March 07, 2015

Miami-Dade asks Florida for money to buy rare forest eyed for Walmart

via @jenstaletovich

An endangered forest where a developer wants to build a Walmart has a new suitor: Miami-Dade County.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Commissioner Dennis Moss said Friday the county would like to purchase 88 acres near Zoo Miami, hoping to derail plans by a Palm Beach County developer to build a shopping center on the land featuring the box store, an LA Fitness, restaurants and apartments. The development plans, announced last year, set off blistering protests from residents and environmentalists.

“We feel it’s the right thing to do,” Gimenez said after announcing the purchase plans in a meeting with the Miami Herald editorial board.

However, the deal hinges on whether the county can obtain money under Amendment 1, a state constitutional amendment to help buy endangered land now being haggled over in the Florida Legislature, Gimenez said. And it also depends on whether developer Peter Cummings wants to be courted.

In a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Friday, Gimenez and Moss asked for money — but not a specific amount — spelling out the significance of the property, which is part of the last, largest intact tract of rockland outside Everglades National Park and is home to a menagerie of endangered bats, butterflies and plants. Pine rockland, a globally imperiled forest, once covered 185,000 acres in the county, the letter said. It now grows in fragmented chunks on just 3,700 acres.

More here.

March 01, 2015

Diaz and Garcia bill would strip fees from rock miners

via @jenstaletovich

South Florida rock miners would be spared millions of dollars they now pay to protect wetlands and the state’s largest drinking water supply on the fringes of Miami-Dade County under a bill making its way through the Legislature.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. and Sen. Rene Garcia, both Hialeah Republicans, would cut fees by 83 percent, ending what was supposed to be an insurance policy for the county against the risk of contamination posed by rock mining. But now, after nearly a decade with no contamination detected in the water, the bill’s sponsors and rock miners, who contributed tens of thousands of dollars to politicians in the last two years, say it’s time to reduce the fee and simply monitor water quality.

The issue began when a chain of lakes was created along the county’s suburban flank in the 1950s as miners dug up rock for construction. South Florida’s water table is so close to the surface that the pits quickly filled with water. The state, trying to mitigate the damage to wetlands, began collecting fees in 1999 that have steadily increased over the years as concerns spread to water quality.

Under the legislation, fees now set at 60 cents for every ton of rock mined would drop to 10 cents. Story here. 

February 19, 2015

Crisafulli's water bill passes Appropriations, next stop: Floor vote

It’s a complicated bill that House Speaker Steve Crisafulli says will modernize Florida’s water policy.

So far, at least, the nearly 100-page HB 7003 is finding little opposition in the House, easily passing the Appropriations Committee on Thursday with bipartisan support.

“I don’t see this as a perfect bill,” said Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa. “I don’t think we go far enough to deal with the complexities of Lake Okeechobee. But my concerns with the septic systems are being addressed, so because of that, I will vote the bill up and hope that it gets better as we go along.”

Even though session hasn’t started, there’s not much more to go. Next stop is the floor of the Florida House. That makes the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Matthew Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres and is one of Crisafulli’s top priorities, to be a leading candidate for first bill passed by the House when legislative session begins March 3.

Still, there’s quite a bit of difference between the House bill and the Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness.

“My hope is that we will work well with our Senate colleagues, collaboratively, and develop a good comprehensive policy,” Caldwell said after Thursday’s meeting.

January 28, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott proposes $150 million for Everglades



Standing outside a Miami airboat attraction with some of the state’s top environmentalists and a caged panther named Harley, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday proposed spending $150 million in his next budget on Everglades restoration and habitat preservation.

Scott also wants lawmakers to designate a quarter of Amendment 1 money — the measure overwhelmingly approved by voters in November for land and water conservation — for restoration work. If the Legislature agrees, the move could raise $5 billion for Everglades projects over the life of the 20-year amendment, an amount that could cover the state’s projected costs.

“We have the opportunity to continue to invest,” Scott said, pointing to a stronger economy. “And this is the right way to invest.”

Environmentalists say the measures, if endorsed by lawmakers, could guarantee the chronically stalled work gets done.

More here.

January 19, 2015

New plan calls for Miami-Dade mayor to take reins on sea rise


Miami-Dade County’s task force on rising seas wants the county mayor to take the reins on the mounting problem and will propose a suite of resolutions before commissioners on Wednesday to address the issue.

The measures will serve as “marching orders” to increase the county’s response to sea rise, County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said during a meeting with Miami Herald editors last week. She sponsored the legislation carrying out the task force recommendations as one of her last acts as commission chairwoman.

The resolutions ask Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez to take formal oversight and dedicate staff and resources to shepherd the county’s attack on climate change. One resolution would also ask the administration to speed up the planning process by hiring engineers or other experts to develop a capital plan to fortify the county’s vast infrastructure against the dangers of sea rise — everything from roads to bridges to sewer structures. Another resolution also calls for a comprehensive study on flooding and saltwater intrusion along with a time frame for carrying out changes and source of money.

“Sea level rise is happening. And failure to plan is the same as planning to fail,” said Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin, who chaired the task force.

Ruvin and Sosa could not say how much a plan or necessary changes might cost. But a similar strategy for New York City unveiled in June 2013 by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg came with a $20 billion price tag.

More here.

