April 18, 2015

Obama to visit Everglades to speak about climate change


President Obama will travel Wednesday -- Earth Day -- to the Florida Everglades to speak about the threat of climate change.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, the president said, "there is no greater threat to our planet than climate change."

"And on Earth Day, I’m going to visit the Florida Everglades to talk about the way that climate change threatens our economy," Obama continued. "The Everglades is one of the most special places in our country. But it's also one of the most fragile. Rising sea levels are putting a national treasure -– and an economic engine for the South Florida tourism industry –- at risk."


April 10, 2015

PolitiFact looks at Rick Scott's promise to enact tougher environmental penalties

After being criticized by environmentalists for his pro-business policies during his first term, Gov. Rick Scott stepped up his environmental promises for his re-election campaign.

One of those promises was to crack down on polluters by proposing "legislation to increase penalties to ensure fines match the value of Florida's natural resources, and also provide agencies with the flexibility to analyze the past actions of those seeking environmental permits in Florida."

When we asked the Department of Environmental Protection if there was any legislation pending, spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller pointed to SB 1468.

The bill addresses some types of fracking, though it uses the term "high pressure well stimulation" instead of fracking. (Not all techniques using these chemicals use high pressure to create fractures; some use acid instead to dissolve the rock.) The bill defines "high pressure well stimulation" as a procedure that involves injecting more than 100,000 gallons of fluids into a rock formation at a pressure that is high enough to cause fractures to increase oil or gas production. The bill calls for increasing penalties from the current $10,000 a day to $25,000 per day for oil and gas companies that are using certain types of fracking. Those penalties could be for a variety of violations that could harm the air, water or property, such as not following DEP rules, improper storage of gas, or refusing to allow a state inspection. DEP collaborated on the bill with its sponsor, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples.

On March 31, the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee passed the bill 6-2.

We asked a spokeswoman for Scott, Jeri Bustamante, if he supports the bill and she said "the governor will review any legislation that will come to his desk."

Turn to PolitiFact Florida to see how we rated Scott's progress on this promise.

April 08, 2015

South Florida leaders seek help controlling plastic bags

Plastic bags litter the Miami Beach shoreline. They get wrapped around the mangroves and clog the drainage system.

But there’s little city leaders can do because Florida law prohibits local governments from regulating or banning disposable plastic bags.

BullardSen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, is hoping to change that. He’s filed a bill that would allow coastal communities with fewer than 100,000 residents to create pilot programs addressing the issue.

The proposal won the unanimous support of the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee Wednesday, thanks partly to testimony from South Florida municipal leaders.

"We need your help," Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco told state lawmakers, pointing out that hundreds of thousands of tourists go shopping in his city.

Still, the proposal is a long shot. The powerful retail industry is against it, and its companion in the House (HB 661) has stalled.

More here.

April 03, 2015

Study: Florida's reefs will be seared by climate change by 2030

via @jenstaletovich

Parts of Florida’s vast coral reefs, including a pristine tract in the Dry Tortugas, may get seared by climate change as early as 2030 — about a dozen years sooner than scientists previously projected.

And that could mean that coral bleaching — a whitening that can be damaging and potentially deadly to colorful corals — could become an annual event in the Tortugas west of Key West but also in the middle Keys and reefs south of Turkey Point popular with divers.

The prediction comes from a just-released study by National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration climate scientists, who used a supercomputer to crunch piles of data on sea temperatures around the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean already identified as vulnerable to bleaching outbreaks. Their findings not only confirmed what they already knew — bleaching could be widespread by mid-century — but revealed it may start to show sooner in some areas than others, including swathes off the South Florida coast.

The findings are important because scientists consider reefs an important earlier indicator of more serious trouble.

“They’re the canary in a coal mine,” said the study’s lead author, Ruben van Hooidonk, a University of Miami coral expert and climate scientist at NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

More here.

April 01, 2015

Senate restores some funding for Amendment 1 land acqusition

In an effort to quell anger from environmental advocates who supported Amendment 1, the Florida Senate agreed to spend in next year’s budget $35 million for Florida Forever land acquisition and another $20 million for land acquisition for springs restorations.

“We want to send a message to those who supported the amendment and tell them, we hear you,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park.

That’s not the message those groups heard two weeks ago when the House and Senate released their proposed budgets.

The Senate's budget sets aside $2 million for the Florida Forever program, which was created in 1999 to fund public land acquisition and was initially authorized to spend $300 million a year. The proposed amount represents an 84 percent cut from this year's budget and $118 million less than what Gov. Rick Scott proposes.

The House says it has set aside $205 million for Florida Forever, but most of that money is actually tied to other projects, such as reservoirs, springs restoration and other programs, leaving only about $10 million for the land acquisition program.

Supporters of Amendment 1, which passed with 75 percent of the vote, say they intended that the money from documentary stamp revenue would be spent on land to be used as parks, wildlife habitat and trails. Groups like 1,000 Friends of Florida are asking members to call senators, who were supposed to have provided more money to Florida Forever.

“Please call you senator right now and ask him or her to support amendments to increase funding for Florida Forever,” stated a 1,000 Friends of Florida blast email on Tuesday.

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, had proposed an amendment to provide $300 million for Florida Forever, but withdrew it after supporting Bradley’s amendment instead.

“The people of Florida rose up and got an amendment on the ballot,” Altman said. “I do think our budget falls short of the intent of that constitutional amendmemt. But this amendment moves us in a very positive direction.”

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, had opposed adding any more money for Florida Forever, saying the state already had more than 9 million acres of land set aside for conservation. He added that Bradley’s amendment come at a cost: reducing by $10 million a plan to control invasive plants, eliminating money for hybrid wetlands.

