April 28, 2015

Green algae can be an ally for environmentalists

Green algae just might be the best lobbying tool environmentalists have in making their case that the state should buy land owned by U.S. Sugar.

Last week, a bloom of toxic blue-green algae in water adjacent to Lake Okeechobee led to the suspension of water pumping that had been ordered by the Army Corps of Engineers. Environmentalists want to purchase about 46,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land that could be used to build a reservoir to capture the dirty discharge, purifying the water that drains into the Everglades, a case that was bolstered by last week’s bloom.

On Tuesday, the green algae was on full display during a news conference on the steps of the Capitol.

“The U.S. Sugar land gives us the opportunity to treat the water and send it south where it belongs rather than dumping it on those poor people on the coast,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, holding a bottle filled with dark green water that ostensibly came from Lake Okeechobee. “If they don’t buy the U.S. Sugar land then the people downstream from Lake Okeechobee can expect to continue to get this type of green, slimy, toxic algae water dumped on them on a continuous basis.”

It should have been a good year to lobby lawmakers for the land.

Continue reading "Green algae can be an ally for environmentalists" »

April 24, 2015

PolitiFact looks at one of Rick Scott's environmental promises

As part of his environmental agenda during his re-election campaign, Gov. Rick Scott promised that he would "issue an executive order to provide a foundation for bringing together stakeholders to plan with his administration for additional needed actions."

We'll note that he didn't promise to create a foundation as in an organization -- he put that promise under the header "executive order to protect water quality" in his environmental campaign plan.

We how PolitiFact Florida rated Scott's progress and here is our entire Scott-O-Meter.

April 23, 2015

Senate advances fracking bills that enviros say is 'Trojan Horse'

Despite warnings that they were creating a “roadmap” for companies to circumvent the state’s public records law, a divided Senate committee advanced a bill Thursday that could allow oil and gas companies to shield the chemicals used in the fracking process.

The measure, SB 1582, builds on legislation pending before the House and Senate that imposes new rules and penalties on oil and gas activities known as fracking, while banning local governments from prohibiting the controversial activity.

Both bills are heavily criticized by environmental groups, who warn that the proposed regulations are so narrowly written that they do not apply to chemical fracking, or acidization, which uses chemicals to dissolve rock rather than fracture it, a process they believe is most likely to be used in Florida because of its shallow rock bed.

“These bills are nothing more than ‘Trojan Horse’ legislation that will pacify the public, while forbidding local residents to decide whether or not they want fracking in their community,” said Kim Ross of ReThink Energy Florida, an environmental advocacy group.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 11-7 for a public records exemption bill that allows oil and gas companies to appeal to a judge to avoid disclosing the chemicals used in the high-pressure fracking process, as required in two bills pending before the House and Senate, SB 1468 and HB 1205.

Continue reading "Senate advances fracking bills that enviros say is 'Trojan Horse'" »

Amendment 1 land buys in limbo as lawmakers dither on Medicaid expansion

Stuck in limbo because of the stalemate over Medicaid expansion, environmentalists face increasingly long odds that state lawmakers will raise spending on purchasing land for preservation and conservation, setting the stage for a possible legal battle.

Lawmakers have only a week left in the 2015 legislative session and are giving little indication they will budge much from their initial offers last month to provide less than $20 million for land buys.

That’s far less than the $300 million minimum anticipated by the supporters of Amendment 1, a ballot measure that 4.2 million voters approved in November.

“It’s pretty doggone clear that the intent was to acquire more land,” said Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge. “We’re not even close. It’s a Ponzi scheme and it will never work. I don’t think any court in the land can uphold that. If we don’t put meaningful dollars in land acquisition, it will go to court.”

Less than six months ago, Amendment 1 passed with 75 percent of the vote. It requires not new money, but 33 percent of existing revenue from documentary stamps be directed to preserving environmentally sensitive land and improving water quality.