January 14, 2015

PAC launches to push solar power amendment

Tory Perfetti, chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice, and Stephen Smith, executive director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, answer questions during the PAC's launch Wednesday at the Florida Press Center in Tallahassee.

A political action committee that launched Wednesday is banking on support from a diverse array of groups as it fights against Florida's utility companies. 

The PAC, Floridians for Solar Choice, hopes to pass a constitutional amendment in 2016 that would allow people and businesses to buy and sell solar power to one another, without going through utility companies. 

Passing the amendment would introduce competition to the energy market and boost renewable energy usage in Florida, said PAC Chairman Tory Perfetti and leaders of other supporting groups. 

Taking on the utility companies will likely prove expensive. Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, estimated that it could cost Floridians for Solar Choice around $10 million to pass the amendment. 

Continue reading "PAC launches to push solar power amendment" »

November 24, 2014

Legislators launch plan to rewrite enviro laws to deal with Amendment 1

Florida environmentalists say they were forced to go to voters to get permanent funding for land and water protection because legislators neglected the need for too many years. But now — even though Amendment 1 passed with 75 percent of the vote — the Legislature will get the last word.

House and Senate Republican leaders are preparing legislation to rewrite many of the state’s existing environmental laws to respond to the amendment, which requires the Legislature and governor to set aside one-third of all taxes collected from the documentary tax on real estate transactions. Lawmakers warn that painful tradeoffs lie ahead.

How legislators make those tradeoffs will determine whether the implementation of Amendment 1 is a cordial affair — in which both proponents and lawmakers agree to compromise — or whether the debate becomes a test of wills and, potentially, lawsuits. 

“In this new reality, as we work to apply this new portion of our constitution and faithfully implement the will of the voters, there is going to be some pain,’’ said Senate President Andy Gardiner in a speech to the Senate on Tuesday during the swear-in ceremony for members.

Gardiner conceded that the proposal to generate between $10billion to $20 billion for environmental causes over the next 20 years could “make a significant impact on the future of water and natural resources,” but emphasized that “implementing this amendment will be a challenge.”

Amendment 1 is expected to raise between $300 million and $500 million a year for projects intended to preserve environmentally-sensitive land and protect and improve water quality. At its core, the amendment weakens the Legislature’s most coveted power — the power of the purse — by taking away the ability of legislators to control a small piece of the state’s $75 billion budget.

As a result, Gardiner’s message was directed at both environmental advocates, who drafted the amendment, and his fellow lawmakers, whose power has been clipped by the proposal. Story here. 

November 05, 2014

NextGen Florida director: the fight against climate change in FL is just beginning

NextGen Florida spent $19.8 million in Florida between Aug. 7 and Oct. 22 this year with the influsion of cash coming from California billionaire and former hedge fund investor Tom Steyer. Their goals: to defeat Gov. Rick Scott,  raise awareness about climate change and bring young people to the polls. They failed on the first, succeeded on the second, and the report card on the third goal appears to be mixed.

Here's the campaign wrap-up by Florida  Director Jackie Lee:

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October 19, 2014

Report: Florida's tip, Cape Sable, losing ground to rising seas


From the sky, Florida’s rugged tip looks like a scrap of emerald green lace: marshes and mangroves and tree islands all knit together by ribbons of creeks and lakes.

But at Cape Sable, a remote outpost where the Atlantic meets the Gulf of Mexico, the coast is fraying.

Usually, geological change is so slow that “you never see something in your lifetime,” Audubon Florida biologist Peter Frezza said recently as he piloted his boat around acres of mud flats filling Lake Ingraham. “But we’re watching this happen.”

For more than a decade, scientists have seen the cape as the tip of the sword in climate change. Sliced open by canals dug through the marl dividing marshes from the bay a century ago by Henry Flagler’s land company, the cape is particularly vulnerable to rising seas. Flagler was hoping to drain the wetland and lure homesteaders and ranchers. Story here.  

October 17, 2014

Scientists offer up solutions on climate change, now ask Gov. Rick Scott to hear them

 Gov. Rick Scott asked for solutions and so they brought them.

Scientists, business leaders, local elected officials came up with a lengthy list of ways Florida could help to address climate change and on Friday delivered a letter to the governor and asking him for, yes, another meeting.

This comes as the governor's silence on climate change, his campaign's receipt of millions from the utility industry, and his failure to create a state energy policy in the face of rising sea waters has become a vulnerability in his race for governor.

NextGen Climate, the political committee founded by California billionaire Tom Steyer to target climate change skeptics, has spent more than $12 million in Florida for a campaign to defeat Scott's re-election bid. They are running television ads in the crucial Tampa Bay media market, have opened 21 offices, and say they have more than 500 staffers, canvassers and volunteers across Florida. They also built an ark and trucked it across the state to get TV time. 

Scott won't say if he believes that humans, fossil fuel or other factors contribute to the earth's warming but he did agree to meet with five scientists Aug. 19 in his office. Before the meeting, he said he was a less interested in causes than he was in addressing them. During the meeting, he asked no issue-related questions but said he was a "solutions guy." 

The scientists took that as a call to action. They joined with elected officials and business leaders and convened the Climate Science & Solutions Summit at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg last week. It was a standing room only crowd.

A summary of the suggestions that emerged was written up for the governor and signed by 50 of the participants, delivered to the governor's office today with a request for a in-person meeting. 

Continue reading "Scientists offer up solutions on climate change, now ask Gov. Rick Scott to hear them" »