August 12, 2015

Broward wants to block Everglades oil drilling with zoning restrictions

via @jenstaletovich

Broward County commissioners who oppose plans to drill for oil in western marshes believe they have found a way to thwart efforts by a Miami family to tap into Everglades crude: local zoning restrictions.

In a meeting Tuesday, county staff members told commissioners the land is zoned for conservation, which prohibits drilling.

“As long as the decision made is not arbitrary and capricious, it should withstand a legal challenge,” said deputy county attorney Maite Azcoitia.

The county’s authority to govern its land, staff said, trumps a deal struck by state water managers decades ago that allowed the state to use the land for water storage while letting the Kanter family hang on to rights to extract oil, gas and minerals. To drill, the family would have to win permission from the county to change the land use and obtain a lengthy list of permits.

“We have nine hurdles that they have to come through,” Commissioner Barbara Sharief said. “It’s much to do about nothing because it’s not going anywhere.”

Miami-based Kanter Real Estate did not respond to repeated requests for comment Tuesday.

But just in case, county commissioners agreed to ask state legislators to tighten the law governing drilling by including a provision that lets counties oppose drilling in the absence of zoning restrictions.

More here.

New conservation political arm started by Amendment 1's sponsors


Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, the group that sponsored Amendment 1 in the 2014 election, has shuttered its doors and relaunched as Florida Conservation Voters, which backers say will have a broader mission of political activism on environmental issues.

The change comes after a "disappointing 2015 session" of the Legislature, according to an announcement Wednesday by the group's executive director, Aliki Moncrief. Environmentalists faced pretty significant losses in the state budget process, as lawmakers used funds set aside for conservation by voters in Amendment 1 to offset administrative costs of existing state programs.

“Florida has a long history of bipartisan support for the environment, and we know that Florida voters -- Republicans, Democrats, and Independents --  value conservation, as evidenced by the 75% voter mandate on Amendment 1," Moncrief said in a statement. "Our mission will be to make sure that legislative priorities on the environment match up to those of Florida voters.”

The new group, which will be based in Tallahassee, will have a mission focused on electing people who support conservation to offices in Florida, Moncrief said. The group is setting up as a 501(c)(4), which will allow them to endorse and contribute to candidates for Congress, the state Legislature and local office.

Florida's Water and Land Legacy officially disbanded in June, according to records filed with the state Division of Elections. Florida Conservation Voters hasn't yet established a committee with the state.

August 05, 2015

Poll shows majority of Floridians consider climate change a serious problem

A poll being released today by Public Policy Polling will show a majority of Florida voters consider climate change a serious problem.

The poll was done in eight battleground states including Florida. The left-leaning group Americans United for Change, which supports President Barack Obama’s policies, commissioned the poll.

It follows the Clean Power Plan recently released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in an attempt to cut carbon pollution.

From the press release about the poll, a summary of results for Florida shows:

“When asked ‘How much of a problem do you consider climate change to be?’, 62% of voters in Florida consider it a “serious problem”, compared to 36% who don’t. After hearing a brief description of the Clean Power Plan and top arguments from proponents and opponents, 63% of voters in Florida say they support the plan while 35% oppose it. 66% of voters in Florida say they would either be more likely to support an elected official or it would make no difference if they supported the Clean Power Plan, compared to only 26% who would be more likely to oppose.”

Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has been criticized by environmentalists for not addressing climate change. Earlier this year, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting broke a story that cited former DEP officials who said they had been told verbally to phrases such as “climate change.”

But that hasn’t stopped Scott from bragging about his own environmental record. At a summit with presidential candidates in June, Scott said: “If you care about the environment, we've got record funding."

Scott's team points to investments the state has made to restore the Everglades and springs during Scott’s tenure -- and he has championed both. However the budget for the state Department of Environmental Protection and for Florida Forever were not a record under Scott -- two major pots of money that relate to the environment. PolitiFact Florida rated his claim Pants on Fire.

August 04, 2015

Activists question Scott's move to speed up environmental pick

Some environmentalists are suspicious of Gov. Rick Scott's decision to seek Cabinet approval Wednesday on the reappointment of Jon Steverson as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. They suspect Scott is speeding up the vote in Tallahassee as a way to limit public criticism of Steverson's proposals to open up state parks to commercial activities such as hunting, cattle grazing and timber harvesting.

"There are people all over Florida who are concerned about this," said Albert Gregory, a retired park planner who worked at DEP for 35 years. "This latest change kind of caught folks by surprise. I'm not a natural born conspiracy theorist, but the way this has evolved, it makes it hard not to be sometimes."

