelson was on Miami Beach this week as part of former Vice President Al Gore's climate-change training conference.

The Democratic senator got to experience firsthand how the seasonal king tides flood the city. He showed off enlarged photographs showing water up to pedestrians' ankles.

"This is downtown Miami Beach. You see the fella? It's above his ankles. And he's up on the curb. Right here is the curb. He steps down and it comes up just below his knee. You see the cars. You see the water. That's downtown Miami Beach," Nelson said. "This is not just the phenomenon of the big full moon. This is the phenomenon of sea-level rise."

"Mr. President," he added, addressing Senate President Mitch McConnell, "we can't keep denying what in fact is happening, and the proof's in the pudding, and the proof is right here."


Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff

September 29, 2015

Florida climate crisis mired in politics, Al Gore says

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via @jenstaletovich

Former vice president turned climate change campaigner Al Gore left the political stage more than a decade ago but he remains a vocal critic of how things are done in Washington. And he doesn’t like what he sees, with big money increasingly controlling big decisions.

In a one-on-one interview with the Miami Herald, the one-time Democratic presidential contender whose fate was sealed by hanging chads at a Palm Beach County courthouse aimed his harshest criticism at politicians — most of whom happen to be members of the opposing party — who ignore public will to carry out the wishes of powerful backers. 

For instance, when asked about the fate of a constitutional amendment intended to buy and preserve land that Florida voters overwhelmingly supported last year, Gore chuckled.

“And the Legislature killed it,” he said.

Not exactly, but Florida lawmakers have strangled the intent of the amendment, raiding its funds to pay for a host of other things besides land purchases. Meanwhile, the threat of climate change hasn’t even been raised as a topic during two Republican presidential debates and most of the candidates are pushing for less regulation of industry, calling environmental constraints a brake on economic development. And the governor of Florida, a state that scientists agree is the most vulnerable to rising seas, expresses little interest in even discussing the threat. 

Gore, during a break in a three-day climate science training session in Miami, didn’t go so far as to name names, but he described a political crisis in Florida and around the country.

“Our democracy has been hacked,” he said. “Large contributors call the shots and the politicians who are beholden to them respond to their instructions to jump by asking how high.”

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

Rare Capitol sight: Gov. Scott outvoted by Cabinet on land vote

A rare sight in Tallahassee: All three Cabinet members outvoted Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday and voted to spend $4 million for a permanent conservation easement on one of the oldest ranches in Central Florida.

The surprise came after Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam outmaneuvered the governor and Attorney General Pam Bondi switched her vote.

The original 12,000-acre Kilbee Ranch in Seminole County, founded by E.H. Kilbee of tiny Geneva, Fla., dates to the 1880s. Today it's surrounded on all sides by intense residential and commercial development, but Kilbee's survivors, including great-granddaughter Diane Gaff, wanted to honor his dying wish to protect the remaining 1,300 acres.

Under Florida's Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, the state and landowners agree on conversation easements that allow the land to remain a working ranch with no allowable private commercial development.

The land program is operated by Putnam's agency. Scott balked. He said the appraisals on the land were too high and that the state should not pay any more than 90 percent of the lowest of two appraisals. Bondi initially sided with Scott, but she changed her mind after Putnam said state policy is to choose a compromise figure between two appraisals.

Gaff said she was "shocked" by Scott's opposition but relieved that Putnam, Bondi and CFO Jeff Atwater agreed to the deal. She said her family could have reaped millions more by selling the land to a private developer.

"That was unbelievable," Eric Draper of Audubon of Florida, which favored the deal, said after the vote. "Putnam did an amazing job of recovering that issue."

The purchase price is $4,095,000, or about $3,200 per acre, with the federal government contributing $1 million of the cost.

Al Gore: How does Florida Gov. Rick Scott not 'notice' Miami climate change risk?

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via @jenstaletovich @joeflech

As if on cue, a king tide powered by a supermoon flooded parts of South Florida Sunday and Monday, setting a soggy stage for international forums aimed at drawing attention to the perils of climate change.

In downtown Miami, about 1,200 people gathered to train for a climate corps led by former Vice President Al Gore, who drew mainstream attention to the issue in his 2006 Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. For nearly three hours, Gore walked a crowd that included participants from 80 countries through his now-famous slide show, rebooted with a decade’s worth of new science and data supporting the dire consequences of a warming planet.

Across Biscayne Bay, where climate change has made Miami Beach ground zero for rising seas, the French Embassy hosted another panel in advance of a U.N. summit in Paris in November.

“The scientists have long since told us we have to change,” Gore told the packed room at the Hyatt Regency overlooking the Miami River. “But now Mother Nature is saying it with water in the streets in this city.”

Though Gore largely avoided politics, he accused the state’s power companies of standing in the way of solar power and took a subtle jab at Gov. Rick Scott, whose environmental regulatory agency has tended to avoid using the term “climate change” in official documents. Scott has denied reports that he banned the phrase.

“Miami has an enormous amount at risk,” Gore said as he showed pictures of sunny-day flooding in South Florida during a 2013 king tide. “I just wonder how the governor watches this and says, ‘I don’t notice anything. Do you notice anything?’ Not to make an ad hominem comment, but I’m genuinely curious.”

More here.

Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff

September 24, 2015

Al Gore to speak in Miami Beach about climate change


Former Vice President Al Gore will be open a climate conference Monday in the city perhaps most identified with the threat of rising seas due to global warming: Miami Beach.

Gore, author of An Inconvenient Truth, founded The Climate Reality Project, which organized the three-day "leadership corps training" conference. It will focus on climate issues specific to Florida, including the role the Latino community plays in pushing for actions related to the environment.

The former vice president's presentation, titled "The Climate Crisis and its Solutions," is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. Monday.

