March 09, 2015

Florida Gov. Rick Scott won't say if global warming is a problem

@PatriciaMazzei

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday denied that administrators in his Department of Environmental Protection were banned from using the terms "global warming" or "climate change."

"It's not true," Scott told reporters in Hialeah.

The Miami Herald published a story a day earlier by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting citing former DEP officials who said they had been told verbally to avoid the phrases. The department and Scott's office had said no such policy existed.

But when pressed Monday, Scott did not go into any specifics. He would not say whether the department considers global warming to be real, whether it's preparing for it or whether he thinks it's a problem.

Instead, the Republican governor talked about his administration's work on the environment, without directly addressing which projects might have been needed to deal with climate change.

"Let's look at what we've accomplished," he said. "We've had significant investments in beach renourishment, in flood mitigation. Look at what we've done with the Everglades: We settled a lawsuit over the Everglades. That litigation had been going on for decades. We put money in the Tamiami Trail, to raise that, to push water south. We've had -- I think we've had record investments in our springs."

"I'm into solutions, and that's what we're going to continue to do," he added.

Asked three more times about the issue, he essentially repeated the same answer.

An overwhelming majority of scientists agree that the Earth is getting warmer and that humans have contributed directly to the change by burning fossil fuels for energy. Running for reelection last year, Scott said he was not sure climate change was caused by human activity. He once answered a question on the subject by saying, "I'm not a scientist."

Florida is considered the state in the country most susceptible to sea-level rise. State Democrats emailed a fund-raising pitch to supporters Monday noting Scott's climate-change position. The email was titled, "is he serious?"

"Climate change is scientific fact, and Rick is misleading Floridians about how dangerous this problem is! Will you help us hold him accountable?" read the pitch from the Florida Democratic Party.

Scott was in Hialeah to plug a $41 million Department of Transportation project to widen Northwest 57th Avenue.

"This is going to make it better for the families that live here, also better for the people that come through this area," he said. "We have to continue to invest in transportation if we're going to to get tourists to move here."

March 08, 2015

Rick Scott has a position on climate change: His agency ordered the words banned

JimHarper-03e-Climate-FCIR-jvbvia Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

The state of Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country, according to scientists. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years.

But you would not know that by talking to officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency on the front lines of studying and planning for these changes.

DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

The policy goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department with about 3,200 employees and $1.4 billion budget.  

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

More here.

Photo: In 2013, Jim Harper, a nature writer in Miami, had a contract to write a series of educational fact sheets about how to protect the coral reefs north of Miami. ‘We were told not to use the term climate change,’ he said. ‘The employees were so skittish they wouldn’t even talk about it.’ JOHN VAN BEEKUM FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

March 07, 2015

Miami-Dade asks Florida for money to buy rare forest eyed for Walmart

via @jenstaletovich

An endangered forest where a developer wants to build a Walmart has a new suitor: Miami-Dade County.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Commissioner Dennis Moss said Friday the county would like to purchase 88 acres near Zoo Miami, hoping to derail plans by a Palm Beach County developer to build a shopping center on the land featuring the box store, an LA Fitness, restaurants and apartments. The development plans, announced last year, set off blistering protests from residents and environmentalists.

“We feel it’s the right thing to do,” Gimenez said after announcing the purchase plans in a meeting with the Miami Herald editorial board.

However, the deal hinges on whether the county can obtain money under Amendment 1, a state constitutional amendment to help buy endangered land now being haggled over in the Florida Legislature, Gimenez said. And it also depends on whether developer Peter Cummings wants to be courted.

In a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Friday, Gimenez and Moss asked for money — but not a specific amount — spelling out the significance of the property, which is part of the last, largest intact tract of rockland outside Everglades National Park and is home to a menagerie of endangered bats, butterflies and plants. Pine rockland, a globally imperiled forest, once covered 185,000 acres in the county, the letter said. It now grows in fragmented chunks on just 3,700 acres.

More here.

March 01, 2015

Diaz and Garcia bill would strip fees from rock miners

via @jenstaletovich

South Florida rock miners would be spared millions of dollars they now pay to protect wetlands and the state’s largest drinking water supply on the fringes of Miami-Dade County under a bill making its way through the Legislature.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. and Sen. Rene Garcia, both Hialeah Republicans, would cut fees by 83 percent, ending what was supposed to be an insurance policy for the county against the risk of contamination posed by rock mining. But now, after nearly a decade with no contamination detected in the water, the bill’s sponsors and rock miners, who contributed tens of thousands of dollars to politicians in the last two years, say it’s time to reduce the fee and simply monitor water quality.

The issue began when a chain of lakes was created along the county’s suburban flank in the 1950s as miners dug up rock for construction. South Florida’s water table is so close to the surface that the pits quickly filled with water. The state, trying to mitigate the damage to wetlands, began collecting fees in 1999 that have steadily increased over the years as concerns spread to water quality.

Under the legislation, fees now set at 60 cents for every ton of rock mined would drop to 10 cents. Story here. 

February 19, 2015

Crisafulli's water bill passes Appropriations, next stop: Floor vote

It’s a complicated bill that House Speaker Steve Crisafulli says will modernize Florida’s water policy.

So far, at least, the nearly 100-page HB 7003 is finding little opposition in the House, easily passing the Appropriations Committee on Thursday with bipartisan support.

“I don’t see this as a perfect bill,” said Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa. “I don’t think we go far enough to deal with the complexities of Lake Okeechobee. But my concerns with the septic systems are being addressed, so because of that, I will vote the bill up and hope that it gets better as we go along.”

