July 11, 2015

Broward family seeks to have well drilling on its property on the edge of the Everglades

via @jenstaletovich

A South Florida family that made its fortune in real estate asked the state this week to drill an exploratory oil well in marshes just west of Broward County suburbs, marking the first time the search for Everglades crude has extended so far east.

“As second generation Floridians and owners of this property for over 50 years, we are excited about the opportunities this land and these resources will provide for Florida,” John Kanter of the Kanter Family Foundation said in a statement. He declined a request for an interview.

The request for a drilling permit, the first step in what would likely be a lengthy review process, came as a surprise to environmentalists. While there has been a renewed surge of interest in exploring and drilling in existing oil fields in Southwest Florida, that had cooled with falling oil prices. And no company has previously targeted anything near the proposed location, along a major drainage canal about a half-dozen miles west of U.S. 27 and Miramar.

“I’m just kind of shaking my head,” said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, which opposes expanded drilling. “I guess it was just a matter of time, but it’s interesting with oil prices plummeting that they decided to start drilling .... I would imagine the reaction from the community to drilling that close to the urban area would be intense.”

The well would be a traditional vertical well that could go nearly 12,000 feet deep, a Kanter spokeswoman said, and is intended to tap into the vast Sunniland trend, an oil formation that the U.S. Geological Survey said extends across all of South Florida and west into the Gulf of Mexico. The application from the Kanter Corp. of Florida, based in Miami, is the first step in a “long-term plan” that the company says also would include rock mining, another major concern for environmentalists.

If approved, the well would be the first so far east of the small drilling operations in the Big Cypress Preserve, which have hummed along for decades. Only one well has ever been dug in Broward County, said Florida Department of Environmental Protection communications director Lauren Engel. In 1985, a Texas company drilled just inside western Broward County line near Collier County. The well was plugged and abandoned the same year.

More here.

July 07, 2015

How much has Florida reduced carbon emissions?

Republicans in Congress recently voted for legislation that would prevent the federal government from implementing new emissions regulations on power plants -- in part, some argue, because utilities are already cutting carbon levels on their own.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, said that HR 2042, known as the Ratepayer Protection Act, would protect states from costly rules that aren’t necessary. The bill would delay the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce nationwide carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030. The legislation also would allow states to opt out of the reduced emissions requirement.

"The EPA’s proposal on this rule has drawn widespread concern," Bilirakis said in a speech on June 24, 2015, before the GOP-majority House passed the legislation along party lines. "It placed a heavier burden on Florida than other states, despite the fact that Florida has reduced its carbon emissions by 20 percent since 2005."

See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found.

June 24, 2015

Miami archbishop says Pope Francis’ words nudged Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush on climate change


Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski believes Pope Francis’ recent document on global warming is already changing the climate of the conversation in the presidential race, particularly among two friends, both members of his flock — and both angling for the most powerful position in the world.

Wenski said comments on climate change by Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, Republicans and devout Roman Catholics from Miami, have been noticeably milder in tone since Francis weighed in.

“Both of them, at least from what I can gather, have walked back some of their earlier comments,” Wenski told the Miami Herald in an interview Wednesday. He called the presidential contenders’ willingness to talk about how to solve the problems created by global warming an encouraging sign. “What the pope is saying is, ‘Let’s talk about this.’ And that requires — whether you’re Democrat or Republican or left or right — it requires that you transcend your particular interest or ideological lens and look at the issue from the common good.”

Rubio’s and Bush’s campaigns dispute that their candidates altered anything as a result of Francis’ encyclical, a teaching document published last week by the popular pope, who argued a religious case for protecting the environment.

The two politicians have said if humans are causing temperatures to rise — and they’re not convinced they are, despite broad scientific evidence to the contrary — a president must still promote policies that benefit the economy over ones that benefit the environment. Both are trying to raise campaign cash from some affluent donors, including the industrialist Koch brothers, who strenuously oppose policies that would curb carbon emissions.

