March 14, 2017

Florida scientists fear hurricane forecasts, climate research will suffer under Trump

via @jenstaletovich

A growing chorus of scientists is raising the alarm over reports of Trump administration budgets cuts that would affect climate change research and hurricane forecasting.

On Monday, 32 Florida scientists sent a letter to the president voicing worry over reports that the Department of Commerce, which overseas the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has proposed cutting 17 percent from its budget, with the nation’s network of satellites taking the biggest hit. The satellites include a system of polar orbiters that provide critical data from the top and bottom of the planet and help scientists understand two of the biggest threats facing the peninsula.

“It would be like looking at the world with a half-blind eye and not two good eyes,” said Frank Muller-Karger, a University of South Florida oceanographer who was appointed to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy by President George W. Bush.

Last week, the Washington Post obtained a four-page budget memo outlining the cuts. The cuts were so steep and in such critical areas that scientists immediately sounded the alarm. Cuts also included the popular and bipartisan Sea Grants program, which matches local money for coastal research.

A Department of Commerce spokesman said Monday that agency would not comment.

A spokesman for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said his office had not been provided any details. But in a statement, Nelson said, “We’re not going to allow that to happen. NOAA’s mission is too important.”

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s staff declined to comment on the record about the reports.

More here.

Photo credit: Joe Raedle, Getty Images

March 02, 2017

Sen. Negron goes to Washington; reports there will be no repayment for dike repair, no raising lake levels

EvergladesSenate President Joe Negron on Thursday sent a gentle push back against agriculture and other interests who are calling for alternatives to building a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce the algae-causing discharges. In an email to senators he said he was in Washington, D.C. on Monday and Tuesday and met with Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson as well as members of Congress, "senior budget staff, and high-level representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers."

The topic: "to discuss the best way to reduce and ultimately eliminate the devastating discharges from Lake Okeechobee,'' one of Negron's top legislative priorities. In classic Negron fashion, he offered a summary of his meetings and used it to counter the push for a bill by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, that would allow the state to provide an interest-free loan to the federal government to accelerate repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike in order to allow it to increase water storage in the lake.

Here's Negron's synopsis:

Continue reading "Sen. Negron goes to Washington; reports there will be no repayment for dike repair, no raising lake levels" »

February 15, 2017

Florida lawmakers in Congress pledge to deal with water issues

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Florida's congressional delegation, which stretches from the far left to the far right, has successfully joined together to fight oil drilling efforts. Now the lawmakers are seeking common cause on a broader array of water quality issues facing the state.

A group of Republican and Democratic members met this morning to discuss algae blooms, red tide, Everglades restoration and Apalachicola Bay, even the sewage situation in St. Petersburg.

“Let’s get the politics out of this and make a difference,” said Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, co-chairman of the delegation. “We should be doing all we can to preserve the natural beauty of our state’s beaches and waterways. Coasts, lakes and rivers are key contributors to Florida’s thriving economy and serve as a vital habitat for plants and wildlife.”

It was the first meeting of the delgation this year and members posed questions to officials from the Army Corps and NOAA.

Attending the meeting was Buchanan, Neal Dunn, Gus Bilirakis, Darren Soto, John Rutherford, Francis Rooney, Charlie Crist, Al Lawson, Ted Yoho, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Brian Mast and Lois Frankel.

"We are a powerful delegation when we united together," Wasserman Schultz said, recalling the effort to fight oil drilling. She and Buchanan are preparing new legislation against drilling. 

Buchanan said he wants the group to develop a multi-year plan. "A lot of things have been brushed under the rug for too long and now we need to get a comprehensive vision."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

February 14, 2017

Despite $100 million in legal bills, Florida loses water wars argument; special master rules for Georgia

Apalachicola Patrick FarrellA special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Florida Tuesday and in favor of Georgia in the 16-year water war over water rights to the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint River Basin.

The ruling by Ralph Lancaster, Jr., a civil attorney from Portland, Maine, concluded that Florida failed to prove that new limits on Georgia’s water consumption were needed. He made the ruling after five weeks of hearings last summer and more than $98 million in attorneys fees spent on the case by the state of Florida.

“Florida has failed to show that a consumption cap will afford adequate relief,”  Lancaster said in a 70-page ruling.In his ruling, Lancaster’s suggested that Florida made a serious tactical error by not including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a party to the lawsuit.

“Without the Corps as a party, the Court cannot order the Corps to take any particular action,” Lancaster wrote. 

The Florida House of Representatives  has called into question the cost of the litigation as authorized by Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Office of the Attorney General. It found that in the last two years, after Florida asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and the court appointed a special master to resolve the dispute, the state spent $54.4 million on legal help from four law firms. 

