June 29, 2016

Environmentalists question Nelson, Rubio move on Biscayne National Park

via @jenstaletovich

A marine preserve in Biscayne National Park — a key piece of a new management plan 15 years in the making and designed to protect Florida’s dwindling reef tract — may be derailed by a new bill proposed by Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.

The bill, proposed Friday and fast-tracked through a committee hearing, would undo the preserve and require the National Park Service to consult with Florida wildlife managers, who opposed the preserve.

“This is a reasonable bill that will ensure the park consults with the state and uses the best available science moving forward,” Nelson said.

Rubio called the bill, dubbed the Access to Sportsfishing Act of 2016, a “model to address the proposed closure.”

But environmentalists say the rare move by Congress sets a dangerous precedent “that would block the National Park Service from doing its legal authority to protect America’s national park,” said Caroline McLaughlin, Biscayne program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.

More here.

Nelson wants feds to act on 'bright neon-green' beach waters




Sen. Bill Nelson fired off a letter Wednesday asking federal officials to release more water from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades and take other steps to stem the green algae washing up on Treasure Coast beaches.

Nelson acted a day after Martin County commissioners asked the state and federal governments to declare an environmental disaster while urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close the locks between Florida's largest freshwater lake and the St. Lucie River.

"To strongly prevent this environmental and economic crisis from spreading, I strongly urge the Army Corps of Engineers to take immediate action," Nelson wrote to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works.

Nelson added: "The water washing up on the beaches in Martin County, Florida, is bright neon-green. Officials there are concerned about potential health risks associated with the blue-green algae plume forming off their coast and have closed several South Florida beaches as a result, just days before the popular Fourth of July holiday."

The corps regularly releases water from the lake's western and eastern outlets into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers in order to keep its levels no higher than 15.5 feet above sea level, but heavy rainfall has kept the level at 15 feet.

Saying that business owners along the coast "could incur significant financial losses" if visitors avoid the algae-laden beaches and waterways, Nelson asked Darcy to raise the water level in the L-29 canal north of the Tamiani Trail between Miami and Tampa.

The rest of Nelson's letter is here.



June 22, 2016

Florida regulators give FPL 10 years to clean up polluted plume threatening drinking water

FPL salt at turkey pointvia @JenStaletovich

Florida Power & Light will have 10 years to clean up a massive underground plume of saltwater threatening drinking water well fields near its Turkey Point plant under a deal struck with state environmental regulators.

In a 25-page order issued Monday, the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation spelled out a plan that requires the utility to begin freshening and improving the efficiency of the 5,900-acre loop of canals used to cool two nuclear reactors at the plant. The plan also requires FPL to install a network of extraction wells to halt and ultimately shrink the plume, which has migrated more than five miles inland over the decades.

To ensure the measures work, DEP officials included periodic milestones that require the utility to provide evidence that the salt front is retreating.

But even with checkpoints built in, critics who have pushed the state for more oversight say plenty of questions remain over whether the plan goes far enough or works fast enough. Story here. 

June 02, 2016

Group highlights financial ties between Pam Bondi and opponents of the Clean Power Plan

Pam BondiThe liberal advocacy group, Americans United For Change, is out with a new report highlighting the financial ties between Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, and other Republican attorneys general, and the oil, gas and utilities industries as they fight to block enforcement of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.

According to calculations by FollowTheMoney,org, the report says Bondi collected $26,350 from the energy industries in the 2010 and 2014 election cycles. A closer look by the Herald/Times however, shows the figure is much higher - at least $75,000 just for the 2014 cycle. (The figure could potentially be hundreds of thousands more if donations to shadowy pass-through groups were required to be disclosed.)

Bondi joined with 23 other states, including a handful run by Democratic governors, and last year filed a lawsuit against the EPA to block the implementation of a rule by Environmental Protection Agency. The August rule revised the Clean Power Plan to impose the first-ever carbon limits on power plants. It required a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants by 32 percent by 2030, based on 2005 levels, and is aggressively opposed by the oil, gas and utility industries. 

Bondi and others argued that the EPA rule lays out an "unrealistic" timeframe to cut carbon emissions by 2030 and would "require the use of costly and unproven technologies." (Here are the goals for Florida, according to the EPA.)

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on the implementation of the plan in February but the lawsuit continues. Meanwhile, a recent poll by Bloomberg Philanthropies -- run by the former New York mayor who supports the EPA rule -- found that 73 percent of Florida voters support the Clean Power Plan. 

Now, Americans for Change claims that the legal officers who were opposing the rule were doing it not to help their constituents, but to advance the agendas of the utility, oil and gas industry. 

"Republican attorneys general are doing the bidding of their polluter donor friends rather than working on the people of their state,'' said Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans for Change in a media call on Thursday. The group says Republican AGs collectively received $4.7 million from opponents of the Clean Power Plan. "If you ask me, that's pretty damning."

