October 24, 2016

Everglades Foundation launches bus tour to gather 'an army of supporters' for its land-buy initiative

NoworNevergladesCan the Florida Everglades become a political weapon? The Everglades Foundation, a non-profit that is banned from campaigning, hopes to find out this week as it launches a 12-day bus tour to drum up public support for its No. 1 priority: the purchase of sugar land south of Lake Okeechobee to be used for water cleansing marshes.

With a shrink-wrapped bus emblazoned with the words NoworNeverglades, the organization is hoping to seize on the public's election-year focus and crisscross the state to win support for the post-election policy -- Everglades restoration, said Eric Eikenberg, director of the Everglades Foundation.

"It's that season and everybody is focused on the election,'' he said. "People are tired of toxic algae in the water and we are calling attention to the role clean water, and our water supply has on economics and tourism."

The foundation is urging people to sign the #NoworNeverglades Declaration in which people "affirm their support for added water storage in the [Everglades Agricultural Area] to help alleviate damaging discharges into coastal estuaries, increase the flow of clean fresh water to the Everglades and Florida Bay, and protect the drinking water supply for 6 million Floridians." 

The bus will begin its tour Wednesday at Gramps Restaurant in Miami's Wynwood district and the make its way north, through South and Central Florida. Events include stops at the University of Central Florida, Rollins College, Zoo Miami, the Naples Zoo, Bass Pro Shops the Audubon Assembly Conference and even the Halloween on the Mile event in Coral Gables.

The bus will be stopping at football games along the way -- from the University of South Florida's match with Navy on Friday to the Miami Dolphins v. Jets game on Nov. 6. The foundation will be collecting the names and social media contacts of its supporters as it prepares to enlist legislative support for the land buy in the March legislative session, Eikenberg said. 

"We want an army of people to weigh in on buying the land when the Legislature starts and decides whether to get the money in the budget,'' he said. "Everybody wants to protect the Everglades. The question is, how are they actually going to do it?" 

Incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, as said he is going to make buying the land, using money already available through environmental preservation funds, a top priority. 

The sugar industry, however, has vigorously opposed the land buy as unnecessary and considers it an attempt to undercut the future of the industry in Florida. 

“Surely there are better ways to advocate for the environment than driving a fossil fuel-powered luxury bus 12 days across South Florida while spreading half-truths about how our water system operates and how to manage Lake Okeechobee discharges,'' said Judy Sanchez, U.S. Sugar spokesperson. 

"These activists would be better off meeting with the farmers in the EAA that have worked to reduce phosphorus by an average 55 percent over the last two decades and see the hard-working people of the Glades they are trying to ignore. They should also stop to consult with the water quality experts and scientists at the South Florida Water Management District, Department of Environmental Protection, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who have thoroughly discredited the ‘buy the land, send the water south’ bumper sticker science.”

October 11, 2016

Gore blasts 'phony-baloney' solar Amendment 1 on Florida ballot

Hik12 Hillary Gore NEW PPP
@PatriciaMazzei

Calling it a "phony-baloney" ballot initiative, former Vice President Al Gore asked Floridians to vote "No" on Amendment 1 when they fill out their Nov. 8 ballots.

"They are trying to cloud the truth by putting forward a phony-baloney initiative that sounds like it protects solar," Gore said. "It doesn't protect solar."

Fuel-burning utility companies are trying to "fool" voters, he added, and "just kill the solar infrastructure" in the state. 

"No!" yelled the crowd at Miami Dade College's Kendall Campus.

Gore was campaigning with Hillary Clinton on behalf of her presidential campaign. But he devoted several minutes to the down-ballot amendment and laid bare his frustration with the power companies.

"Our democracy has been hacked," he said, accusing the utilities of having spent "more than $20 million to pull the wool over your eyes -- and $20 million may buy a lot of wool."

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, Miami Herald staff

October 06, 2016

Sunshine State survey: Economy and environment are the major concerns of Floridians

Sunshine State threats of Florida's economy

A summer of water woes and uneasiness about the state’s economic future have led Floridians to identify the economy and the environment as their top concerns as they head to Election Day, according to the 2016 Sunshine State Survey released by the University of South Florida on Thursday..