Supporters of the amendment say that means that Florida Forever, a state program created in 1999 to fund public land acquisition, should have its initial authority to spend $300 million restored. But the House budget provides about $10 million for land buys through Florida Forever. The Senate provides about $17 million.

One land purchase in particular, about 26,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee and another 20,000 near Clewiston, appears to be in the most trouble. Environmentalists had identified this property, which is owned by U.S. Sugar, as crucial in helping clean the Everglades. The land could be used for a reservoir that captures dirty discharges, improving the quality of water that drains into the Everglades.

But Senate Budget Chief Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said support for buying that piece is waning, a position that falls in line with House leaders who have always opposed it.

Continue reading "Amendment 1 land buys in limbo as lawmakers dither on Medicaid expansion" »

April 22, 2015

Fact-checking Rick Scott and Marco Rubio on sea-level rise, climate change

With President Barack Obama scheduled to visit the Everglades for Earth Day, it seems like a good day to look back at some of PolitiFact Florida’s fact-checks about climate change and the environment including claims by or about Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio.

Here are a few from our archives:

Scott said during an October debate "We have spent $350 million to deal with sea-level rise" in the Miami area and "hundreds of millions dollars to deal with coral reefs."

Scott was exaggerating. The state has spent $100 million to help the Keys upgrade to a sewer system, which should improve water quality -- a benefit for coral reefs. But Scott omitted that it was under Gov. Charlie Crist that the Legislature passed a law paving the way for the money. For the sea-level rise portion of his claim, his spokesman pointed to a variety of projects that related to flood mitigation or beach protection. While those are worthy projects, they don’t address future sea-level rise. We rated that claim Mostly False.

Scott said during his 2014 State of the State speech that "we have invested record funding in protecting our environment." That’s not correct. Scott’s spokesman said that he was referring to his "record" proposal to fund springs protection. The budget for the state Department of Environmental Protection was not a record under Scott. We rated the claim False.

We have also rated several of Scott’s promises related to the environment including about oil drilling, environmental penalties and springs restoration.

In the spring of 2014, scientists issued reports warning about climate change.

Just a day before those reports were released, Rubio said, "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it." (That wasn’t the first time that Rubio had disputed the basic science of climate change.)

A May 2013 report analyzing all scientific papers that address the causes of climate change showed 97.1 percent of scientists’ findings that took a position agree that there’s been a negative human impact on the atmosphere. We rated Rubio’s statement False.

Obama will visit Everglades, backyard to Republicans skeptical on climate change

@jenstaletovich @Patricia Mazzei

In his first ever visit to the Everglades on Wednesday — Earth Day — President Barack Obama hopes to connect climate change impacts already unfolding in the imperiled wetland to wider risks across the nation.

Obama plans to tour the Everglades, as long as it doesn’t rain, and make a speech about the importance of protecting the environment — not just for the planet’s sake, but also to boost the economy, protect national security and guard public health.

The president will tout his administration’s record on tackling environmental problems, including imposing a historic cap on carbon pollution and spending $2.2 billion on Everglades restoration projects. He further plans to unveil new ways to assess the value of the country’s national parks, including a study that shows protected wild lands play a major role in keeping carbon out of the atmosphere. Visitors to parks also poured $15.7 billion into surrounding communities, the administration said.

Obama will also reveal new conservation efforts in four areas of the country, including Southwest Florida. And in a move some say is long overdue, the National Park Service will designate as a national historic landmark the Marjory Stoneman Douglas house in Coconut Grove, which several years ago sparked a contentious fight between preservationists and neighbors. The pioneering preservationist is largely credited with sparking Everglades restoration.

In addition to highlighting his environmental record, Obama’s trip is intended to pressure Republicans into a more robust climate-change debate. Voters will elect Obama’s successor in 18 months, and the GOP field so far is teeming with would-be candidates who question whether climate change is man-made, despite significant scientific scholarship concluding that it is largely a result of carbon emissions.

Among those skeptics are U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and, to a lesser extent, former Gov. Jeb Bush, both of Miami. While Obama is not expected to single out any presidential contender, a trip to Bush’s and Rubio’s backyard will hardly go unnoticed in the early days of the 2016 campaign.

