Arrogance and Avarice: US Sugar files suit against taxpayers

It’s been said that battling the sugar industry to save the Everglades is a lot like taking on the tobacco industry – and it’s true. For decades, Big Sugar has followed the same disinformation playbook, interfering with local, state and federal policies in ways that have long term, harmful impacts to the public and throwing big money around to get their way.

When threatened with reform, their response is to double down on these devious tactics. They do this by funding tricksters, phony “news” outlets, opposition efforts, lobbying, political donations, hiding behind front groups and other organizations, promoting weaker policies and failing to disclose conflicts of interest. Above all else – kill the messenger.

But not even Big Tobacco had the gall to sue the federal government.

In 2018, following yet another year of discharges of polluted and toxic water from Lake Okeechobee and destroying an entire economic season on both coasts of Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis and Congressman Brian Mast implored the Army Corps to re-look at the management of water levels in the lake ahead of Florida’s summers.

Until the southern reservoir project is online so lake water can move south through treatment and into the Everglades, and although it’s still sending polluted water to the coasts, this is one of the better options to hold. Do the coasts want polluted Lake O water OR toxic, polluted Lake O water? Right now, we’re forced to choose between the lesser of two evils.

The idea was straightforward: if the Army Corps could keep Lake O lower during the dry season it would increase the capacity of the lake to take more water during the rainy season, limiting the discharges of toxic lake water to the coasts.

After multiple requests from the Governor, the Congressman, and tremendous public outcry, the Army Corps of Engineers agreed and allowed Lake Okeechobee to fall below 12ft in 2019. A simple measure designed to reduce the discharge of toxic water to the estuaries that didn't require an act of congress to accomplish. And so far, it's been working.

US Sugar, used to controlling Lake O as their own water repository and supply, objected to this common-sense option and filed suit against the Army Corps in federal court last week. The suit alleges these actions by the Corps are in violation of the 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule and put us all at risk of a water shortage. 

Strange. We haven't heard of any water shortages. No conservation warnings to residents. No water shortage warnings issued by municipalities. And, it's raining in South Florida.

What we have seen, though, are health warnings posted near waterways where toxins are present. Don’t swim, boat or fish in this water – it’s too toxic.

So, no warnings of water shortages, but warnings to stay out of toxic waters. No water shortages, but here we are left to defend an expensive and frivolous lawsuit about access and guarantees to a sugarcane crop over the health and welfare of people and our environment.

Then what's behind this lawsuit? Greed, arrogance and their waning control of Floridians’ water. The sugar cartel is used to controlling our water, our politicians, and the narrative and they can't stand to lose any ground, ever. Governor DeSantis made it crystal clear as he was sworn into office that water quality, our coastal estuaries and the Everglades were a top priority. Fortunately, he's stuck to that commitment, quickly implementing key priorities that threaten the sugar cartel's control. 

We know that it's always been about control. Control of our water, control of our politicians, control of the rules.

The infuriating irony is that the control the sugar barons enjoy is actually funded by the American taxpayer. Their stranglehold on our water and our politicians would be impossible without the billions in federal subsidies, import quotas, tariffs and guarantees they enjoy at our expense each and every year. 

Their contempt for Floridians is glaringly obvious. This latest legal maneuvering is a costly corporate temper tantrum that lays bare what their real motivations are.

Their stranglehold over our ecosystems and Everglades is weakening and they're hopping mad. Well, buckle up, Big Sugar – we’re just getting started.

Stick with us!

Kimberly Mitchell
Executive Director