Even though session hasn’t started, there’s not much more to go. Next stop is the floor of the Florida House. That makes the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Matthew Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres and is one of Crisafulli’s top priorities, to be a leading candidate for first bill passed by the House when legislative session begins March 3.

Still, there’s quite a bit of difference between the House bill and the Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness.

“My hope is that we will work well with our Senate colleagues, collaboratively, and develop a good comprehensive policy,” Caldwell said after Thursday’s meeting.

January 28, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott proposes $150 million for Everglades

@jenstaletovich

 

Standing outside a Miami airboat attraction with some of the state’s top environmentalists and a caged panther named Harley, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday proposed spending $150 million in his next budget on Everglades restoration and habitat preservation.

Scott also wants lawmakers to designate a quarter of Amendment 1 money — the measure overwhelmingly approved by voters in November for land and water conservation — for restoration work. If the Legislature agrees, the move could raise $5 billion for Everglades projects over the life of the 20-year amendment, an amount that could cover the state’s projected costs.

“We have the opportunity to continue to invest,” Scott said, pointing to a stronger economy. “And this is the right way to invest.”

Environmentalists say the measures, if endorsed by lawmakers, could guarantee the chronically stalled work gets done.

More here.

January 19, 2015

New plan calls for Miami-Dade mayor to take reins on sea rise

@jenstaletovich

Miami-Dade County’s task force on rising seas wants the county mayor to take the reins on the mounting problem and will propose a suite of resolutions before commissioners on Wednesday to address the issue.

The measures will serve as “marching orders” to increase the county’s response to sea rise, County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said during a meeting with Miami Herald editors last week. She sponsored the legislation carrying out the task force recommendations as one of her last acts as commission chairwoman.

The resolutions ask Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez to take formal oversight and dedicate staff and resources to shepherd the county’s attack on climate change. One resolution would also ask the administration to speed up the planning process by hiring engineers or other experts to develop a capital plan to fortify the county’s vast infrastructure against the dangers of sea rise — everything from roads to bridges to sewer structures. Another resolution also calls for a comprehensive study on flooding and saltwater intrusion along with a time frame for carrying out changes and source of money.

“Sea level rise is happening. And failure to plan is the same as planning to fail,” said Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin, who chaired the task force.

Ruvin and Sosa could not say how much a plan or necessary changes might cost. But a similar strategy for New York City unveiled in June 2013 by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg came with a $20 billion price tag.

More here.

January 14, 2015

PAC launches to push solar power amendment

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Tory Perfetti, chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice, and Stephen Smith, executive director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, answer questions during the PAC's launch Wednesday at the Florida Press Center in Tallahassee.


A political action committee that launched Wednesday is banking on support from a diverse array of groups as it fights against Florida's utility companies. 

The PAC, Floridians for Solar Choice, hopes to pass a constitutional amendment in 2016 that would allow people and businesses to buy and sell solar power to one another, without going through utility companies. 

Passing the amendment would introduce competition to the energy market and boost renewable energy usage in Florida, said PAC Chairman Tory Perfetti and leaders of other supporting groups. 

Taking on the utility companies will likely prove expensive. Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, estimated that it could cost Floridians for Solar Choice around $10 million to pass the amendment. 

Continue reading "PAC launches to push solar power amendment" »

November 24, 2014

Legislators launch plan to rewrite enviro laws to deal with Amendment 1

Florida environmentalists say they were forced to go to voters to get permanent funding for land and water protection because legislators neglected the need for too many years. But now — even though Amendment 1 passed with 75 percent of the vote — the Legislature will get the last word.

House and Senate Republican leaders are preparing legislation to rewrite many of the state’s existing environmental laws to respond to the amendment, which requires the Legislature and governor to set aside one-third of all taxes collected from the documentary tax on real estate transactions. Lawmakers warn that painful tradeoffs lie ahead.

How legislators make those tradeoffs will determine whether the implementation of Amendment 1 is a cordial affair — in which both proponents and lawmakers agree to compromise — or whether the debate becomes a test of wills and, potentially, lawsuits. 

“In this new reality, as we work to apply this new portion of our constitution and faithfully implement the will of the voters, there is going to be some pain,’’ said Senate President Andy Gardiner in a speech to the Senate on Tuesday during the swear-in ceremony for members.

Gardiner conceded that the proposal to generate between $10billion to $20 billion for environmental causes over the next 20 years could “make a significant impact on the future of water and natural resources,” but emphasized that “implementing this amendment will be a challenge.”

Amendment 1 is expected to raise between $300 million and $500 million a year for projects intended to preserve environmentally-sensitive land and protect and improve water quality. At its core, the amendment weakens the Legislature’s most coveted power — the power of the purse — by taking away the ability of legislators to control a small piece of the state’s $75 billion budget.

As a result, Gardiner’s message was directed at both environmental advocates, who drafted the amendment, and his fellow lawmakers, whose power has been clipped by the proposal. Story here. 

November 05, 2014

NextGen Florida director: the fight against climate change in FL is just beginning

NextGen Florida spent $19.8 million in Florida between Aug. 7 and Oct. 22 this year with the influsion of cash coming from California billionaire and former hedge fund investor Tom Steyer. Their goals: to defeat Gov. Rick Scott,  raise awareness about climate change and bring young people to the polls. They failed on the first, succeeded on the second, and the report card on the third goal appears to be mixed.

Here's the campaign wrap-up by Florida  Director Jackie Lee:

Continue reading "NextGen Florida director: the fight against climate change in FL is just beginning" »