The annual poll, done by the University of South Florida and Nielsen Surveys, found that 63 percent of all Florida households say they experience some financial stress, 28 percent blame their economic insecurity on low-paying jobs, and a slim majority of Floridians — 51 percent — would support a $15 state minimum wage.

“You cannot under-estimate how household finances affect everything,” said Susan MacManus, USF professor of political science who conducted the survey. “You can see it in just about every poll, and no matter who wins the election they are going to have to deal with this problem because it is not just registered voters who are feeling this way. Every race from top to the bottom is going to feel it.”

The results are the first in a series of reports to be released by USF in an effort to guide state and local leaders to focus on issues relevant to Floridians. The survey of 1,248 Florida residents from Sept. 1 to Sept. 19 was done using live telephone interviews of cell phone and landline phone numbers. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.77 percentage points.

While 24 percent of those surveyed cited the economy as their top concern, the issues next in line were the environment (13 percent), crime and policing (11 percent), education and schools (9 percent), government officials (5 percent), healthcare (5 percent), and immigration (5 percent), the survey found.

Water-related problems are the top environmental concern of 34 percent of those surveyed, with the highest intensity focus from residents in the Palm Beach and Naples regions — areas hardest hit by the toxic algae outbreaks earlier this year, the survey found.

Another 20 percent cited the loss of natural lands for wildlife and 18 percent, including a majority of those surveyed in the Miami-Dade and Fort Lauderdale region, say that climate change is the greatest economic peril the state faces.

“The most important thing this survey shows is that people still have a lot of anxiety about their household finances and, as long as people are concerned about that, it affects every other dimension of their lives,” MacManus said.

The survey shows that the “the economy has not fully recovered,” she said, although there are pockets of improvement. Financial stress is greatest among households with a child, low-income earners, and Floridians without a college degree, the survey showed. The proportion of Floridians feeling stress, however, fell 8 percent since last year to 64 percent.

When asked what factors are the greatest threat to Florida’s economy, 28 percent identified the lack of well-paying jobs, the survey found. Another 24 percent cited government waste, taxes and regulations, and 18 percent identified illegal immigration. Those top three concerns encompassed 70 percent of all responses.

Those most concerned about the lack of well-paying jobs are Floridians with a child at home, racial and ethnic minorities, and low- to mid-income households, the report found. White respondents are the most concerned about illegal immigration, and younger Floridians see an inadequate education system as the biggest threat to the state’s economy.

The focus on the environment as a top concern behind the economy should not surprise anyone who has lived in Florida, MacManus said.

“Florida’s economy has long been closely linked to its environmental assets,” she said.

But the survey found that Florida residents are also not happy with the way government is handling sinkholes, especially in the wake of reports that the state waited three weeks to notify residents that a massive sinkhole had drained pollutants into the Floridan✔ Aquifer from the Mosaic phosphate processing plant near the Hillsborough-Polk county line and was potentially contaminating the drinking water supply.

More than half of the respondents rated the state’s performance as fair or poor, with residents of the Tampa Bay and Miami/Fort Lauderdale areas most disapproving of the state’s efforts to address sinkholes (26 percent and 23 percent, respectively).

“Sinkholes are unsettling because it starts to affect insurance rates and housing and development decisions,” MacManus said. “It also leaves people with an enormous sense of uncertainty.”

MacManus also warned that these uncertainties could drive the election – from the presidential race to local offices.

“I don’t think you can underestimate the impact,” she said. “People in Florida get the fact there is a relationship between our state’s economy and the environment and, every time there is a major event – like Zika or a hurricane – it creates more stress.”

 

 

September 16, 2016

Will sprawl doom Florida? Projecting into the future in 2070

Florida in 2070via @JenStaletovich

Over the next 50 years, Florida’s swelling population is expected to gobble up another 15 percent — or 5 million acres — of the state’s disappearing farms, forests and unprotected green space, according to a new study released Thursday.

With the population expected to reach nearly 34 million by 2070, University of Florida researchers partnered with 1000 Friends of Florida and the state Department of Agriculture to look at growth trends and urban sprawl in a state powered by land booms. What they found was startling: In Central Florida, where the population is expected to surge along the I-4 corridor, half the region will be developed if no more land is protected. Agriculture and other green spaces shrink by nearly 2.4 million acres. That could dramatically increase the flow of urban pollution into Lake Okeechobee.