Jono Miller of Sarasota, a member of a citizens group seeking to prevent commercialization of Myakka River State Park, said he's not opposed to Steverson personally, but that he and many other Floridians reject the idea that state parks should be used to generate revenue. Miller said "I would prefer not" to see a vote on Steverson this week so that people can plan to attend the next Cabinet meeting on Sept. 1.

Scott did move up the timing of the DEP appointment without explanation by adding Steverson to Wednesday's agenda as required by law. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater's office questioned the decision.

"How is he (Steverson) on the agenda if the Cabinet did not vote for that?" Atwater Cabinet aide Robert Tornillo asked at the July 29 Cabinet aides meeting. 

Scott Cabinet aide Kristin Olsen made reference to the fact that Attorney General Pam Bondi had dropped her original request to interview other candidates for DEP, "so we just figured we'd move forward and do it," Olsen said.

Continue reading "Activists question Scott's move to speed up environmental pick" »

July 30, 2015

As oil-drilling bill advances, Sen. Bill Nelson vows to use all options to stop it


A bill to open new areas off Florida’s Gulf Coast to drilling and to accelerate the timetable for doing so passed out of a U.S. Senate committee Thursday, prompting a vow from one of the state’s senators to do whatever measures possible to block it.

The legislation passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, allowing for additional areas of oil and gas exploration off America’s shores. Part of the bill dealt with drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast – and prompted the rebuke from Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Orlando.

In a one-line letter to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate, Nelson said, “If any measure to repeal the current moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico comes before the full Senate for a vote, I will use all available procedural options to block it.”

Currently, there’s a no-drilling zone extending 125 miles off most of the state’s Gulf coastline – and as far out as 235 miles at some points, Nelson said. That no-drilling zone is in effect until 2022.

The Gulf measure originally came from Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, who earlier this year introduced his Offshore Energy and Jobs Act. It would allow for drilling 50 miles off Florida’s Gulf shores and begin opening up the area sooner than the law now calls for.

His Gulf-related bill was pulled into a broader drilling bill that also addressed areas off Alaska and in the Atlantic Ocean. It passed out of committee on a 12-10 vote.

There is no indication when it might be taken up by the full Senate.

The power of a solo senator to stop legislation is limited, but they do have some options – such as a filibuster – to hold up a bill and bring attention to it.

Continue reading "As oil-drilling bill advances, Sen. Bill Nelson vows to use all options to stop it" »

July 28, 2015

Florida leads nation in property at risk from climate change

via @jenstaletovich

Florida has more private property at risk from flooding linked to climate change than any other state, an amount that could double in the next four decades, according to a new report by the Risky Business Project.

By 2030, $69 billion in coastal property in Florida could flood at high tide that is not at risk today, the report found. That amount is projected to climb to $152 billion by 2050.

While projections for rising seas are not new, for the first time researchers tried to quantify the economic damage wrought by climate change by better understanding the risks to business and a rebounding economy. Growth in manufacturing and energy production have created a mini boom in the Southeast and Texas, the report said. But climate change threatens to undo that progress and cause widespread damage to the region’s economic pillars: manufacturing, agriculture and energy.

For Florida, the blows are significant and not only for property. Higher temperatures and rising seas could slow labor productivity, stress the energy industry and dry up cash pumped into the state by tourists.

“The sea-rise numbers are out there. The heat numbers are out there. What this study has done for the first time is really look at this from a business perspective,” former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who co-chaired the project, said in an interview with the Miami Herald.

More here.

July 22, 2015

Miami Beach woman wants Marjory Stoneman Douglas to replace Florida's Confederate general statue at U.S. Capitol

via @DriscollAmy

In the national collection of statues on display in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol, each state is allotted two spots to showcase its most worthy representatives. Some states have chosen towering figures in history — Samuel Adams, father of the American revolution, represents Massachusetts — while others have gone with folksy types like humorist Will Rogers, representing Oklahoma.

And then there’s Florida. For its two picks, the Sunshine State chose John Gorrie, inventor of refrigeration and air conditioning, and Edmund Kirby Smith, a Confederate general who surrendered the last military force of the Confederacy in Galveston, Texas.

As part of the National Statuary Hall Collection, Gorrie, carved from cool-looking marble, has been on exhibit since 1914. Smith, in bronze, has been in the place of honor since 1922, representing Florida for thousands of visitors a day who tour the Capitol.

