October 29, 2015

Florida lawmaker offers to tutor state attorney general on climate change

Matheson hammock benches

@jenstaletovich

Citing a series of Miami Herald articles on sea level rise, Miami Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, a Miami Democrat, invited Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi to visit South Florida for a quickie tutorial on climate change.

"It was with dismay that I read your comments this week regarding climate change," Rodriguez wrote, referring to comments Bondi made to Politico Tuesday after announcing that Florida would join 23 other states in opposing new federal rules to reduce carbon coming from power plants.

When asked by the web site if she thought climate change was manmade, Bondi responded: "I'm not going to get into a philosophical discussion with you about climate change."

Rodriguez pointed out that a recent study by Princeton ecologist Benjamin Strauss found 40 percent of Florida residents live in places vulnerable to flooding from sea rise. Miami tops the state list of exposed homes in large cities.

"To help explain why, I have attached a recent Miami Herald series on sea level rise, a result of climate change," Rodriguez wrote, adding that "responding to the effects of climate change are imperatives, not philosophical matters to be debated."

October 28, 2015

Study: South Florida power grid vulnerable to sea rise, hurricanes

Fpl workers and poles

via @jenstaletovich

Hurricanes and rising sea levels make South Florida’s power grid increasingly vulnerable, according to a new study that argues for building a more resilient energy system along the U.S. coastline.

The study, produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists, found that storm surge from a Category 3 hurricane could knock out about a sixth of Southeast Florida’s electrical substations. Factor in sea level rise projections and the number doubles, the report said. By 2070, with sea rise fueling storm surges that spread farther inland, the number could triple.

“Coastal residents in these places and elsewhere on our coasts should be asking their utilities — and the commissions that regulate them — what they’re doing to protect their power plants and substations from current and increasing flood risks,” co-author Steve Clemmer, the USC’s director of energy research, said in a statement.

More here.

October 27, 2015

Environmental chief silent on state lands director's departure

Florida's top environmental official, Secretary Jon Steverson of the Department of Environmental Protection, confirmed Tuesday that he accepted the resignation of Kelley Boree, director of the Division of State Lands. As Steverson left a Cabinet meeting, he said Boree resigned her job last Friday.

Asked whether Boree resigned voluntarily, Steverson said, "She resigned," and referred all other questions to his press office. Steverson has appointed his Cabinet affairs director, David Clark, to also assume Boree's duties on an acting basis.

Boree's resignation was first reported by the Florida Politics news site Tuesday. Boree came to DEP in May 2014 from the city of Jacksonville, where he ran that city's parks department. She was paid $115,000 a year to oversee the management of more than 12 million acres of land, lakes, rivers and islands.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Steverson briefed him on Boree's resignation and said he knew it involved "circumstances relating to a state procurement," but he referred questions to DEP. Putnam praised Steverson's outreach and openness in bringing the issue to his attention.

October 26, 2015

Rising sea levels are changing South Florida's water

RisingTides 01 EKM

via @jenstaletovich

Every fall when the king tides roll in, the most obvious sign of climate change asserts itself in South Florida: flooding everywhere, from submerged roads in Miami to waves washing across neighborhoods in the Keys to swamped docks and yards in Fort Lauderdale’s canal-side homes.

But beyond the flooding, a more insidious problem is at work. South Florida’s water is changing.

Under climate change projections, beaches and bays that draw tourists and anglers and help fuel a booming real estate industry could grow saltier and more polluted.

Underground saltwater is already spoiling the aquifer and moving closer to drinking water supplies for six million residents. If the Everglades dries up more than it already has, peat soil that provides the scaffolding for an entire ecosystem could collapse. This summer, a dangerous fog of yellow sulfur appeared in Florida Bay, triggered by a regional drought that under climate change projections would occur more often. And just this month, scientists reported that a massive coral bleaching event in the Pacific triggered by rising ocean temperatures had spread to the Caribbean.

In its simplest terms, climate change is threatening the state’s most vital resource: water.

More here.

Second in a series. Read part one here.

Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff

October 25, 2015

Miami Republican congressman pens climate-change op-ed

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican, writing in the Miami Herald's op-ed pages:

Now more than ever, it is crucial that we acknowledge the reality that is the Earth’s changing climate. Without question, this is one of the major challenges of our time and directly threatens the communities of South Florida. If left unaddressed, the consequences of a changing climate have the potential to adversely affect not only our families and neighbors, but the entire country.

To view climate change through partisan lenses only detracts from efforts to discover practical solutions. This debate should not devolve into a petty competition between Republicans and Democrats.

Instead, it should consist of a constructive dialogue focusing on the implementation of policies that encourage the growth and development of clean alternative energy sources that will complement traditional ones.

Rising sea levels and the erosion of our coastal communities have made it abundantly clear that South Florida is at the frontline of climate change. Florida’s obvious vulnerability to these effects should be enough to spur interest in the numerous benefits offered by increased investment in clean energy.

More here.

Miami Beach's grand experiment to battle rising seas

Climate Time 01 EKM

via @joeflech @jenstaletovich

The sea started boiling up into the street. A major Miami Beach road was under water. Tourists sloshed to hotels through saltwater up to their shins, pants rolled up, suitcases in one hand, shoes in the other.

But one corner of Miami Beach stayed perfectly dry. In Sunset Harbour, which has historically flooded during seasonal high tides, the water was held at bay last month by a radically re-engineered streetscape that will be put to the test again this week with another king tide.

The design — featuring a street and sidewalk perched on an upper tier, 2 ½ feet above the front doors of roadside businesses, and backed by a hulking nearby pump house — represents what one city engineer called "the street of tomorrow."

