July 28, 2016

Diaz de la Portilla joins Rodriguez in call for Scott to fill environmental vacancies and reject toxin rule

Water toxins
Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla said late Wednesday he will ask Gov. Rick Scott to fill the two vacancies on the Environmental Regulation Commission and ask the board to reevaluate its decision, made Tuesday, to increase the limits on cancer causing substances in Florida's drinking water sources.

"I stand in opposition to the Environmental Regulation Commission's vote to approve new water standards that permit increases in the levels of several known carcinogens in Florida’s waterways,'' the senator said in the statement. "While some aspects of the proposal are positive, including the regulation of 39 chemicals not currently regulated by the state, other aspects of the proposal are simply unacceptable."

Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican from Miami, took the unusual break from the Republican governor on an issue that has caused enormous concern among environmentalists. He is in a competitive re-election race in a newly-drawn Senate District 37. He faces state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez who was among several Miami-Dade officials who spoke in opposition to the rule and last week sent a letter to Scott urging him to postpone the vote until he filled the vacancies. The governor did not respond to the letter.  Download Dade Elected Official Letter to DEP on Toxic Levels_72116 (1)

Diaz de la Portilla noted that had the governor filled the two vacancies -- one for a person representing environmentalists and another representing local government -- the measure may not have passed 3-2.

"I cannot help but think that the vote would have not been 3-2 in favor, but 4-3 against, had a full commission been given the chance to vote on this proposal,'' Diaz de la Portilla said.

Here's Diaz de la Portilla's statement: 

Continue reading "Diaz de la Portilla joins Rodriguez in call for Scott to fill environmental vacancies and reject toxin rule" »

July 27, 2016

Genting seeks deal to accelerate Biscayne-based marina, despite county's manatee protections

via @AndresViglucci

Casino operator Genting, which has been seeking permits for a 50-yacht marina at its property at the old Miami Herald site in downtown Miami since 2013, has floated an unusual proposal to Miami-Dade County environmental regulators to goose approval of the slow-moving application.

It’s asking the county’s Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources to allow the company to transfer existing boat-slip permits from properties on the Miami River owned by a scion of the Matheson family — something county regulators say has never been done.

Under the county’s manatee protection plan, which strictly limits construction of new powerboat slips in the river and bay to protect the endangered marine mammals and their habitat, Genting subsidiary Resorts World Miami is eligible for no more than eight slips at the Herald site, assuming that it could win approval from the hard-to-satisfy regulators.

In a July 5 letter to the county, though, Resorts World’s consultant, Kirk Lofgren of Ocean Consulting, outlined a proposal to transfer 42 slip permits now attached to Austral Marina — which Lofgren owns — and three parcels owned by Finlay Matheson on which he operates a marina and has leased out space to Apex Marine, a repair and maintenance boatyard. Matheson is a prominent descendant of the family that gave the land for Crandon Park on Key Biscayne to the county in exchange for construction of the Rickenbacker Causeway, and that also donated a portion of the land for Matheson Hammock Park. Story here. 

July 25, 2016

DEP responds, says federal government has 'confirmed' rules to increase toxins in water

On the eve of a decision by the Environmental Regulation Commission to increase the allowable level of many toxins in Florida's drinking water, Florida's environmental secretary said that the federal government has "confirmed every change is in line with its own recommendations."

“Our number one priority is to continuously protect and preserve the health of Florida’s families, visitors and incredible natural resources,'' wrote Department of Environmental Regulation Secretary Jon Steverson in a statement released late Monday.

"It is with this mission in mind, that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, alongside the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are strengthening Florida's water-quality standards. Moving forward with the proposed criteria will nearly double the number of chemicals that the department will be able to regulate using stringent and protective criteria so we can continue to provide better public health protection for our state."

Meanwhile, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an environmental group, sent a letter urging the panel to reject the new rules. 

"When it comes to the release of dangerous pollutants into our water supply It is important that we proceed with the utmost caution,'' wrote Laura Reynolds, an energy and water speciialist with the group. "Many of these chemicals are highly carcinogenic, and may result in the development of cancer clusters (geographic areas in which a greater-than-expected number of people develop malignant cancers) in some communities."

Here's more of the DEP statement and the Q and A that followed: 

Continue reading "DEP responds, says federal government has 'confirmed' rules to increase toxins in water" »

Democrats wants state panel to reject plan to allow more toxic chemicals in Florida drinking water

Polluted evergladesAs a state panel prepares to decide Tuesday whether to allow polluters to increase the level of toxic chemicals they dump into Florida rivers and lakes, Democrats in Florida's congressional delegation is urging regulators to reject the rule.