A Miami Beach woman wants to change that. Lynette Long is proposing swapping out Smith’s statue for one she finds a lot more fitting: Marjory Stoneman Douglas, champion of the Everglades. If the effort succeeds, it would make Douglas the 10th woman in the collection — out of 100 statues representing the 50 states. Her statue would replace a Confederate general’s likeness at a time when such symbols have come under increasing criticism.

More here.

July 11, 2015

Broward family seeks to have well drilling on its property on the edge of the Everglades

via @jenstaletovich

A South Florida family that made its fortune in real estate asked the state this week to drill an exploratory oil well in marshes just west of Broward County suburbs, marking the first time the search for Everglades crude has extended so far east.

“As second generation Floridians and owners of this property for over 50 years, we are excited about the opportunities this land and these resources will provide for Florida,” John Kanter of the Kanter Family Foundation said in a statement. He declined a request for an interview.

The request for a drilling permit, the first step in what would likely be a lengthy review process, came as a surprise to environmentalists. While there has been a renewed surge of interest in exploring and drilling in existing oil fields in Southwest Florida, that had cooled with falling oil prices. And no company has previously targeted anything near the proposed location, along a major drainage canal about a half-dozen miles west of U.S. 27 and Miramar.

“I’m just kind of shaking my head,” said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, which opposes expanded drilling. “I guess it was just a matter of time, but it’s interesting with oil prices plummeting that they decided to start drilling .... I would imagine the reaction from the community to drilling that close to the urban area would be intense.”

The well would be a traditional vertical well that could go nearly 12,000 feet deep, a Kanter spokeswoman said, and is intended to tap into the vast Sunniland trend, an oil formation that the U.S. Geological Survey said extends across all of South Florida and west into the Gulf of Mexico. The application from the Kanter Corp. of Florida, based in Miami, is the first step in a “long-term plan” that the company says also would include rock mining, another major concern for environmentalists.

If approved, the well would be the first so far east of the small drilling operations in the Big Cypress Preserve, which have hummed along for decades. Only one well has ever been dug in Broward County, said Florida Department of Environmental Protection communications director Lauren Engel. In 1985, a Texas company drilled just inside western Broward County line near Collier County. The well was plugged and abandoned the same year.

More here.

July 07, 2015

How much has Florida reduced carbon emissions?

Republicans in Congress recently voted for legislation that would prevent the federal government from implementing new emissions regulations on power plants -- in part, some argue, because utilities are already cutting carbon levels on their own.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, said that HR 2042, known as the Ratepayer Protection Act, would protect states from costly rules that aren’t necessary. The bill would delay the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce nationwide carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030. The legislation also would allow states to opt out of the reduced emissions requirement.

"The EPA’s proposal on this rule has drawn widespread concern," Bilirakis said in a speech on June 24, 2015, before the GOP-majority House passed the legislation along party lines. "It placed a heavier burden on Florida than other states, despite the fact that Florida has reduced its carbon emissions by 20 percent since 2005."

See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found.

June 24, 2015

Miami archbishop says Pope Francis’ words nudged Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush on climate change


Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski believes Pope Francis’ recent document on global warming is already changing the climate of the conversation in the presidential race, particularly among two friends, both members of his flock — and both angling for the most powerful position in the world.

Wenski said comments on climate change by Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, Republicans and devout Roman Catholics from Miami, have been noticeably milder in tone since Francis weighed in.

“Both of them, at least from what I can gather, have walked back some of their earlier comments,” Wenski told the Miami Herald in an interview Wednesday. He called the presidential contenders’ willingness to talk about how to solve the problems created by global warming an encouraging sign. “What the pope is saying is, ‘Let’s talk about this.’ And that requires — whether you’re Democrat or Republican or left or right — it requires that you transcend your particular interest or ideological lens and look at the issue from the common good.”

Rubio’s and Bush’s campaigns dispute that their candidates altered anything as a result of Francis’ encyclical, a teaching document published last week by the popular pope, who argued a religious case for protecting the environment.

The two politicians have said if humans are causing temperatures to rise — and they’re not convinced they are, despite broad scientific evidence to the contrary — a president must still promote policies that benefit the economy over ones that benefit the environment. Both are trying to raise campaign cash from some affluent donors, including the industrialist Koch brothers, who strenuously oppose policies that would curb carbon emissions.

But the candidates have not dismissed Francis’ intervention in the debate.

More here.