March 31, 2015

Amendment 1 advocates turn up the heat on Sen. Charlie Dean

Supporters of Amendment 1 are busy phone-banking a key state lawmaker in support of setting aside millions for the Florida Forever land acquisition program. Their calls have been targeting Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, chairman of the Senate Environmental Preservation and conservation Committee, the sponsor of the Amendment 1 implementing bill (SB 584) that is on the floor calendar for Wednesday's Senate session.

"I'm asking him to please support Amendment 1 money for the Florida Forever program," said Kathleen Betsko of Sugarmill Woods, a community in Citrus County in Dean's sprawling district. "I thought Senator Dean was going to be in favor of this and it sounds like that's not what they're doing."

Betsko identified herself as a Democrat who has voted for Dean in the past. She is among the 75 percent of Florida voters who approved Amendment 1, the so-called water and land amendment, in the November 2014 election. Conservation groups across Florida are emphasizing the same message in phone calls and on social media.

March 27, 2015

Official Naked Politics poll* results: Amendment 1 is for land buys

* Not even close to scientific.....

On Wednesday, Naked Politics asked you, dear reader, why you voted for Amendment 1. Thanks to get-out-the-vote efforts by the Florida Senate Democrats on one side of the issue (buy more land), and Associated Industries of Florida on the other side (land and water maintenance), the votes poured in. 

By a 2-1 margin, the side advocating for the purchasing of more land carried the day.

Here are some of the reader comments. See if you can tell which side is relying on the same talking points.

Continue reading "Official Naked Politics poll* results: Amendment 1 is for land buys" »

March 26, 2015

Jon Stewart: No 'climate change' for Scott but how about a 'surprise pool party'?

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, got some national TV airtime last night — but maybe not for what he’d like.

In a Daily Show segment on Gov. Rick Scott’s alleged ban on the phrase “climate change,” Jon Stewart showed last week’s Senate committee meeting, chaired by Latvala, when lawmakers gave Bryan Koon, chief of emergency management, a ribbing for refusing to say...those words.

Said, Stewart, focusing in on Latvala, who almost fell out of his chair from laughter: “I think that one guy needs the Heimlich!”

But don’t worry, Gov. Scott, Stewart has some suggested phrases to replace “sea level rise” in the Florida vernacular: Let’s try “moisture inconvenience,” “statewide jacuzzi-fication” or maybe get ready for a “surprise pool party.”

March 19, 2015

The pain continues for Amendment 1 supporters with release of Senate plan

Environmental groups hoping the Florida Senate would do better than the House in respecting the intent of Amendment 1 were disappointed on Thursday.

The Senate’s appropriations subcommittee on general government, which is chaired by Sen. Al Hays, R-Umatilla, released its $4 billion spending plan for next year. It includes the Senate’s plan on following the new constitutional amendment, passed overwhelmingly by voters in November, that requires 33 percent of documentary stamp revenues be spent to buy, restore, improve and manage conservation lands.

The Senate proposes spending $714.2 million on Amendment 1, which is about $58 million less than what the House proposed and $43 million less than what Gov. Rick Scott set aside for it.

The Senate’s proposed budget includes just $2 million to fund land acquisition under Florida Forever, an 84 percent cut from this year’s budget, which passed before Amendment 1 was approved..

Florida Forever was created in 1999 to allocate funds for public land acquisition and was initially authorized to spend $300 million a year. But since the recession, it has struggled. In 2011, it wasn't funded at all. In this year’s budget, lawmakers set aside $17 million, of which $5 million went to deals with private landowners.

Yet this year’s proposal of $2 million, just months after Amendment 1 passed, is an affront, said Will Abberger, chair of the Amendment 1 sponsor committee.

“The intent of the 4.2 million voters who voted Yes for Amendment 1 was clear: fund the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for the acquisition of parks and natural areas,” Abberger said. "The Senate’s budget proposal appears to ignore the very reason that Florida voters approved Amendment 1.”

The Senate’s spending plan includes money for agency operations and other expenses that were never intended to be funded by Amendment 1, said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, the sponsor committee for Amendment 1.

“We are deeply disappointed by this proposal,” Moncrief said. “There’s no way that anyone could have read the Amendment and consider this budget to be adequate.”

The Senate version was especially disappointing for Amendment 1 supporters Senate leaders had promised an upgrade from the House version.

On Wednesday, the Senate’s appropriations chair, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said the upper chamber’s version would be more inclusive.

“We’ll end up with a much more balanced approach, to make sure all of the stakeholders involved in Amendment 1 have some outcome that they were hoping for when those expectations were set,” Lee said.

That appears not to be the case, however.

In Senate testimony, top Scott adviser won't say 'climate change'

Gov. Rick Scott's chief of emergency management, Bryan Koon, testifying Thursday before the Legislature, had a half-dozen chances to use the term "climate change."

But he would not say the C-words.

Scott has denied news reports that employees of the Department of Environmental Protection were barred from saying "climate change," "global warming" and "sustainability," but he has declined to discuss the subject in detail.

Koon was talking to a Senate budget subcommittee about his agency's request for federal funds to improve emergency life safety notifications for residents and visitors in advance of floods, tornadoes and hurricanes in Florida. Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, asked Koon if it's true that states need to have "climate change plans" to qualify for that federal money.

Yes, Koon replied, referring to "language to that effect."

"I used 'climate change,'" Clemens said, "but I'm suggesting that maybe as a state, we use the term 'atmospheric reemployment.' That might be something that the governor could get behind."

Senators roared with laughter, and the chairman, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, almost literally fell out of his chair.

Koon said Clemens was right, and the state's next hurricane mitigation plan, due in 2018, must include "language discussing that issue."

"What issue is that?" Clemens asked.

"The issue you mentioned earlier," Koon replied.