According to a spreadsheet obtained by the Herald/Times, the numbers showed that the lead lawyers, Washington-based Latham Watkins, would be paid $35.9 million between 2015 and 2017.

Foley Lardner, the Florida firm where Steverson’s predecessor, Hershel Vinyard, works and where Steverson is now headed, would be paid $2.6 million over the same time. Two other firms also were paid lesser amounts: $1 million to Blankenau and $966,000 to Carlton.

The records also show that Latham Watkins charged the state for 32 to 35 full-time legal staff for 40 hours a week over four months. The firm also charged significantly more than the other firms for lawyers of comparable experience.

Photo: Oyster fisherman on the Appalachicola River by Patrick Farrell of the Miami Herald




January 23, 2017

Dana Young proposes 'tightly drafted' bill to ban fracking in Florida

Dana YoungA Republican state senator who faced a competitive election in which opponents accused her of being pro-fracking has filed legislation to ban the controversial practice in Florida.

Sen. Dana Young of Tampa, the former House Republican leader elected to the Senate in November, wants the state to ban "advanced well stimulation treatment," specifically hydraulic fracturing, acid fracturing and matrix acidizing which use high pressure techniques to inject water into rock formations to extract oil and gas.

Young, who practices environmental and land use law, last year voted for a House bill to regulate and authorize the technique in Florida beginning in 2017 after a study. She told the Herald/Times the proposal this year was not so much a change of heart as an opportunity to better understand what voters want and expect in Florida. 

"I'm absolutely in favor of energy independence and in favor of harnessing our natural resources safely but Florida is unique,'' she said Monday. "I believe, and it is the belief of most Floridians, that our fragile limestone geology and fragile environment as a whole is incompatible with fracking of any kind. So it's a balancing act."

During her campaign, the left-leaning advocacy Florida Strong accused Young of benefiting from the proceeds of her husband's investment firm, which has had stakes in companies that profit from the oil industry. Young dismissed the claims as distortions of her record.

Under the bill proposed last year, the state would impose a two-year moratorium on fracking while the Department of Environmental Protection would study the impact of hydraulic fracturing and similar technologies on Florida and propose rules to regulate it. The rules would have had to come back to the Legislature for ratification.

While proponents of the measure, like Young, focused on the two-year ban as the key feature of the bill, environmentalists focused on the parts that prohibited local governments from imposing their own bans or regulations, shielded from public disclosure the specific list of chemicals used in the process and ultimately opened the door to fracking.

Environmentalists cited the state’s fragile water table, the latent impact the bill could have on public health, and urged lawmakers to pass a bill proposed by Democrats to ban fracking instead. The bill didn't get a hearing in either of the Republican-led chambers.

Young, who faced Democrat Bob Buesing and no-party candidates Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove during the election, said her views changed "as the fracking issue became front and center" in the campaign.
"I learned more and it became an important issue, not only for my region but for our whole state,'' she said. "I'm fulfilling my contract with the voters to get it passed."
Young acknowledged that the oil and gas industry does not support her bill but believes that her measure will get widespread support from legislators and environmentalists. A companion measure in the state House is being co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Miller, R-Orlando, who also faced a competitive election in November, and House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa.
"It's very, very tightly drafted to not impact traditional oil and gas extraction processes,'' Young said. "Some people may want to do away with that but this legislation is not designed to adversely impact the traditional oil and gas operations in our state." 
Photo credit Tampa Bay Times: Dana Young at a press conference before her election. She said opponents distorted her position on fracking in Florida. 

Trujillo: Florida's water wars legals bills 'a runaway train.' Did they force Steverson out?

Jon SteversonFlorida's top environmental regulator abruptly resigned Friday, two days after House budget officials expressed disapproval of his management of a legal contract that had ballooned by more than $54.4 million in the last two years over a water fight with Georgia.

Jon Steverson, who has led the Department of Environmental Protection under Gov. Rick Scott for the last two years, will step down effective Feb. 3 and go to work for Foley Lardner, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott told the Tampa Bay Times on Friday.

Foley Lardner is one of the four outside law firms hired by the state to handle its 16-year lawsuit against Georgia over water rights to the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint River Basin. Florida sued Georgia in 2013 claiming the state’s excessive use of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers was endangering Florida’s oyster industry and harming the economy of North Florida.

Since 2001, the state has been billed $97.8 million on the water wars, according to an analysis by the House Appropriations Committee, and has spent $71.9 million to date.

Nearly $40 million of it was spent in the last two years after Florida asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and the court appointed a special master to resolve the dispute. Story here. 