Update June 8: The information provided by Americans United for Change did not list which companies they consider opponents of the Clean Power Plan. A 2015 blog by the National Resources Defense Council indicated that some of the constructive comments to the Environmental Protection Agency about the rule were from power companies such as the parent of Florida Power & Light, NextEra Energy which showed they are "constructively engaged regarding the EPA's Clean Power Plan proposal."

"NextEra "supports the Clean Power Plan as a reasonable and balanced approach to reducing CO2 emissions from the electric generating sector that is consistent with the CAA and EPA's implementing regulations,'' the blog quotes NextEra as saying.

NextEra, which as one of the nation's largest wind and solar energy providers, sees business opportunities in the Clean Power Plan and  actually filed a motion to intervene in the case in support of the EPA rule.  "NextEra has and will continue to develop significant renewable power generation facilities that will be directly impacted by the outcome of the Final Rule,'' the NextERa motion stated.

"NextEra is deeply concerned about the impact that a negative ruling on the EPA Clean Power Plan could have on the company....If petitioners were to prevail in the case the benefits to NextEra likely to follow from the Clean Power Plan will be reduced or eliminated." 

Does that mean NextEra does not support Bondi's attempt to block the rule? The Herald/Times asked NextEra spokesman Rob Gould: Is NextEra opposed to Bondi's opposition to the Clean Power Plan and the timeline for compliance with the emission reductions?

His answer: "We really have nothing to offer."

Some of the organizations NextEra and FPL are large contributors to have been actively working to defeat the Clean Power Plan. In Jan. 2016, the U.S. Chamber's Litigation Center joined other business groups and filed a lawsuit similar to the one filed by the states to stay the Clean Power Plan. The lawsuit came six months after FPL President Eric Silagy was elected a member of the U.S Chamber Board of Directors

Gould said that the company is committed to expanding renewable energy options. "As the largest generator of wind and solar power in the world, NextEra Energy has long supported efforts to encourage investment in affordable clean energy."

Some of the company's investments, however, have gone to people and organizations who don't agree that the Clean Power Plan is a means to the clean energy goal.

In 2014, FPL was a contributor to Bondi's political committee, Justice for All, giving her $50,000 from Florida Power & Light.

Continue reading "Group highlights financial ties between Pam Bondi and opponents of the Clean Power Plan" »

June 01, 2016

Environmental groups return to court over Legislature's diverting Amendment 1 money

EvergladesFour environmental groups on Wednesday asked a court to accelerate its ruling in a lawsuit accusing the Florida Legislature of violating the state Constitution and misdirecting Amendment 1 environmental funds into salaries and inappropriate operating expenses.

The groups, the Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, are asking a court to transfer$299 million  general revenue money into those programs and restore the money in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

The fund was created by voters in 2014, after the Legislature brought the state's 50-year-old land buying program to a halt during the Great Recession.The Land and Water Conservation Amendment required that one third of all proceeds from real estate transaction taxes be set aside for the environment and voters approved it by 75 percent of the vote. 

In 2015, the first year the law was in effect, proceeds totaled $750 million. But instead of putting all the money into new environmental programs, lawmakers reasoned that they could divert $216 million into appropriated for salaries and operating expenses for existing environmental programs and $26 million for agriculture pollution control projects on private land.

The motion for summary judgment argues that since there is no dispute about what lawmakers have done, the Leon County Circuit Court should declare the Legislature in violation of the constitution and order the money replaced. 

"It's a wound that won't heal because it was such a breach of faith with Florida voters,'' said David Guest, attorney for the environmental groups. "The governor endorsed the defiance of the amendment and the Legislature did too."

The groups first filed the lawsuit against Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Cristafulli in July 2015. The Legislature, joined by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, asked that the case be dismissed and argued that the court has no authority over how the Legislature spends state money. 

But the court refused to dismiss the case and, the plaintiffs argue, that with no facts in dispute, the judge should declare that money intended for the Land Acquisition Trust Fund may not be used for expenses outside the intended scope of the amendment. 

"Nowhere does the Amendment contemplate spending money for restoration or improvement of private lands, or appropriations for projects on private lands that have a general environmental benefit,'' the groups wrote in the motion. "If that were true, funds from the Amendment could be used to modernize the wastewater treatment systems of pulp mills."

Instead, the purpose of Amendment 1 is "to dedicate funds to 'acquire and restore conservation and recreation lands,''' they argue. 

"Instead of appropriating money for those purposes, the Legislature appropriated Amendment One funds as if the terms 'management' and 'restoration of natural system' in the text of the Amendment encompassed the salaries and operating expenses of state agencies with a nexus to conservation or improvement of the environment,'' the motion states.

