June 02, 2015

Climate change group gets cheeky in Gov. Rick Scott critique

Climate change group Forecast the Facts is taking jabs at Gov. Rick Scott with a website targeting the governor and his Wisconsin counterpart Scott Walker for their positions on global warming.

Dubbed "#ScottAway the Truth," the site subs out words like "climate change" from sentences about climate change. Scott and Walker have reportedly instructed people who work for their environmental agencies not to use the "C" words.

Here are a couple sentences, as they look after being Scotted Away:

"Due to MAGIC WEATHER, glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world - including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa."

"In the U.S., FREE OUTDOOR HEATING is predicted to cause more heat waves, flooding, wildfires, sea level rise and drought."

The website was launched Tuesday, when both governors were in Orlando for a Scott-sponsored forum of GOP presidential hopefuls.

May 29, 2015

Rallies planned for Everglades land purchase in advance of special Florida session

via @jenstaletovich

Conservationists who want Florida to preserve more land are holding rallies across the state Saturday in advance of the special legislative session that starts Monday.

The push follows a bitter fight during the regular session that included protests and a rally headlined by Jimmy Buffett to persuade lawmakers to buy U.S. Sugar land before a deal expired. Backers of Amendment 1, the constitutional amendment overwhelmingly supported in November, say the state needs to buy land for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee and order the South Florida Water Management District to lay out a plan for designing and building a reservoir they say is part of the original restoration plans for the wilting wetlands.

A South Miami rally, including Mayor Philip Stoddard, Miami-Dade County Commissioners Rebecca Sosa and Daniella Levine Cava and Audubon Florida, will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at South Miami's City Hall, 6130 Sunset Drive.

--JENNY STALETOVICH

May 28, 2015

Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush sound open to more oil drilling

via @learyreports

Efforts to open up oil dilling off both Florida coasts could inject the issue into the race for president, and home state contenders Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are generally supportive of more production.

Neither Republican seems receptive to legislation Sen. Bill Nelson filed to block a proposal from Gulf state lawmakers that would end the ban on drilling within a certain distance of the coast. The current prohibition, ranging from 125 miles to 235 miles, expires in 2022. Proponents, led by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., say increased drilling would create jobs.

Nelson last week declared that Florida is “under siege” and filed counter legislation.

“We’re still reviewing the bill, but Senator Rubio supports developing our domestic energy resources responsibly and effectively, including offshore drilling and oil exploration,” said Rubio spokeswoman Brooke Sammon.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush sound open to more oil drilling" »

May 27, 2015

Environmentalists renew call for Everglades land buy before special Florida session

via @jenstaletovich

Environmentalists say they are not giving up the battle to secure land south of Lake Okeechobee for Everglades restoration. They’re just changing tracts.

With lawmakers scheduled to meet Monday for the start of a 20-day special session, several of the state’s most influential conservation groups on Wednesday renewed calls to buy land needed to store water and move it to the thirsty southern Everglades. They also want lawmakers to order the South Florida Water Management District to set a schedule for designing and building a reservoir.

“We have a path forward,” said Mary Barley, president of the Everglades Trust. “The cost of inaction could be catastrophic.”

Over the dry winter, Florida Bay withered as salinity shot up. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was also forced to release dirty lake water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers to protect the lake’s aging dike. The dirty lake water triggered a toxic algae bloom two summers ago that killed fish and made the rivers off-limits for months.

The groups had hoped to complete a deal to buy about 46,000 acres from U.S. Sugar before it expired in October using money from Amendment 1, a November constitutional measure that 75 percent of voters supported. But the deal fell apart after the company backed off the plan and water managers instead voted to endorse a vague budget plan by Gov. Rick Scott to spend $500 million on restoration efforts. With that controversial deal behind them, group leaders said they were hopeful Wednesday that opposition would also fade.

More here.

May 21, 2015

President Obama to stop by National Hurricane Center during upcoming Miami visit

@PatriciaMazzei

President Obama will visit the National Hurricane Center in Miami next Thursday for a preparedness briefing in advance of the June 1 start of the annual hurricane season, according to a White House official.

The Hurricane Center is scheduled to announce its 2016 season forecast Wednesday to reporters. The Atlantic has already seen one named storm, Ana.

Also on Wednesday, Obama is scheduled to attend two Coconut Grove fund-raisers for the Democratic Party.

May 13, 2015

Florida congressional delegation joins efforts against oil drilling

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - The Florida delegation is gearing up for another fight over drilling. A bipartisan group of House members today filed legislation to prevent seismic testing for oil drilling off the Atlantic coast.

“Seismic testing is the first step in an effort to begin offshore drilling along the coasts of Florida,” the group said in a release.

The legislation was introduced by Reps. Gwen GrahamPatrick MurphyBill PoseyAlcee Hastings, Lois Frankel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Sen. Bill Nelson has companion legislation.

“There are strong concerns that these seismic activities can be harmful to undersea mammals like dolphins, disrupting their ability to communicate and navigate. This legislation enacts a moratorium off Florida’s coast so we can study the effects of seismic testing on our sea life,” said Republican Posey.