This foundation for Miami Beach’s future is actually a complicated and expensive experiment: As much as $500 million to install 80 pumps and raise roads and seawalls across the city. A first phase appears to be working, at least for now. But just one year into a massive public works project that could take six more, it’s way too soon to say whether and for how long it can keep the staggeringly valuable real estate of an international tourist mecca dry — especially in the face of sea level rise projections that seem to only get scarier with every new analysis.

"We don’t have a playbook for this," said Betsy Wheaton, assistant building director for environment and sustainability in Miami Beach.

But in many ways, Miami Beach is writing just that — the first engineering manual for adapting South Florida’s urban landscape to rising seas. The entire southern tip of the peninsula tops climate change risk lists but Beach leaders have acted with the most urgency, waiving competitive bidding and approving contracts on an emergency basis to fast-track the work. Tidal flooding lapping at posh shops and the yards of pricey homes makes a persuasive argument that climate change isn’t only real, but a clear and present threat.

More here.

Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff

October 22, 2015

Everglades a model in Jeb Bush's plan for land management

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@jenstaletovich

Would a President Jeb Bush finally finish what he started as Gov. Jeb Bush? In a blueprint for how he would manage federal lands, Bush says he would "expedite funding, studies and permitting for water infrastructure, especially water storage projects."

Water storage is key to Everglades restoration and this year became the center of a bitter fight over how the state should spend - or not spend - millions approved by voters to buy sensitive land.

As governor in 2000, Bush helped broker a massive deal with President Bill Clinton to help fix Florida's ailing marshes. The plan, now expected to cost $10 billion, remains mired in politics and bureaucracy. The Everglades is still waiting.

In his blueprint, Bush points to the deal as a shining example of the kind of collaboration he would deploy as president.

"I secured a full and equal partnership with the federal government in restoring the Everglades," Bush writes. "It is the world’s largest intergovernmental watershed restoration effort and the most ambitious ecosystem restoration effort in history. I brought stakeholders, businesses and conservationists together with state and federal agencies, forging a fair and equal coalition to ensure the Everglades would be conserved for generations to come."

The state and feds were supposed to split costs 50-50. But according to its last update, the National Academy of Sciences reported that when budget cuts forced Florida to fall behind on its share, the feds also scaled back spending. This year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded two contracts to begin restoring the Kissimmee River basin and just this month began field tests on pumping water into Everglades National Park. But that's a small fraction of the 60 projects covered by the plan.

Continue reading "Everglades a model in Jeb Bush's plan for land management" »

October 21, 2015

White House taps South Miami mayor for ocean panel

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@jenstaletovich

South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard, a biology professor and possibly the greenest mayor in South Florida, has been appointed to a White House council created to protect and restore oceans and coastal ecosystems.

Stoddard will serve a two-year term on a local government committee, made up of 18 state, local and tribal members from across the country who advise the National Ocean Council. Pres. Barack Obama created the council in 2010 in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill to find ways to better protect the nation's waters, including lakes and rivers.

Stoddard, who installed solar panels at his house and offers to give away mosquito-eating fish, has fought for a number of environmental causes, from pushing to make solar energy more accessible in Florida to arguing with Florida Power and Light over leaky cooling canals at Turkey Point. Last year, Stoddard helped make South Miami, a self-designated wildlife sanctuary, off-limits to mosquito spraying to protect the city's endangered butterflies and bats.

October 20, 2015

Five years later, Deepwater Horizon recovery money trickling into Florida

@JeremySWallace

Five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, just $170 million for environmental restoration and recreation projects have been approved in Florida out of more than $3.25 billion expected to eventually come to the state.

“The funding really hasn’t begun to flow yet,” Mimi Drew of Florida Department of Environmental Protection told a Florida Senate panel on Tuesday.

But that really starts to change in December when $38 million in additional restoration projects are expected to be finalized. And in 2017, the money will really begin to flow over a period of 15 years, said Drew Bartlett, deputy secretary for ecosystem restoration told the Senate’s Agriculture Committee.

So far projects have included shoreline restoration work and repairing oyster beds. But it has also included recreational projects like building boat ramps, starting a ferry services, and fixing a boardwalk.

State Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, questioned how boat ramps and other funding can qualify for the money when they were not damaged by the spill.

“Obviously the oil spill didn’t damage boat ramps,” Montford said.

But Bartlett said the funding also deals with recreational losses Florida dealt with by people not coming to the state. Boat ramps address the restoration of recreational opportunities in Florida.

Continue reading "Five years later, Deepwater Horizon recovery money trickling into Florida" »

October 18, 2015

Miami-Dade clerk of courts asks South Florida members of Congress to create climate-change fund

@PatriciaMazzei

Forget that one of Florida's two U.S. senators is running for president and hardly making climate change a priority.

A countywide elected official in Miami-Dade County is asking Republican Marco Rubio and every other South Florida member of Congress -- plus Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson -- to put federal money into the region's efforts to adapt to global warming.

Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin wrote a letter last week to Nelson, Rubio and House members from Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties urging the creating of a "Federal Resiliency Superfund" to back "adaptive solutions for the non-debatable, potentially devastating eventuality of Sea Level Rise."

Ruvin, a Democrat in a nonpartisan post and perhaps the longest-serving local politician (he began his political career in 1968 and has been clerk since 1992), led the county's sea-level rise task force. The group produced a report full of recommendations -- including the establishment of an expensive capital plan.

"Our Mayor, Carlos Gimenez, has begun the effort by assembling an impressive team to tackle this trailblazing effort," Ruvin wrote to members of Congress. "A multi-level, intergovernmental funding partnership could ensure success: The need and the opportunity is now.

"I believe that your leadership and positive response will one day be a badge of honor that you and others will look back upon with pride and extraordinary accomplishment."

Read the full text of Ruvin's letter below:

Continue reading "Miami-Dade clerk of courts asks South Florida members of Congress to create climate-change fund" »