The result, they say, is that the Legislature's interpretation of Amendment 1 gives it "no effect other than preventing expenditures by environmental agencies to be reduced below one-fifth of the current funding level."

The Legislature is expected to respond with its own brief in opposition. 


May 20, 2016

'Hands Across the Sand' event offers window into election year politics of 'fracking'

HandsAcrossSandsRep. Kathleen Peters, the former Republican mayor of the tiny seaside town of South Pasadena in Pinellas County, has found what it's like to be hit by the anti-fracking wave.

Peters is seeking a third term is a Republican and faces Democrat Jennifer Webb, an administrator at the University of South Florida. She plans to attend the annual Hands Across the Sands event tomorrow in which state and local leaders declare their abiding opposition to oil drilling off Florida's coasts.

But a press release Friday from an organization called the Superior Small Lodging Association, a non-profit representing individually-owned inns, bed & breakfasts, cottages and condos, is raising questions about Peters' opposition to oil drilling after she joined with all but seven of her GOP colleagues and voted for a bill last session that would have authorized the controversial drilling technique known as fracking and prevented local governments from regulating it.

The bill also included a temporary moratorium and would have authorized the activity only after it came before the Florida Legislature for another affirmative vote.

"Small business owners on the beach are questioning her record when it comes to fighting oil drilling and protecting local beaches given her support for fracking,'' writes the organization in its press release.

Mary Wilkerson, owner of Gulfside Resorts in Indian Rocks Beach, called out Peters:  "Basically, Rep. Kathleen Peters voted for a law that pretty much takes away our local control over fracking from cities and counties all over Florida.'' 

June Mohns of Island Paradise Cottages of Madeira Beach speculated that Peters may have voted for HB 191 because she "has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from dirty fossil fuel industry investors.”

Peters says this is all wrong. "I have been against offshore oil drilling since before I was an elected official,'' she said Friday.

She said she supported the fracking bill (which failed to pass in the Senate) and "would support it today because without it we have no regulations and that bill put in place a moratorium and said you can't lift it unless the Legislature allows it. I don't believe the Legislature will ever allow fracking in Florida."

"This is all political,'' Peters said. "I expect we'll be hearing a lot about fracking in this campaign."

Would she support a bill that includes an outright ban on fracking in Florida -- similar to those proposed last session but which got no hearing?

"If a total ban would come up I'd probably support it,'' Peters said. But she prefers the approach taken by the bill's House author, Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, to require a study first to see what impact fracking might have on Florida's fragile water table. 

Photo: Facing Old Tampa Bay, on the south side of the Gandy Bridge, about 30 people formed a human chain, holding hands for 15 minutes to demonstrate their objection to offshore drilling and to call for a renewable energy. Times file (2012)



May 19, 2016

NextEra rejects call to report risk of sea level rise to its waterfront nuclear plants

NextEra EnergyIn a swift 17-minute meeting held in a Oklahoma City hotel Thursday, NextEra Energy successfully won shareholder approval of a $31 million compensation package for its five top executives, and defeated two proposals aimed at increasing transparency over how the company is handling sea level rise and political contributions.

"The company you own had a very strong 2015,'' declared NextEra president and CEO Jim Robo as he called the quick meeting to order at the Embassy Suites hotel in downtown Oklahoma city.

He is among the company’s five top executives who, shareholders agreed will be paid $31 million in performance pay and stock because of the company’s strong financial performance in the last year. Robo alone earned at least $15.2 million in compensation in 2015, according to the company proxy statement.

The Juno Beach-based company is the parent of Florida Power & Light and one of the nation's largest utility conglomerates. The audio cast of the annual meeting for company shareholders is available on the company’s web site.

Robo cited NextEra’s better than average reliability, its lower than average customers bills, its satisfaction among business customers, its acquisition of a Texas pipeline, and its expanding wind and solar market as evidence of “the whole company delivering outstanding financial performance for our shareholders.”

Robo did not make note of the troubles ahead, such as the federal and state orders for FPL to clean-up its leaking cooling canals in order to stop a plume of saltwater from migrating into South Florida’s drinking water supplies and leaking into Biscayne Bay or the resistance the company faces in its bid to purchase Hawaii Electric.

Robo recognized a representative for Coral Gables activist and NextEra shareholder, Alan Farago and his wife Lisa Versaci, to present their shareholder proposal to require the company to report each year on the risk its faces from sea-level rise, under a range of scenarios and according to the best available science.

Farago has argued that FPL's position as the supplier of electricity to Florida's east coast is "extraordinarily vulnerable to the financial disruptions of climate change."

Continue reading "NextEra rejects call to report risk of sea level rise to its waterfront nuclear plants" »

May 17, 2016

FPL submits plan for clean-up of leaky cooling canals

via @JenStaletovich

Miami-Dade County will spend the next month combing through a massive trove of data submitted by Florida Power & Light this week to justify its plan for cleaning up leaky cooling canals at the utility’s Turkey Point nuclear power plant.