More here.

April 18, 2015

Obama to visit Everglades to speak about climate change


President Obama will travel Wednesday -- Earth Day -- to the Florida Everglades to speak about the threat of climate change.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, the president said, "there is no greater threat to our planet than climate change."

"And on Earth Day, I’m going to visit the Florida Everglades to talk about the way that climate change threatens our economy," Obama continued. "The Everglades is one of the most special places in our country. But it's also one of the most fragile. Rising sea levels are putting a national treasure -– and an economic engine for the South Florida tourism industry –- at risk."


April 10, 2015

PolitiFact looks at Rick Scott's promise to enact tougher environmental penalties

After being criticized by environmentalists for his pro-business policies during his first term, Gov. Rick Scott stepped up his environmental promises for his re-election campaign.

One of those promises was to crack down on polluters by proposing "legislation to increase penalties to ensure fines match the value of Florida's natural resources, and also provide agencies with the flexibility to analyze the past actions of those seeking environmental permits in Florida."

When we asked the Department of Environmental Protection if there was any legislation pending, spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller pointed to SB 1468.

The bill addresses some types of fracking, though it uses the term "high pressure well stimulation" instead of fracking. (Not all techniques using these chemicals use high pressure to create fractures; some use acid instead to dissolve the rock.) The bill defines "high pressure well stimulation" as a procedure that involves injecting more than 100,000 gallons of fluids into a rock formation at a pressure that is high enough to cause fractures to increase oil or gas production. The bill calls for increasing penalties from the current $10,000 a day to $25,000 per day for oil and gas companies that are using certain types of fracking. Those penalties could be for a variety of violations that could harm the air, water or property, such as not following DEP rules, improper storage of gas, or refusing to allow a state inspection. DEP collaborated on the bill with its sponsor, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples.

On March 31, the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee passed the bill 6-2.

We asked a spokeswoman for Scott, Jeri Bustamante, if he supports the bill and she said "the governor will review any legislation that will come to his desk."

Turn to PolitiFact Florida to see how we rated Scott's progress on this promise.

April 08, 2015

South Florida leaders seek help controlling plastic bags

Plastic bags litter the Miami Beach shoreline. They get wrapped around the mangroves and clog the drainage system.

But there’s little city leaders can do because Florida law prohibits local governments from regulating or banning disposable plastic bags.

BullardSen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, is hoping to change that. He’s filed a bill that would allow coastal communities with fewer than 100,000 residents to create pilot programs addressing the issue.

The proposal won the unanimous support of the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee Wednesday, thanks partly to testimony from South Florida municipal leaders.

"We need your help," Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco told state lawmakers, pointing out that hundreds of thousands of tourists go shopping in his city.

Still, the proposal is a long shot. The powerful retail industry is against it, and its companion in the House (HB 661) has stalled.

More here.

April 03, 2015

Study: Florida's reefs will be seared by climate change by 2030

via @jenstaletovich

Parts of Florida’s vast coral reefs, including a pristine tract in the Dry Tortugas, may get seared by climate change as early as 2030 — about a dozen years sooner than scientists previously projected.

And that could mean that coral bleaching — a whitening that can be damaging and potentially deadly to colorful corals — could become an annual event in the Tortugas west of Key West but also in the middle Keys and reefs south of Turkey Point popular with divers.

The prediction comes from a just-released study by National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration climate scientists, who used a supercomputer to crunch piles of data on sea temperatures around the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean already identified as vulnerable to bleaching outbreaks. Their findings not only confirmed what they already knew — bleaching could be widespread by mid-century — but revealed it may start to show sooner in some areas than others, including swathes off the South Florida coast.

The findings are important because scientists consider reefs an important earlier indicator of more serious trouble.

“They’re the canary in a coal mine,” said the study’s lead author, Ruben van Hooidonk, a University of Miami coral expert and climate scientist at NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

More here.