In rapidly expanding South Florida, another 1.1 million acres would be lost.

But with smarter planning that concentrates growth around urban cores, researchers found they could save up to 1.5 million acres. Story here. 

September 15, 2016

Everglades restoration plan passes senate

Everglades aerial (2)

by @jenstaletovich

Everglades restoration took a step forward Thursday when the U.S. Senate passed a massive waterworks bill that includes a plan aimed at fixing the overlooked heart of the vast wetlands.

In 94-3 vote, senators approved the Water Resources Development Act, which includes about $2 billion for the Central Everglades Planning Project. The project, launched in 2011 to speed up restoration and focus efforts on central wetlands critical to moving fresh water south into Florida Bay, got a big assist in the spring when Sen. Jim Inhofe vowed to throw his weight behind it. The powerful chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, remembered for being the only no vote opposing the original comprehensive restoration plan in 2000, said he changed his mind after Sen. Marco Rubio convinced the work was necessary.

The vote comes after a brutal winter for the region. Record rain forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to repeatedly release dirty water from Lake Okeechobee into coastal estuaries, triggering a massive algae bloom along the Treasure Coast.

The WRDA still has to pass the House, no small hurdle, which has not yet scheduled a vote. However, including $220 million in emergency funding to address the water crisis in Flint is drawing support that may help push it through.

"It addresses a lot of big ticket items that have gotten a ton of attention this year," said Julie Hill-Gabriel, deputy director of policy for Audubon Florida.

Hill-Gabriel was hopeful the House schedules a vote this year on the plan. Two years ago, the plan stalled when the Corps, which oversees work, balked at approving it in time for that year's WRDA bill.

 

 

"We’re hopeful it will happen this year," Hill-Gabriel said. "Whether it’s next week or the lame duck session, we hope the House steps up and gets it done."

 

 

September 14, 2016

Judge dismisses challenge to toxins in water rule; Martin County accuses DEP of threats

Water toxinsOpponents hoping to overturn a controversial rule to allow higher concentrations of toxic chemicals into Florida’s water were dealt a setback Tuesday when an administrative law judge dismissed a series of complaints because they missed the deadline for filing the challenge.

The groups, which included the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the City of Miami, Martin County and the Florida Pulp and Paper Association, must now decide if they will challenge the ruling at the District Court of Appeal.

The Seminole Tribe was the first to file the challenge to the new new Human Health Toxics Criteria Rule, which allows for dozens of toxins, including carcinogens, to be allowed in greater concentrations into Florida’s rivers and streams.

The rule, which increases the acceptable levels of more than two dozen known carcinogens and decreases levels for 13 currently regulated chemicals, was approved on a 3-2 vote by the Environmental Regulation Commission in July and the groups filed the challenge at the Division of Administrative Hearings, the state-run court that litigates state rules.

The Tribe argued that the rule could endanger the health of tribal members because it fails to take into account the harm they could do to the health of the tribe’s subsistence fishermen who rely on fish from Florida’s rivers and streams as a primary source of protein.

The City of Miami argued the standard “loosens restrictions on permissible levels of carcinogens in Florida surface waters with absolutely no justification for the need for the increased levels of the toxins nor the increased health risks to Florida citizens.”

Martin County argued that the new rules threatened the public’s safety, and that the rule should be invalidated because the Department of Environmental Protection didn’t follow its own process.

Only the Pulp and Paper Association, whose members rely on discharging chemical-laden water into Florida rivers, argued that the rule was too strict. All parties said the agency violated the proper procedure for establishing the rules.

Judge Bram D.E. Canter, however, disagreed and dismissed the challenges on the grounds that they had not been raised in a timely petition.

Continue reading "Judge dismisses challenge to toxins in water rule; Martin County accuses DEP of threats" »

Competing demands crowd Zika money

  

@jamesmartinrose

WASHINGTON Turns out, Zika isn’t the only urgent problem that needs federal funds fast.

Florida lawmakers pushing to get $1.1 billion for Zika prevention and research into a rapidly evolving broader appropriations bill are competing with members of Congress from across the country who want their needs addressed.