But the candidates have not dismissed Francis’ intervention in the debate.

More here.

June 22, 2015

Environmentalists sue state over Amendment 1 conservation spending

Environmental group Earthjustice is suing the Florida Legislature and its leaders over their budget's use of money set aside for conservation by Amendment 1.

The lawsuit filed in Leon County on Monday against Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli alleges that almost half of the Amendment 1 money in the budget is being used for purposes that aren't permitted under state law.

“The Legislature did not do what the amendment requires,” Florida Wildlife Federation president Manley Fuller said in a statement. “Seventy-five percent of Florida voters approved this amendment last November, and they were clear that they want the state to buy conservation land. Instead, the Legislature took the money and used it for things it should not be spent on. This is a slap in the face to Florida voters, and it should not stand.”

The issue has drawn significant controversy since 75 percent of voters supported Amendment 1 last November. The amendment directs more than $700 million to be spent on conservation.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.

Two Florida agencies, two approaches to climate change

From the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a steering committee to address climate change. The commission maintains computer modeling programs that show how climate change will affect water and land crucial to wildlife. It holds regular seminars to educate staff on the latest climate science.

On its website, the commission has a “Climate Change 101” page that addresses key challenges the state faces.

Eight miles from the state commission’s Tallahassee headquarters, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which bills itself as the state’s “lead agency for environmental management and stewardship,” states that it is only monitoring sea-level rise. That is its sole effort to address climate change.

As Florida Center for Investigative Reporting first reported, the emphasis on “climate change” within the DEP has declined over the past five years during Gov. Rick Scott’s tenure in office. For instance, a Web page titled “Climate Change and Coral Reefs” hasn’t been updated since Nov. 18, 2011 — the year Scott took office. That was also the year a DEP spokesperson told the Tampa Bay Times that “DEP is not pursuing any programs or projects regarding climate change.”

One likely explanation for the different priorities at the two agencies is that FWC, created by voters in 1999 as an independent commission and run by an autonomous board, does not answer to the governor. The DEP, on the other hand, does report to the governor’s office.

More here.

June 20, 2015

Marco Rubio: 'No problem' with Catholic Church on climate change but economy more important


Marco Rubio, a Roman Catholic, said Saturday he has "no problem" with Pope Francis' encyclical urging action on climate change -- but added he won't support policies that could help the environment but "hurt our economy."

"I have no problem with what the pope did," Rubio told reporters in Miami before speaking to the Miami-Dade County Republican Party. "He is a moral authority and as a moral authority is reminding us of our obligation to be good caretakers to the planet. I'm a political leader. And my job as a policymaker is to act in the common good. And I do believe it's in the common good to protect our environment, but I also believe it's in the common good to protect our economy."

Though scientists are in broad agreement that climate change is man-made, Rubio continued to question that premise. He said his focus is on tackling the consequences rather than what caused it.

"I don' think there is a scientific consensus on what percent, how sensitive, climate is to human activity," he said. "But the broader question as a policy maker is not whether I believe humans have contributed 10 percent, 50 percent or 99 percent. The fundamental question I have as a policymaker must be what can we do about it and what impact will it have on the rest of our country and the rest of our lives. And what I am not going to support are measures that will hurt our economy and put people out of work and increase the cost of living."

He began answering the question by poking at Democrats who have trumpeted the pope's position on the environment but not social issues.

"I find it ironic that a lot of the same liberals who are touting the encyclical on climate change ignore multiple pronouncements of this pope on the definition of marriage and on the sanctity of life," Rubio said.

June 16, 2015

Lawsuit could be brewing against state over Amendment 1 funding

House and Senate leaders declared Sunday that they had set aside $55 million for buying new public land from a ballot measure that was passed last year by 75 percent of state voters.

It wasn't until Monday that environmentalists realized lawmakers were planning to spend far less, setting up a likely legal showdown over what exactly Amendment 1 means.

