September 15, 2015

Miami Republicans in Congress sign on to climate-change resolution


In a symbolic move ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Congress, a group of Republicans plans to file a resolution acknowledging climate change caused at least in part by human activities and pledging to address its detrimental consequences.

Among those U.S. House members signing on are Miami Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both of whom represent coastal South Florida districts. Curbelo's district includes the low-lying Florida Keys.

"South Florida is the frontline of climate change, where we have seen its negative impact in the form of rising sea-levels and the erosion of our coastal communities," Curbelo said in a statement. "In Miami-Dade County alone, more people live less than a mere four feet above sea level than any state in the union with the exception of Louisiana. In fact, 40 percent of Florida's population is at risk of rising sea levels, posing a clear and present danger.

"Our goal with this resolution is to shift the debate from whether climate change is real to what we can do to mitigate its effects."

The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., would commit the House to "working create and support economically viable, and broadly supported private and public solutions to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates, including mitigation efforts and efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact."

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September 11, 2015

Lawmakers ask judge to deny lawsuit over environmental spending


The Florida Legislature is asking a Leon County judge to dismiss a lawsuit that environmental groups filed against it over environmental spending.

The lawsuit, backed by five environmental activism and legal groups, was filed in June in an attempt to tie the Legislature's hands as it moves forward with implementing Amendment 1 each year. The constitutional amendmet -- approved by more than 70 percent of voters last November -- requires the state to set aside a pot of money for land acquisition and conservation. That fund totaled more than $700 million this year.

But the groups -- Earthjustice, Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and the Sierra Club -- say the Legislature ignored the will of voters by spending much of that money on existing agency operations.

An injunction request last month asked Second Circuit Judge George Reynolds to use state surplus funds to backfill the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

In a court filing Tuesday, lawyers for the House, Speaker Steve Crisafulli, the Senate and President Andy Gardiner argue that the environmental groups don't make a legitimate case and that they aren't entitled to the injunction they're asking for to redirect state funds.

"Plaintiffs seek an unprecedented injunction that ignores the separation of powers and the Legislature’s exclusive authority with respect to the appropriation of public funds," the motion says. "While a court can, in a proper case, enjoin the expenditure of unlawfully appropriated funds, its authority to fashion equitable relief does not include the authority to transfer public funds and, in effect, amend the General Appropriations Act."

September 10, 2015

In SFWMD shakeup, Scott sends former deputy Pete Antonacci in to take reins

via @jenstaletovich @MaryEllenKlas @stevebousquet

A political insider who served as general counsel to Gov. Rick Scott will take over the state’s largest water management district.

On Thursday, the South Florida Water Management District’s governing board named Pete Antonacci to run the sprawling agency after announcing that executive director Blake Guillory, an engineer, would resign at the end of the month. Antonacci becomes the only director overseeing one of the state’s major districts without a background in science.

“It appears that Antonacci’s primary qualification is his close relationship with Gov. Scott,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper said. “But it doesn’t change the fact that the water management district is facing a budget crisis that will undermine Everglades restoration, water supply and flood protection.”

Guillory’s resignation follows a contentious summer in which the board flip-flopped on a tax cut. In July, board members agreed to maintain the tax rate, ending four years of cuts and keeping the district from dipping into reserves to balance its $754 million budget. The agency, which employs 1,550 people, handles flood protection for a third of the state along with overseeing decades-long efforts to restore the ailing Everglades.

But the decision defied Scott’s longstanding order to cut taxes. Two weeks later, the board called a second meeting and reversed the vote. Last week, Guillory’s chief of staff resigned.

More here.

This post has been updated.

September 09, 2015

Ron Bergeron: 'There has never been a panther attack in the history of Florida'

A state wildlife official opposed plans to alter protections for the Florida panther, saying there was no pressing reason to fear the big cats.

On Sept. 2, 2015, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission considered a policy proposal that critics said would have undercut efforts to expand the population.

Opponents said the proposal favored ranchers, who have complained about panthers eating livestock and potentially threatening family members. Commissioner "Alligator" Ron Bergeron said he’d never had reason to be afraid of a panther.

"I’ve been within three yards of panthers, multiple times," said Bergeron, a Broward County paving contractor who has been a commissioner since 2007. "There has never been a panther attack in the history of Florida." (Watch his comments here, at the 3:10 mark.)

See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found.

September 03, 2015

White House invites Miami-Dade mayor to climate-change summit


Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is getting more White House love.

Gimenez has been invited -- and plans to attend -- the inaugural U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit in two weeks in Los Angeles.

The summit is part of a U.S.-China effort to cooperate on curbing global warming and promoting clean energy, and will give the two countries something to boast about when Chinese President Xi Jinping travels to Washington the following week for a state visit.

Mayors of cities in the U.S. and China -- 12 from each country, according to Gimenez's office -- were invited to share ideas and perhaps leave the two-day summit with some sort of commitment or "action statement."

"Mayor Gimenez looks forward to sharing Miami-Dade County's work to mitigate the effects of sea-level rise with fellow mayors from throughout the U.S. and China and learning from them," Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández said in a statement. "Miami-Dade is in a unique location and position to be at the forefront on the issue."

As it happens, Gimenez was getting criticized during the county's first budget hearing Thursday by residents worried that planning sea-level rise -- the top climate-change consequence for Miami-Dade -- was getting short shrift in the mayor's proposed spending plan. His office said he spoke to residents outside the County Hall chambers to try to reassure them.

This is the second time in two months that the White House has reached out to Gimenez, a Republican in a non-partisan post. He was the featured guest on a conference all last month celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Gimenez spoke about Miami-Dade's efforts to make voting easier after a slew of embarrassing problems at the 2012 polls.

--with Douglas Hanks

Florida black bear population rebounds, so state approves hunt

via @jenstaletovich

The hunt is on.

Despite months of protests and a lawsuit filed to stop it, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commissioners on Wednesday took the final step in paving the way for an October bear hunt. Hunters will be allowed to kill up to 320 animals in bear country in four parts of the state.

The hunt will be the first in more than 20 years and narrowly passed after Commissioners Ron Bergeron and Robert Spottswood, who was appointed just this month, objected to hunt rules.

“You’re talking about an animal that’s an icon in this state,” Bergeron said at a field hearing that filled a Fort Lauderdale hotel ballroom with hunters in boots and conservationists waiving signs and carrying an oversized stuffed teddy bear.

First approved in April, the hunt has already drawn more than 1,900 hunters who have purchased an unlimited number of permits. Hunters will have at least two days starting Oct. 24 to kill bears in four populated areas in the Southwest Florida, North and Central Florida and the Panhandle. The hunt will be called off once the 320 quota is reached.

More here.

August 28, 2015

Environmental groups seek budget surplus funds to buy land


Environmental groups are asking a Leon County judge to intervene in how the state will spend a large chunk of the $700 million in funds set aside by voters for conservation.

If granted, the injunction, filed Friday by environmental law group Earthjustice on behalf of four nonprofits, would force the state to put more than $200 million from the state budget surplus into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. The state budget, passed by the Legislature in June, uses some of the money in the trust fund to fund existing projects like administration of the Department of Environmental Protection or firefighting by the Department of Agriculture.

Critics say this flies in the face of what three-quarters of voters demanded when they supported Amendment 1 on the ballot in November.

"We're not saying that those things aren't appropriate for funding," said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation. "We don't think they're appropriate for Amendment 1 funding."

Environmentalists, including Fuller, want to see the $700 million from the trust fund in this year's budget spent on land acquisition in the interest of conservation.

"We think theat the public spoke when they voted for the amendment. We think in these areas, the Legislature misapplied the funds," he said.

But legislators argued in June that their spending falls in line with vague guidelines written into the constitutional amendment.

They did set aside some funds for land buys in the budget, but it falls far short of what environmental activists have asked for.

Four of the same groups behind Friday's injunction request -- Earthjustice, Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida -- filed a lawsuit in June, asking a judge to determine how future trust fund money set aside by Amendment 1 can be spent. The Sierra Club joined the lawsuit Friday. (An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Sierra Club was part of the original lawsuit in June.)

August 25, 2015

Miami congresswoman calls for public hearing on Miami boat show permit


Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tuesday to hold a public hearing before making a final decision on a permit to allow the city of Miami to host the Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association has a license agreement with the city to move their massive industry event from the Miami Beach Convention Center to a utility-lined lawn outside the Miami Marine Stadium. Boats would also be exhibited in the Marine Stadium basin, and thousands of attendees are expected to take water taxis to the show.

In an application submitted months ago for a permit, Boat Show organizers sought permission to erect temporary docks and walkways large enough to cover more than four football fields. They have since said the show won't be nearly that large, but environmentalists and residents from nearby Key Biscayne are opposed to hosting the event on Virginia Key due to concerns about traffic and potential damage to an environmentally sensitive area. (The Bill Sadowski Critical Wildlife Area is located on the north bank of the basin.)

A protest is scheduled Saturday morning.

In May, Key Biscayne village officials requested a public hearing. Ros-Lehtinen, whose district includes both keys, wrote to the commander of the Army Corps Jacksonville District Tuesday to request that their wish be granted.

"The issues raised by the Village of Key Biscayne regarding this permit application should warrant a public hearing," wrote Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami. "It is important that this process is conducted in an open and fair way."

August 21, 2015

As governor, Jeb Bush loved manatees -- but sided with boaters

via @craigtimes

As a presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hasn’t said much about the environmental issues facing America. He’s waffled on climate change, and supported approval of the Keystone pipeline and drilling in the Arctic, and that’s been about it.

But when he was a gubernatorial candidate in 1998, he took pains to show his concern about the environment — particularly one of the state’s signature animals, manatees. He even helped SeaWorld release a pair of rehabilitated manatees, one of them named “Little Jeb.” After he was elected, during a 2000 Cabinet meeting, he made his interest in manatees even plainer.

“There’s an endangered species that’s close to being extinct in Florida waters, and I don’t want to be part of that,” Bush announced. “It’s my favorite mammal.”

Yet when Bush had a chance to solve one of the biggest problems in manatee protection, he backed off, deferring instead to is own conservative ideology.

What happened with Bush and manatees remains one of the great what-ifs of Florida environmental history and provides a window into how he might deal with similar situations as president.

More here.

August 18, 2015

More coral damaged by PortMiami dredge than feds expected

via @jenstaletovich

Deepening Port Miami to make way for bigger ships has caused far more damage to rare coral at the bottom of Biscayne Bay than federal wildlife managers originally calculated.

In a series of letters and emails with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing dredge work, the National Marine Fisheries Service warned between February and June that damage “greatly exceeds” what was anticipated, risking harm to a stretch of reef on the south and north sides of Government Cut up to four times the size originally projected. Yet efforts to get an accurate take on damage have been rebuffed by Corps officials. And Fisheries Service divers hoping to survey the area have repeatedly encountered obstacles, they complained.

The correspondence reveals deep differences between the two federal agencies over impacts of a controversial Deep Dredge project long sought by PortMiami and South Florida political leaders but fought for years by environmentalists. In one count, a Corps contractor concluded that only a handful of coral showed stress — just 2 to 6 percent of the coral checked. But a Fisheries Service count of the same reef showed damage to 67 percent.

On Monday, five months after the agency asked the Corps to provide a complete survey, a Fisheries Service spokeswoman said the agency was still waiting. The Corps did not respond to repeated requests emailed Monday to several people.

Even as work winds down —the underwater excavation is expected to end this summer — tensions continue between agencies and groups monitoring the $205 million expansion which deepen the port to 52 feet by scooping up 6 million cubic yards of bay bottom.

More here.