On his second day in Washington to push for Zika funding, Gov. Rick Scott met with members of Congress from the state who briefed him on the rapidly evolving negotiations over federal spending.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said he’s jousting with other panel members seeking vital funding for their districts and states.

Lawmakers from Louisiana want billions for flood relief. Congressmen from Michigan want millions to clean contaminated drinking water. Others are pushing for more money for veterans’ healthcare.

“Florida’s not the only state with urgent needs,” Diaz-Balart told reporters after he and other Florida lawmakers met with Scott.

The governor said that Florida can’t wait any longer to receive federal aid to help with treating the almost 800 people in the state infected with the virus and preventing it from spreading further.

“We need help, and we need help now,” Scott said.

Scott criticized Sen. Bill Nelson for joining other Democrats in having voted down earlier Zika bills because they contained extraneous provisions related to abortion, Planned Parenthood and the federal health insurance law.

Scott’s criticism drew a rebuke from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a fellow Republican from Miami.

“We don’t need to be calling people out,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Sen. Nelson has been trying to help get Zika funding.”

Beyond the competition among different funding needs, there was disagreement on Capitol Hill over how much time the omnibus spending bill, called a Continuing Resolution, should cover going forward.

Appropriators sought a short-term measure that would keep the government operating into December. Some conservatives wanted it to be funded until March. President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress were pushing for a bill to cover the entire next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1 and lasting through Sept. 30, 2017.

Video credit: Ken Cedeno, McClatchy

 

 

August 25, 2016

Rubio raps FEMA over algae blooms

Senate 2016 Rubio_Ordo (1)-082516

@jamesmartinrose

Sen. Marco Rubio criticized the Obama administration for again declining to issue a federal disaster declaration in response to toxic algae in Florida's waterways.

"Even though the end to this disaster is not in sight, the President is telling our state we are on our own," the Miami Republican said Thursday in a statement.

Barack Obama did not appear to be involved in the decision. In a brief letter earlier Thursday, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate rejected Gov. Rick Scott's appeal of his agency's earlier denial of extra money to help fight the algae blooms from Lake Okeechobee discharges intended to protect its aging dike.

"After a thorough review of all information contained in your initial request and appeal, we reaffirm our original findings that supplemental federal assistance under the Stafford Act is not appropriate for this event," Fugate wrote to Scott. "Therefore, I must inform you that your appeal for an emergency declaration is denied."

The thick algae blooms look like guacamole and smell bad. The algae has fouled Treasure Coast waterways fed by Lake Okeechobee.

"The Administration has chosen yet again to turn a blind eye to the livelihoods of Floridians who are affected by this toxic algae," Rubio said.

For more on Rubio's response:

Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press

 


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article86989367.html#storylink=cpy

 

Message from South Florida water managers: Don't make us mad

SFWMD InterlandiIf you want to keep a low profile, don't disagree with the South Florida Water Management District, or ask for its email list.

That's what Lisa Interlandi, a lawyer with the nonprofit Everglades Law Center, and other environmental advocates have learned in the last few months as they have become the target of email blasts by the state agency.

The latest email was issued Monday to the more than 5,000 addresses on the district's email list. With a subject head labeled "Your privacy," the agency gave out Interlandi's email address and then announced she had done what anyone in Florida is entitled to do: submit a records request seeking SFWMD's email distribution list.

"As you may know, such email lists and addresses are commercial commodities that are often bought and sold,'' the agency wrote. It cited no examples. "The law prohibits SFWMD from asking about the intended use for the information. Any concern you may have about a potential invasion of privacy is understandable."

Interlandi said the suggestion that she wanted to sell the list was “absurd.”

“It's a public record. It has no value. Anyone who asks for it can get it for free,’’ she said. Instead, she said she wanted the list after watching the water management district increasingly use hostile news releases to target critics of the agency and she thought having the list could be helpful if anyone wanted to "counter the attacks."

Randy Smith, spokesman for the SFWMD, said Thursday the agency never before had “received a mass public records demand for an email address list” and called the request “completely out of the ordinary.”

“Persons having entrusted their email addresses to the state have every right to know that their information has been obtained by a third party without their consent,’’ he said.