The county has also hired a University of Florida hydrologist to ensure the plan stops an underground plume of saltwater threatening drinking water supplies and leaking into Biscayne Bay.

“We’re not looking to just stop the hypersaline plume, we’re looking to draw it back,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez told commissioners during an update at Tuesday’s county commission meeting, a day after FPL turned over its plan to county environmental regulators. “We’re actually looking to make it much better and getting back to original conditions.”

FPL has been grappling with problems at the plant, the sixth largest in the nation, since 2014 when temperatures in the canals spiked during a regional drought. The crisis, which twice caused the plant’s two nuclear reactors to power down, shed light on a thornier problem — for decades, salinity in canals used to cool the plant has been creeping up and causing an underground plume of saltwater to spread. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, canal water has now migrated more than five miles west of the canals, closing in a wellfield that supplies drinking water to the Florida Keys.

But fixing the problem has been a complex process, complicated by science and politics.

In a report requested by Commissioner Rebeca Sosa and finalized last week, University of Miami hydrologist David Chin faulted the utility for doing too little to ensure the canals would work properly before it uprated the plant’s two reactors to produce more energy. Story here. 

FPL delays nuclear expansion as it deals with canal clean-up, but wants to charge customers for expansion anyway

FPL salt at turkey point

Florida Power & Light has told state officials that it will put a four-year pause on its construction plans for two proposed nuclear power plants at its troubled Turkey Point site but it wants the state to waive the requirement that it show the project is still "feasible" in order to charge customers in advance for it. 

"The analysis would impose a substantial hardship upon FPL and violate principles of fairness," FPL wrote in an motion filed April 27 with the Florida Public Service Commission.

This week, the City of Miami, consumer groups, environmental advocates and some of the state's largest electric power users, urged utility regulators to reject that request, saying FPL should be required to justify whether it is allowed to continue charging customers for a project that may be on the skids.

"If a project is no longer feasible or practical, then the costs incurred are not prudent,'' wrote City of Miami attorney Victoria Mendez in a motion filed with the PSC on Tuesday. "...Since FPL plans to continue recovering costs pursuant to section 366.93 while doing no additional work towards the completion of the project, it is imperative that FPL demonstrate the project is still economically feasible and practical.'' 

Since 2008, FPL has charged customers $281 million for the planning and licensing costs of two new nuclear power units -- Units 6 and 7 -- at its Turkey Point site on Biscayne Bay. It now wants to be able to charge customers another $22 million in the coming year.

The co-called "nuclear cost recovery" fee has been controversial since lawmakers created it in 2006. In 2013, after Duke Energy customers spent more than $1.5 billion financing a failed nuclear project, the Florida Legislature revised the law to require utility companies to prove that a nuclear project is feasible before the Public Service Commission gives the company permission to move into the "preconstruction" phase of the project.

"This annual feasibility analysis serves to safeguard customers from potentially paying millions of dollars over numerous years on a project when the long-term feasibility analysis may show that it is no longer viable going forward, and, accordingly, may be abandoned,'' wrote the Florida Office of Public Counsel, which represents the public in rate cases in its motion filed Monday.

The future of FPL's planned nuclear expansion project has become inevitably tied to the clean-up of a massive underground salt water plume that is migrating towards South Florida's water supply. The plume is expected to have been caused by the utility company's 2013 nuclear plant expansion, intended to increase power output by 15 percent, which forced the canals to become dangerously warm. Story here. 

Continue reading "FPL delays nuclear expansion as it deals with canal clean-up, but wants to charge customers for expansion anyway" »

May 05, 2016

Donald Trump's backers, unlike candidate, believe in climate change

via @jenstaletovich

Backers of a President Donald Trump, who once called climate change a “con job,” may beg to differ with their leader.

According to a new survey by Yale University, 56 percent of Trump’s supporters believe climate change is happening, although they also believe nature is behind the planet’s rising seas and melting ice caps, not greenhouse gases generated by humans.

The survey, completed in March before contenders Ted Cruz and John Kasich suspended their campaigns, was conducted to assess voters’ stance on climate change and gauge how the country should respond. Democrats typically supported action. No surprise. But Republican voters had some less predictable responses. Take their view of renewable energy. A majority of Trump backers — 70 percent — favor putting more money into research.

Trump, who fought a three-year battle to stop a wind farm within sight of his Scottish golf resort and last year told a 12-year-old girl in New Hampshire that windmills “kill a lot of birds,” not so much. While Trump said in January he was joking about blaming the Chinese for fabricating the concept of climate change, he still argued it is a “a very expensive form of tax.”

For more, read here.