June 05, 2015

Fight over oil drilling off Florida's coast back in Congress

via @CAdamsMcClatchy

WASHINGTON -- Two Florida members of the House of Representatives are joining one of the state’s senators to keep oil drilling far off shore, seeking to stave off efforts to bring the rigs closer to land.

Opposing legislation in the Senate designed to ease drilling restrictions opens the way for a debate over drilling amid worries about the quality of the Gulf of Mexico.

Reps. David Jolly, a Republican from Indian Shores, and Gwen Graham, a Democrat from the Panhandle, introduced legislation late Wednesday that would extend an existing ban on oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico through 2027.

The ban, now set to expire in 2022, extends 125 miles off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast, and as much as 235 miles in some areas.

“It is paramount that we take steps to continue protecting our pristine beaches, our fisheries, our marine sanctuaries and coastal communities from the impact of drilling in the eastern Gulf and devastating events like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010,” Jolly said in a statement. “An oil spill off the coast of Pinellas County would be disastrous to our quality of life and our local economy.”

More here.

June 04, 2015

Everglades Trust targets lawmakers on use of Amendment 1 dollars

The Everglades Trust's mailing campaign, which will target constituents of lawmakers whose districts are affected by pollution of the Everglades.

The Everglades Trust is hitting some lawmakers' districts with mailings saying they're in the sugar industry's pockets.

"Last November, 75% of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment to buy land that would protect our drinking water, save our rivers and beaches, and help save the Everglades," the mailing says. "But now BIG SUGAR is calling in their favors and pressuring our legislators to turn their backs on the will of the voters."

The issue at hand is the use of state money to buy land for conservation, in this case south of Lake Okeechobee.

Environmental groups have generally criticized the House and Senate budget proposals for not spending enough on land acquisition, which they say needs to be higher under Amendment 1, passed by three quarters of Florida voters last November.

Among the land that some want to see bought by the state's Florida Forever program is a tract owned by U.S. Sugar south of Okeechobee.

The final details of how much Amendment 1 money will be available for buying land has yet to be determined, as budget negotiations between the two chambers have not begun.

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.


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


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" »