Most other state agencies include a standard disclosure on the bottom of agency emails remainding people that Florida has a broad public records law and most written communication to or from state officials regarding state business -- including all emails -- is considered a public record.

The SFWMD, which is funded by state and local tax dollars and is considered a state agency, does not include such a disclosure when it sends out blast emails to its more than 5,000 recipients. Smith did not answer why. Story here. 

Above: Excerpt from SFWMD Aug. 22 blast email

 

We asked the district to explain the policy and decisions surrounding it. Here are our questions and its answers:

Continue reading "Message from South Florida water managers: Don't make us mad" »

August 15, 2016

Environmentalist's remarks rile water managers who attack with tax talking points

Old World climbing fernIn a press release proclaiming that South Florida residents should "Get the Facts," the South Florida Water Management District moved from neutral regulator to attack dog Monday using a press release to criticize Audubon of Florida for disagreeing with the district's decision to rollback property taxes instead of paying for invasive species control in the Arthur Marshall National Wildlife Refuge.

Audubon of Florida executive director Eric Draper appeared before the governing board at its meeting last week and urged it to use money from reserve funds to address what district officials say is an emergency situation in which an infestation of invasive Old World climbing fern is threatening to collapse the tree canopy.

"It is absolutely an emergency, but you have the resources,'' Draper told the governing board. "And it is your land. Fund it."

He added that if the district chooses not to use the money in its reserves, the board could also "change your mind about rolling back the millage" rate and use the increase in property tax collections, generated by the increase in property values, to pay for the emergency. 

"It is not an appropriate or smart strategy to say to Congress, which is cutting its budget and struggling with a federal deficit, to spend that money when you are not willing to increase the amount of money you are spending to control that,'' he said. 

SFWMD executive director Pete Antonacci replied. He said the district has spent $2.3 million to control the invasive plant, also known as Lygodium microphyllum"Money that you are under no obligation to spend and still we have not seen our federal colleagues to do something similar,'' he said.

Draper's remarks hit a nerve. Rather than direct the blame at the federal government, which the district says is violating a provision in the 2002 management agreement that requires it to control exotic plants, the SFWMD used its press release to turn the focus on taxes, and blast Draper for suggesting the state shouldn't wait for the federal government. 

"Audubon Florida is asking the SFWMD Governing Board to raise taxes to make up for the federal government's failure to control an infestation of invasive Old World climbing fern in the Refuge,'' the release said. 

Taxes have been one of the most important messages coming out of the district under Gov. Rick Scott. Last year, as property values rose another $21 million in the district, the former head of the SFWMD, Blake Guillory, proposed ending the practice of cutting back taxes and leaving the tax rate alone to keep the district from dipping into reserves to pay for its projects. 

Within two weeks, the board of governors reversed the decision and Guillory was forced to resign. The board replaced him with Scott's general counsel, Antonacci. 

The district's Monday "Get the Facts" did not mention all the facts, including that that Audubon of Florida is supportive of the district but wants it to work with the federal government, that the district wants $25 million over three years from Congress to attack the problem, and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has an annual budget of $1 million for exotic plant control and has spent another $1 million over the last three years for invasive plant control at the refuge.

Randy Smith, spokesperson for the district, defended the attack on Audubon as "factual information that is pertinent for the taxpayers to understand." 

He said that Draper wanted "to let the federal government slide" and that the press release was signed off on by the district's executive team, including Antonacci.

Draper responded. 

"Enough fighting,'' he said in a statement to the Herald/Times. "State and federal agencies need to work together to solve Florida’s invasive species problems.  The district has money in its budget and under its spending caps to manage its land.  And, yes, taking care of a special place like the Arthur Marshall National Wildlife Refuge might be more important than cutting taxes this year."

The attack jarred others in the environmental community. 

"I can't recall a state agency targeting a non-profit organization before,'' said Jonathan Ullman of Sierra Club of South Florida. "A public agency saying that 'Audubon Florida wants to raise your taxes,' is over the line,'' he said, noting that Sierra Club has been a target of a similar attack.

"I don't know who or what is behind 'Just the Facts,' but these emails are entirely inappropriate. The agency has become an attack dog, rather than a public service."

Here is the text of the SFWMD press release: 

Continue reading "Environmentalist's remarks rile water managers who attack with tax talking points" »