The problem: The ballot measure, Amendment 1, dedicated more than $700 million for conservation and preservation. Environmentalists had hoped that lawmakers would approve at least $300 million to buy conservation and preservation lands.

Instead, lawmakers carved up the money for other projects, including millions for an agricultural giant.

Sponsors of Amendment 1 said the weekend agreement earmarks only $17.4 million for the acquisition of parks and wildlife habitat under the state program Florida Forever.

"This is an insult to the 4.2 million voters who voted Yes for Amendment 1," said Will Abberger, chairman of Florida Water and Land Legacy, the Amendment 1 sponsor committee. "Last November Florida voters sent a loud and clear message to the Legislature: make funding for conservation land acquisition a priority. The Legislature is ignoring Florida voters."

Abberger and Audubon of Florida executive director Eric Draper said they were exploring "all options," which they said could include legal action against the Legislature for violating the intent of Amendment 1.

Even one of the negotiators of the agreement, Senate Appropriations Chair Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said a legal challenge is certain.

"I'm not a lawyer, but in this world we live in today, I am confident of one thing and one thing only, and that is that there will be litigation," Lee said.

More here.

June 14, 2015

House, Senate agree to Amendment 1, environmental funding

Budget chairs Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, and Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, talk during a budget conference Sunday in the state Capitol. Looking for proof that they'll find budget agreement? Check out those smiles. (Photo by Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times)

Entering the final week of the special session, House and Senate budget leaders on Sunday found agreement on how to spend more than $700 million set aside by voters for land acquisition and conservation.

It's a result environmentalists are calling "disappointing."

$55 million will go to buying new land, including in the state's existing Florida Forever and rural and family land program.s

Another $47.5 million will go to springs restoration and $81.8 million will be used for Everglades restoration.

That doesn't all come out of the money set aside by Amendment 1, which passed last November with the support of 75 percent of voters.

But much of the Amendment 1 dollars will go into administering programs that were previously funded with other sources. Senate Budget Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, says those are critical to the state's environmental and conservation efforts.

Continue reading "House, Senate agree to Amendment 1, environmental funding" »

June 08, 2015

A Pants on Fire for Rick Scott's environmental funding claim

Gov. Rick Scott says that Florida has invested big bucks in the environment.

As he boasted about the state’s record during his economic summit for GOP presidential contenders in Orlando June 2, Scott reeled off a bunch of statistics about Florida’s budget and economy including this one: "If you care about the environment, we've got record funding."

Scott’s record on the environment has been scrutinized since he first ran for office in 2010. Since that time, news reports detailed how state officials under his watch have been banned from using terms such as "climate change,"  environmental fines have nosedived, and Scott has boasted about reducing the number of days to get anenvironmental permit.

But despite that record, does Florida now have "record funding" for the environment? No, it doesn’t. See what PolitiFact Florida found. 

June 07, 2015

On Amendment 1 bonding, Florida House is standing its ground

The House’s latest budget offer would scrap using bonding to fund land acquisition. But don’t expect it to remain that way.

House leadership has favored the plan to direct a significant portion of the money from the conservation-minded Amendment 1 — passed overwhelmingly by voters in November — to bonding. The Senate, meanwhile has strongly opposed any bonding with Amendment 1 dollars.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, chairs the Senate’s natural resources budget committee. He says he’ll keep fighting against bonding.

“I would think that about the quickest way I could tell you the Senate’s position on it is B-O-N-D is a four-letter word. And I’m not trying to be cute. But I’m not considering bonding.”

In this latest budget from the House, $20.5 million for bonding disappears. But the House’s natural resources budget chairman Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, says he fully intends bonding will end up in the budget eventually.

“I cannot be any more clear. The House is very interested in and supportive of bonding as it goes forward, especially as it relates to Florida Forever,” Allbritton said.

“Money’s cheap today,” he said. “This is an olive branch."