September 15, 2015

Miami Republicans in Congress sign on to climate-change resolution


In a symbolic move ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Congress, a group of Republicans plans to file a resolution acknowledging climate change caused at least in part by human activities and pledging to address its detrimental consequences.

Among those U.S. House members signing on are Miami Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both of whom represent coastal South Florida districts. Curbelo's district includes the low-lying Florida Keys.

"South Florida is the frontline of climate change, where we have seen its negative impact in the form of rising sea-levels and the erosion of our coastal communities," Curbelo said in a statement. "In Miami-Dade County alone, more people live less than a mere four feet above sea level than any state in the union with the exception of Louisiana. In fact, 40 percent of Florida's population is at risk of rising sea levels, posing a clear and present danger.

"Our goal with this resolution is to shift the debate from whether climate change is real to what we can do to mitigate its effects."

The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., would commit the House to "working create and support economically viable, and broadly supported private and public solutions to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates, including mitigation efforts and efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact."

Continue reading "Miami Republicans in Congress sign on to climate-change resolution" »

September 11, 2015

Lawmakers ask judge to deny lawsuit over environmental spending


The Florida Legislature is asking a Leon County judge to dismiss a lawsuit that environmental groups filed against it over environmental spending.

The lawsuit, backed by five environmental activism and legal groups, was filed in June in an attempt to tie the Legislature's hands as it moves forward with implementing Amendment 1 each year. The constitutional amendmet -- approved by more than 70 percent of voters last November -- requires the state to set aside a pot of money for land acquisition and conservation. That fund totaled more than $700 million this year.

But the groups -- Earthjustice, Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and the Sierra Club -- say the Legislature ignored the will of voters by spending much of that money on existing agency operations.

An injunction request last month asked Second Circuit Judge George Reynolds to use state surplus funds to backfill the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

In a court filing Tuesday, lawyers for the House, Speaker Steve Crisafulli, the Senate and President Andy Gardiner argue that the environmental groups don't make a legitimate case and that they aren't entitled to the injunction they're asking for to redirect state funds.

"Plaintiffs seek an unprecedented injunction that ignores the separation of powers and the Legislature’s exclusive authority with respect to the appropriation of public funds," the motion says. "While a court can, in a proper case, enjoin the expenditure of unlawfully appropriated funds, its authority to fashion equitable relief does not include the authority to transfer public funds and, in effect, amend the General Appropriations Act."

September 10, 2015

In SFWMD shakeup, Scott sends former deputy Pete Antonacci in to take reins

via @jenstaletovich @MaryEllenKlas @stevebousquet

A political insider who served as general counsel to Gov. Rick Scott will take over the state’s largest water management district.

On Thursday, the South Florida Water Management District’s governing board named Pete Antonacci to run the sprawling agency after announcing that executive director Blake Guillory, an engineer, would resign at the end of the month. Antonacci becomes the only director overseeing one of the state’s major districts without a background in science.

“It appears that Antonacci’s primary qualification is his close relationship with Gov. Scott,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper said. “But it doesn’t change the fact that the water management district is facing a budget crisis that will undermine Everglades restoration, water supply and flood protection.”

Guillory’s resignation follows a contentious summer in which the board flip-flopped on a tax cut. In July, board members agreed to maintain the tax rate, ending four years of cuts and keeping the district from dipping into reserves to balance its $754 million budget. The agency, which employs 1,550 people, handles flood protection for a third of the state along with overseeing decades-long efforts to restore the ailing Everglades.

But the decision defied Scott’s longstanding order to cut taxes. Two weeks later, the board called a second meeting and reversed the vote. Last week, Guillory’s chief of staff resigned.

More here.

This post has been updated.

September 09, 2015

Ron Bergeron: 'There has never been a panther attack in the history of Florida'

A state wildlife official opposed plans to alter protections for the Florida panther, saying there was no pressing reason to fear the big cats.

On Sept. 2, 2015, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission considered a policy proposal that critics said would have undercut efforts to expand the population.

Opponents said the proposal favored ranchers, who have complained about panthers eating livestock and potentially threatening family members. Commissioner "Alligator" Ron Bergeron said he’d never had reason to be afraid of a panther.

"I’ve been within three yards of panthers, multiple times," said Bergeron, a Broward County paving contractor who has been a commissioner since 2007. "There has never been a panther attack in the history of Florida." (Watch his comments here, at the 3:10 mark.)

See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found.

September 03, 2015

White House invites Miami-Dade mayor to climate-change summit


Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is getting more White House love.

Gimenez has been invited -- and plans to attend -- the inaugural U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit in two weeks in Los Angeles.

The summit is part of a U.S.-China effort to cooperate on curbing global warming and promoting clean energy, and will give the two countries something to boast about when Chinese President Xi Jinping travels to Washington the following week for a state visit.

Mayors of cities in the U.S. and China -- 12 from each country, according to Gimenez's office -- were invited to share ideas and perhaps leave the two-day summit with some sort of commitment or "action statement."

"Mayor Gimenez looks forward to sharing Miami-Dade County's work to mitigate the effects of sea-level rise with fellow mayors from throughout the U.S. and China and learning from them," Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández said in a statement. "Miami-Dade is in a unique location and position to be at the forefront on the issue."

As it happens, Gimenez was getting criticized during the county's first budget hearing Thursday by residents worried that planning sea-level rise -- the top climate-change consequence for Miami-Dade -- was getting short shrift in the mayor's proposed spending plan. His office said he spoke to residents outside the County Hall chambers to try to reassure them.

This is the second time in two months that the White House has reached out to Gimenez, a Republican in a non-partisan post. He was the featured guest on a conference all last month celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Gimenez spoke about Miami-Dade's efforts to make voting easier after a slew of embarrassing problems at the 2012 polls.

--with Douglas Hanks