The governor-appointed Environmental Regulatory Commission will vote on a rule proposed by state regulators that would increase the number of regulated chemicals allowed in drinking water from 54 to 92 chemicals. 

The chemicals are among those released by oil and gas drilling companies (including fracking operations), dry cleaning companies, pulp and paper producers, wastewater treatment plants and agriculture doing business in Florida. Many of these industries have come out in support of the new rule.

Environmentalists say the change is illogical and dangerous. The Department of Environmental Regulation, which proposed the rule, says it is a long-overdue update required under the federal Clean Water Act. The agency last updated the list of regulated toxic chemicals in 1992 and began working on the new proposal in 2012, after years of review, said Dee Ann Miller, DEP spokesperson. Story here.

But Florida's Democrats in Congress say the proposal "would threaten Florida’s ecosystems and compromise Floridians’ health and livelihoods."

Here's their statement:

Continue reading "Democrats wants state panel to reject plan to allow more toxic chemicals in Florida drinking water" »

July 15, 2016

Water manager propose short-term fix to send water to FL Bay

Florida Bay seagrassby @JenStaletovich

As they struggle to gain control of massive algae outbreak that has fouled the Treasure Coast with a green, chunky toxic slime, South Florida water managers on Thursday unveiled a quick fix that they hope will address another simmering crisis: ailing Florida Bay, where miles of dead seagrass could trigger a different algae bloom.

The measures, which will use existing canals, pumps and other features, could double the flow of freshwater that feeds the sickest part of the bay.

But some Keys leaders fear the changes, expected to cost between $1.8 million and $3.3 million, fall far short of the solutions the bay needs to weather future droughts.

 

“It’s a short-term operational fix,” Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers said. “Until we have permitted distribution sites to get water into the bay, we’re only going to be doing tweaks.” More here. 

July 13, 2016

Florida as danger zone: Report says 13 Florida cities will top heat index list of 'danger days'

via @JenStaletovich

As climate change warms the planet, you can bet Florida will feel the heat.

The sunshine state, according to a study released Wednesday by Climate Central, tops the nation in the number of metro areas expected to see a dangerous combination of heat and humidity, driving heat index temperatures to 104 degrees.

By 2050, all 13 cities on the list, including Miami, Tampa, Naples and Vero Beach, will see 100-plus days a year of the miserable mix that can cause a host of health problems and even death — meaning more weather that feels like South Florida’s last few sticky, searing weeks.

Miami also comes in first for the number of days expected to top 90 degrees, with nearly twice as many as the next in line, sizzling McAllen, Texas. Story here. 

July 11, 2016

Sugar's sweet grip: $57.8 million in campaign cash over last two decades

Sugar caneFifteen years after Jeb Bush and Bill Clinton reached a landmark accord to revive the Everglades, billions of dollars have been spent but not much marsh has been restored, and the River of Grass continues to cycle through the same familiar struggles.

Disastrous algae blooms foul coastal estuaries. Seagrass die-offs plague Florida Bay. High water threatens the Lake Okeechobee dike. Everglades marshes drown under too much water or wither under too little. All the ecological crises of this summer are just déjà vu, all over again.

But a review of the key decision points by Florida policymakers over the last two decades shows that one key player in the fate of the Everglades has grown healthier and stronger: Big Sugar.

The industry, one of the largest producers of phosphorus-laden pollutants in the Glades, has rung up a string of political successes while recording bumper harvests in recent years. That influence has not come cheaply.

Between 1994 and 2016, a review of state Division of Elections records by The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau shows, the sugar industry — led by United States Sugar and Florida Crystals — has steered a whopping $57.8 million in direct and in-kind contributions to state and local political campaigns. (The total does not include federal contributions.) Story here. 

July 08, 2016

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen files bill to study rising seas' effects on coral reefs

@PatriciaMazzei

Here's something noteworthy: A Republican lawmaker has proposed legislation dealing with one of the effects of sea-level rise.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami introduced a bill -- dubbed, yes, the "CORAL Act" -- that would widen the scope of coral-reef research to include "the impacts of ocean acidification, warming seas and invasive species." The law would also allow the federal government to more quickly respond to problems like coral disease and bleaching, and give agencies a more active role in restoring reefs.

The GOP has been reluctant to take on sea-level rise, but the issue is unavoidable for South Florida Republicans with coastal districts, such as Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who signed on to the coral bill. Both face opponents who have stressed climate change as a key issue.

"Having fled the oppressive Castro regime in Cuba with my parents decades ago, I know that South Florida is special because it serves as a place of hope for so many," Ros-Lehtinen said on the House floor Wednesday. "We cannot allow changing ocean conditions to rob us of our livelihoods, of our lifestyle, or of our identity as an optimistic community."