The bill would reverse a July 2014 decision by the Obama Administration to open the Atlantic Ocean, from Virginia to Florida, for seismic testing for future drilling sites.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

May 11, 2015

Free bird: Alico's copter, cash put to use on Legislature

This is a story about how to get things done in Tallahassee. Usually, it takes cash. Sometimes, it also takes a helicopter.

Last year, a South Florida water agency ran out of money for a program that pays ranchers to hold back excess rainwater from filling up Lake Okeechobee too fast, a practice known as water farming. A major agriculture corporation, Alico, asked the Legislature to instead use state taxpayer money to keep the project rolling.

Alico had a lot at stake in trying to prop up the water-farming project. If the project were revived by the Legislature, Alico would get the largest contract, worth more than $120 million over the next 11 years.

Before last year's session, Alico took key legislative leaders on a four-hour helicopter ride around Lake Okeechobee that cost about $5,000. On board for a Jan. 22, 2014 flight: state Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa.

Also aboard: Clay Wilson, president of Alico, the nation's largest citrus producer, as well as a major player in cattle and sugar-growing. Wilson was there to show off his company's water-farming plan and explain to the legislators why it deserved an infusion of taxpayer money.

Two weeks later, on Feb. 5, 2014, Alico wrote a $15,000 check to Young's political action committee, the Florida Conservative Leadership Fund.

At the time, Young was the House majority whip. It was her job to tell Republican members of the House how to vote on certain issues. A rising star, Young now serves as House majority leader.

Another passenger on board the Alico copter tour that day in January 2014 was House Appropriations Committee Chairman Seth McKeel. As chairman, he wielded an outsize influence on what would go into the state budget and what would be left out.

Six days after the flight, Mc­Keel's PAC, the Florida Innovation Fund, got a check from Alico for $25,000.

Continue reading "Free bird: Alico's copter, cash put to use on Legislature" »

April 29, 2015

Amendment 1 supporters to House: Do your job

Senate President Andy Gardiner isn't the only one asking the Florida House to come back and finish the Legislative session.

The group who sponsored the environmental ballot measure that was supposed to steer more money next year into preservation and conservation is also getting on the House's case.

Florida Water and Land Legacy, the sponsor committee of Amendment 1, urged the House to "finish the job" in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon.

Here's the release:

This week the Florida House of Representative adjourned for the 2015 session without passing a state budget, leaving  the spending for conservation mandated under Amendment 1 in jeopardy.

Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, by 75 percent.  The current House and Senate budgets allocate only $8 - $10 million for the acquisition of parks and wildlife habitat under Florida Forever out of the $750 million available to be spent in Amendment 1’s first year.  Important natural areas have been languishing on the Florida Forever priority list since 2009 without funding.

Continue reading "Amendment 1 supporters to House: Do your job" »

A day late for Crisafulli, his water bill clears Senate

Maybe House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, should have stuck around one more day.

A day after Crisafulli ordered the House members home because of the budget impasse, the Senate passed his main priority, HB 7003, by a 39-1 vote. The bill, sponsored on the House side by Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, overhauls the state’s water policy and regulatory system. The bill made numerous revisions to the state’s oversight of water quality and quantity, including new action plans to protect natural springs that are impaired. It’s most controversial element, however, was easing regulations for landowners north of Lake Okeechobee. Rather than limiting their agricultural discharges via permits, it substitutes a new system that provides overall goals for landowners. Under the bill, agribusinesses and other landowners will be paid 75 percent of the costs in state or federal funds to implement “best management practices”, or BMPs to reduce pollution.

But Senators, by a 39-1 vote, approved the bill by also tacking on SB 918, which includes a couple of provisions the House bill didn’t. It includes an extensive bike trail system, supported by Sen. President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. It was one of Gardiner’s main priorities, and it wasn’t included in the House version. Neither was an advisory board that is created in the Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness. The board would evaluate water projects, ranking them in order of importance and viability. Crisafulli objected to the board interfering with the legislative power to allocate money for water projects.

Not included in either bill was money to buy U.S. Sugar property south of Lake Okeechobee or other land elsewhere that could be used for reservoirs to help clean the Everglades.

Continue reading "A day late for Crisafulli, his water bill clears Senate" »

In Miami Herald op-ed, Obama pushes for climate change action

The following is an op-ed by President Barack Obama published in the Miami Herald:

Last week I spent Earth Day in the Everglades, one of our nation’s greatest national treasures, and saw firsthand what makes its unique landscape so magical — what the poet Emma Lazarus called “the savage splendor of the swamp.” Plus, I got to hang out with Bill Nye the Science Guy.

“There are no other Everglades in the world,” wrote Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who helped preserve it. But climate change is threatening this treasure and the communities that depend on it. That’s what my visit was all about.

Last year, 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record, and 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century. So climate change is real as are its effects: stronger storms, deeper droughts, longer wildfire seasons and public-health risks. The surgeon general and I recently met with doctors and nurses and parents who see patients and kids grappling with the health impacts. The Pentagon says that climate change poses an increasing set of risks to our national security.

Those who choose to deny science need only to travel to the Everglades where you can actually see the effects of a changing climate — where rising sea levels endanger a fragile ecosystem, threaten the drinking water of more than 7 million Floridians and pose risks to Florida’s $82-billion tourism industry. We can no longer delay action. That’s why I’ve committed the United States to lead the world in combating this threat.

More here.