January 10, 2017

Rubio backs Trump's choice of Pruitt, a climate-change denier, to head EPA

Supreme Court Water Rights

Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday he backs President-elect Donald Trump's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who has been an outspoken denier of climate change, a critical issue threatening Florida.

"The next EPA administrator should be someone who understands the important balance between protecting our air, water and environment without needlessly hurting workers with excessive regulations," Rubio said in a statement that made no mention of climate change. "Attorney General Pruitt ‎is the right choice to bring a much-needed dose of common sense to a department where overzealous, out-of-touch regulators have been allowed to operate seemingly unchecked. I look forward to working with him on the many important environmental issues facing Florida."

Pruitt has been a leading opponent of the EPA's Clean Power Plan to limit fossil-fuel emissions from power plants -- a key step to slow climate change. 

Former Gov. Jeb Bush has also praised Pruitt. Trump, who will be inaugurated in 10 days, said last month "nobody really knows" if climate change is real -- though scientists agree it is.

Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki, Associated Press

January 06, 2017

Water managers oppose, House sends mixed signals over Negron's Everglades plan

Algae Emergency Floridaby @MaryEllenKlas

Should Florida buy land to save water?

That simple question is shaping up to be a complicated and politically tangled debate this legislative session as the state’s powerful sugar industry ramps up against the widening reach of water-weary local communities in an age of climate change and sea level rise.

On one side is Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who has made the issue a top priority when lawmakers meet in regular session beginning March 7. After a summer of watching toxic algae blooms poison local waterways, Negron decided that nearly 20 years is long enough to complete the state plan to build a water-cleansing reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to bring more clean water to South Florida and reduce the polluted discharges from the lake that spoiled the estuaries in his district on the east coast, and the Caloosahatchee River estuary on the west coast.

“All I’m doing is saying let’s accelerate what we already know we need to do because you can’t continue to destroy oyster beds, destroy the sea grasses we spent millions of dollars planting, and have communities where there are literally signs saying ‘Due to outbreak of poisonous bacteria, you can’t swim in the water,’ ” Negron told the Herald/Times. Story here. 

December 08, 2016

Curbelo makes National Geographic TV debut on climate change


U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami got plenty of love Wednesday night as a Republican willing to take action in Congress to combat climate change.

Curbelo was prominently featured on a "Years of Living Dangerously" episode on the National Geographic channel that featured environmental activists' efforts to get congressional action.

"Why can't there be more Republicans like this guy?" asked actor Bradley Whitford, the episode's host. He's a liberal activist best known for his role as Josh Lyman in NBC's former TV series "The West Wing," and he's praised Curbelo on national TV in the past, to promote the NatGeo series.

The episode showed, among other things, a meeting of a small "climate change" caucus in Congress -- which means other South Florida representatives got some air time, too. U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, the Democrat who created the caucus with Curbelo, got a speaking role, and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, also appeared on screen.

Here are two clips cut by Curbelo's office. Watch the full episode (number seven) here.

November 18, 2016

Handicapping the impact of a Trump presidency on Florida's environment

Trump sunrise
via @jenstaletovich

At a rally in Collier County at the end of October, a day after he unveiled his “contract” with America, then-candidate Donald Trump rallied his supporters with talk of crooked Hillary, a rigged election system and the “real group of losers” running the country. Then, in the middle of 47-minute speech, he turned to a teleprompter and devoted just over a minute to Florida’s longest-running and most frustrating environmental conflict: Everglades restoration.

“A Trump administration will also work alongside you to restore and protect the beautiful Everglades, which I just flew over. I just flew over and let me tell you when you fly over the Everglades and you look at those gators and you look at those water moccasins, you say I better have a good helicopter.”

The soon-to-be 45th president of the United States went on to assure the crowd that dwindling water supplies in Florida, where he owns three golf courses, would be protected.

“Our plan will also help you upgrade water and wastewater — and you know you have a huge problem with wastewater — so that the Florida aquifer is pure and safe from pollution. We have to do it. We will also repair the Herbert Hoover dike in Lake Okeechobee, a lake I’m very familiar with.”

To weary Floridians, he was far from the first politician to make such promises. Thirty years after Lawton Chiles vowed to clean up the marshes, the Everglades remain as threatened as ever, going from too wet to too dry, the coasts repeatedly hammered by algae outbreaks and Florida Bay slammed by massive seagrass die-offs. Water quality and quantity in the state face increasing pressure from sea rise and growing demand.

But Trump is the first developer to occupy the White House. Everglades restoration, the largest environmental project ever undertaken in the nation’s history, is essentially a giant infrastructure job. And many of the solutions to climate change in South Florida come down to construction: raising roads, fortifying coastlines and updating flood controls.

Could Trump finally be the solution?

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff