August 20, 2014

Development v. enviro conflict as port dredging damages coral reef, state says


The $205 million dredge project to deepen Port Miami has spread a blanket of silt and clay over the bay bottom that is smothering coral and damaging sea life, state environmental inspectors have found.

In a letter Monday, the state Department of Environmental Protection warned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is managing the project, that work is violating state permits, churning up too much sediment and having a “profound effect” on the sea floor. The agency gave the Corps two weeks to respond.

“A fast response to this issue may minimize long-lasting impacts,” an inspection concluded.

The warning follows a similar complaint last month from the Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper watchdog group, which threatened to sue in September unless work is cleaned up. Story here. 

August 19, 2014

Scott meets with experts but would not say if he still denies climate change

Scott and climate change

Gov. Rick Scott listened to five of Florida’s top climate scientists Tuesday as they urged him to show leadership and develop policies to offset the impact of human-induced climate change to the state.

But the governor whose campaign strategy has been to say nothing on the issue except that he is “not a scientist,” stayed true to his plan. He would not comment, question or commit to whether or not he believes the warnings by the experts deserve his attention.

“Thank you all,’’ Scott said as the scientists finished their presentations within the 30-minute time period set aside to meet with them. His policy aide, Noah Valenstein, thanked the scientists for attending, and the governor exited the room. Next on the governor’s schedule was “staff and call time,’’ his aides said.

The scientists, who are the top in their fields at the University of Miami, Florida State University and Eckerd College had asked for the meeting a month ago to explain the urgency of developing a more activist set of policies to mitigate the impact of global warming.

Photo: Eckerd College Marine Science Professor David Hastings speaks to Gov. Rick Scott and his aide, Noah Valenstein, about why Florida should take action now to offset the impact of climate change.

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August 11, 2014

RPOF: NextGen Climate Action "falsely" attacked Scott

Days after billionaire climate-change supporter Tom Steyer blasted Gov. Rick Scott in two ads, the Republican Party of Florida is hitting back.

On Monday, the party released an ad denying claims that Scott had accepted campaign contributions from the Dan A. Hughes Co., a Texas oil company accused of conducting unauthorized drilling activities at its Collier County site.

What's more, the ad said Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist had "failed to keep his commitments" to the Everglades and travelled to campaign events on private jets owned by polluters. (Last month, Crist flew to an environmental press conference on a jet belonging to developer James Finch, whose company was twice fined for pollution.)

In a statement, RPOF Chairman Leslie Dougher linked Steyer to President Obama, saying the two had met right after Steyer announced plans to spend millions to elect Democrats.

"Obama badly wants to save Crist, one of the only politicians in America who has fully endorsed Obamacare and says it's 'great,'" Dougher said. 

But Crist spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said Crist's record on the Everglades and the environment "speaks for itself."

"Rick Scott was a fake environmentalist for three days last week but Floridians will judge him based on three years of gutting environmental enforcement, halting work on key Everglades restoration projects, trying to sell environmentally sensitive state lands, and proposing oil drilling in the Everglades -- all to help his big donors make more money," Gilfillan said.

The RPOF ad will run in Fort Myers and West Palm Beach, where Steyer's ads are running.


July 15, 2014

University scientists ask Scott for chance to meet to talk about climate science

Jeff ChantonIn an effort to push Gov. Rick Scott into the debate on climate change, ten prominent scientists from the state’s top universities on Tuesday asked to meet with him to explain the impact human-induced global warming will have on Florida.

"We note you have been asked several times about how, as Governor, you will handle the issue of climate change,’’ the professors wrote in the two-page letter. "You responded that you are ‘not a scientist.’ We are scientists and we would like the opportunity to explain what is at stake for our state."

Scott initially denied the impact of human-induced global warming when he first ran for office in 2010 saying he has "not been convinced that there's any man-made climate change." He has since been reluctant to engage on the issue, answering only, "I’m not a scientist,’’ when he was asked about it.

The scientists, who are the top in their fields at the universities of Miami, Florida State, Florida International and Eckerd College, believe they can explain simply why they believe the governor should care.

"Florida is one of the most vulnerable places in the country with respect to climate change, with southeastern Florida of particular concern,’’ the scientists wrote. "This is not a hypothetical. Thousands of scientists have studied the issue from a variety of angles and disciplines over many decades.

Photo: Jeff Chanton, atmospheric science professor at Florida State University hands letter to Kim McClure in Gov. Rick Scott's office

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June 03, 2014

Florida's dependence on natural gas will ease impact of new EPA rules

Florida’s heavy reliance on natural gas could make cutting carbon pollution under an ambitious plan unveiled Monday by the Obama administration easier to swallow.

The complex rule, touted as the strongest federal effort yet to combat climate change by regulating power plant carbon emissions for the first time, calls for reducing emissions nationally by 30 percent by 2030. The rule covers all fossil fuel-powered plants, which generate about 6 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gases, but chiefly targets the nation’s biggest polluters: coal-fired power plants.

Florida, which gets about 68 percent of its power from plants running on natural gas, would have to reduce emissions by 38 percent, according to calculations by the Environmental Protection Agency.

While the proposed rule has been generally praised by environmentalists, some Florida and national industry groups argue it will drive up fuel and consumer costs. More here by Jenny Staletovich.


April 18, 2014

Image of FSU mascot roils South Florida water management board meeting


He wasn’t on the agenda, but Chief Osceola briefly disrupted this month’s meeting of the South Florida Water Management District’s governing board.

As part of a report on water conditions to the Gator-dominated board, a division director, also a Gator, included an image of the Florida State University mascot as a farewell gesture to board member Tim Sergeant, an FSU alum whose term is ending.

“I know that was painful for you, Terrie. But I do appreciate that. Thank you,” Sergeant said to Water Resources Division Director Terrie Bates.

But Miccosukee tribe member Houston Cypress, who was a part of a large crowd attending the meeting in support of a long-anticipated central Everglades restoration plan, was not so thankful.

While the Seminole Tribe of Florida has signed an agreement with FSU supporting the mascot, the mascot is still widely condemned as a minstrel caricature of the chief, who fiercely opposed the Seminole nation’s surrender to the government. An earlier mascot retired in the 1970s had been named Sammy Seminole.

“I want to admonish the board for condoning the use of the racist imagery earlier with the display of the FSU mascot,” Cypress said. “Once again I admonish you.”

Board chairman Dan O’Keefe thanked Cypress for his comments, then moved on to the next speaker without responding to the condemnation.


March 13, 2014

Miami-Dade commissioner calls off vote on manatee protection revisions


A Miami-Dade commissioner withdrew from a vote Thursday proposed revisions to the county’s manatee protection plan that could have allowed more boat docks to be built along key local waterways.

But that doesn’t mean Commissioner Bruno Barreiro’s plan is going away.

Instead, he asked county staffers to informally send the proposals to state regulators so they may weigh in.

“Go up to the state, get feedback and come back,” Barreiro said, adding that would like to have a resolution in the next three months.

The commissioner had hoped the county would formally transmit his proposal to Tallahassee for approval or denial. But he acknowledged he didn’t have the support of his colleagues on the land use and development committee.

More here.

March 11, 2014

Miami-Dade may revise manatee protections


So protected are the gentle sea cows that roam the waters off Biscayne Bay that regulations have thwarted the marine industry’s growth and frustrated developers’ plans to build widespread docks for recreational boaters.

At least that’s the argument from boaters and industry groups seeking to loosen restrictions in place for nearly two decades to guard the endangered Florida manatee.

They have a powerful supporter: Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, who has proposed revising the county’s manatee-protection plan to allow for more commercial and residential docks along key waterways.

“Where our plan was very rigid before, this one’s more flexible,” Barreiro said from the dais in January. “I want to give more encouragement to more boat ownership and more marine use.”

The revisions, scheduled for a public hearing Thursday, are not only opposed by environmental activists, who contend the new rules would put more boats on the water that could collide with the slow-moving mammals. Miami-Dade’s own regulators object to some of the proposed changes, which Barreiro concedes were based on recommendations from the marine and development industries.

“You’re trying to tell the state to make the boundaries less strict. That’s not what the data says,” said Lee Hefty, director of the county’s division of environmental resources management, DERM. “It would probably be a hard sell.”

More here.

February 26, 2014

DEP to Soto: You're wrong about oil drilling in the Everglades -- but maybe not region

Oil drilling in evergladesWe're a day late in getting to this post but the Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday sent a biting response to the letter from Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, asking them to halt permits for oil and gas exploration in the Everglades. 

In fact, Soto may have been trapped in a bit of semantics -- the permits appear to be issued on the edge of the Everglades not within the actual Everglades National Park as we know it. Nonetheless, DEP explained that the agency "has never even received an application for oil and gas exploration in the Everglades. In fact, there has never been a single permit issued for any oil and gas exploration in the Everglades."  Download DEP repsonse to Darren Soto re Everglades

"While there are challenges to restoration efforts in The Everglades, oil and gas exploration is not one of them," Vinyard wrote.

Vinyard may be technically right but his letter did not explain why there are investors hoping to search for oil on the western edge of the Everglades in Naples and in the Big Cypress National Preserve, as reported in the Saturday's Orlando Sentinel. 

In fact, the Miami Herald reported last year on the move by oil companies to purchase mineral rights for speculative oil drilling  covering massive swaths of Collier, Lee and Hendry counties -- which border the massive Everglades park. Environmentalists are concerned about the impact wells will have on groundwater in the ecologically-sensitive region, and on the wilderness prowled by endangered Florida panthers, black bears, wild turkeys and other wildlife.

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February 24, 2014

Senator asks DEP to stop issuing oil drilling permits in the Everglades

State Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, wants the state to stop allowing oil exploration permits in the Everglades until legislators have a chance to review the risks of the activity.

In a letter sent today to DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard, Soto criticized the agency for allowing the permits "without meaningful dialogue" with legislators and characterized them as "a major change in policy." He also asked DEP to "clarify whether any of these permits relate to fracking or other similar methods. 

Here's the letter:

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