 

July 06, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott promises to seek state/local money to replace septic systems

Algae2
Faced with an environmental disaster now attracting international headlines, Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday announced he will seek "additional funding" in his budget next year aimed at replacing leaking septic tanks that are believed to be one of the sources of the polluted run-off causing the outbreak of blue-green algae coating the coastlines of Martin and St. Lucie counties.  

Scott did not specify the amount of taxpayer money he is willing to seek to stem the pollution that has led to a stinky toxic sludge coming from the Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee River. The governor said his proposal will include new funding for a 50/50 matching grant program "with local communities surrounding the water bodies affected by algae blooms resulting from the frequent discharges of Lake Okeechobee."

The governor's press release said it would be a voluntary program designed "to encourage people to move from septic tanks to sewer systems" but he made no mention of requiring any change to water quality standards imposed on sugar-cane and other farmers whose land has also been cited as the source of the polluted run-off. 

For years, septic tank run-off has been identified as a major problem contributing to the pollution in the state's waterways in springs. After years of effort, environmentally-conscious lawmakers passed a bill in 2010 requiring the inspections of all 2.6 million septic tanks every five years and they banned the land application of septic tank waste. 

But after Scott was elected in 2011, homeowners and Tea Party groups complained about the septic tank law and the $400 cost of the septic tank inspections. Septic tank waste haulers and legislators representing rural counties complained that the septic tank ban could the to the skyrocketing costs of septic tank clean-outs.

In 2011, the Legislature and the governor repealed the requirement on septic tank inspections and in 2012 lawmakers delayed the ban on septic tank waste. Now, septic tank owners aren't required to have their systems inspected unless their current septic tank is modified or replaced and public health officials say they do not know how many septic tanks are failing in Florida. 

Meanwhile, a 2012 study by the Everglades Foundation concluded that 76 percent of the phosphorus entering the Everglades comes from agricultural lands south of Lake Okeechobee but the agricultural polluters were paying only $200 million -- or 24 percent -- of their share of the clean-up costs. 

Scott has steered blame to the Army Corps of Engineers, which has managed the water levels of Lake Okeechobee by releasing billions of gallons of water polluted from agricultural back-pumping and ground water runoff into the St. Lucie Canal and the Caloosahatchee River.

Scott argues that the discharge is needed to keep water levels low in the lake because the federal government failed to strengthen the Hoover Dike but environmentalists say that reason is too simplistic, arguing that higher water levels could also do damage to the lake's fragile ecosystem. 

“Every day, millions of gallons of water continue to be discharged into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries by the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers after years of the federal government failing to repair the federally operated Herbert Hoover Dike,'' Scott said in the statement.

"While the state has continued to step up and invest in important restoration projects to help South Florida waterways, it is clear that more work has to be done.  It is up to all of us – the state, Florida’s local communities and the federal government – to work together on long term solutions to improve the quality of our water."  

 

 

July 01, 2016

Rubio's lagoon visit to check out algae prompts critics to ask why he didn't pay attention before

via @learyreports

"Indian River Lagoon advocates ask: Where is Rubio?"

That was a TCpalm headline in September 2014, which began, “During this summer’s Indian River Lagoon crisis, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio — Florida’s most notable name on Capitol Hill — was neither vocal nor visible on the issue.”

Today, Rubio makes a visit to the area, a trip in his official capacity but one that serves his re-election campaign. Critics on both sides today called him out.

“Now that he’s surrounded by campaign photographers, Marco Rubio has suddenly found the time to address the toxic environmental strain that has been choking Florida waterways for years,” said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Max Steele. “What else could Floridians expect for a part-time Senator who abandoned the challenges facing the Sunshine State to pursue his presidential ambitions?”

GOP primary opponent Carlos Beruff issued a release laced with links to news articles and columns about Rubio’s absence on the water issue.

“From his absence during the lost summer of 2013 to his broken promise to hold regular discussions with stakeholders, Marco Rubio has failed to use his time and position in Washington to solve the problems impacting the Indian River Lagoon,” spokesman Chris Hardline said. “If Treasure Coast residents want a senator who will visit them every year and is committed to using his business experience to solve Florida’s problems, they should vote for Carlos Beruff. If they want more of the same inaction, then No-Show Marco is their man.”

Rubio is to hold a news conference about 11:45 a.m. His office in a news release noted how he wrote a letter urging the Army Corps to “take immediate action, including stopping discharges from Lake Okeechobee, to help Florida’s Treasure Coast.”

Rubio did pay a visit to the area before, but it came after mounting criticism that he was MIA.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times