The Elephant in the Everglades

Recently, the Miami Herald hosted the 2019 Florida Priorities Summit that focused on issues affecting all Floridians – the economy, education, the environment, health care and transportation. The day-long conference of speakers and panel discussions brought together some of Florida's top leaders and decision makers. Oh, and Big Sugar.

Moderated by Michael Grunwald, journalist and author of The Swamp, the group convened to discuss the number one issue described by the 50 top thought leaders in the state – our environment – and included Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, Eric Eikenberg of the Everglades Foundation, and Julie Wraithmell of Audubon Florida.

Joining these environmental leaders was Gaston Cantens of Florida Crystals, representing the Sugar Cane League. Weird, right?! Turns out, the Sugar Cane League was a sponsor of the event.


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We are thankful

America’s Everglades have many things to be thankful for this year. I’d like to share with you the highlights.

We are thankful for those in the trenches. For you, for our partners and for all the advocates – scientists and citizens – who stay engaged and don't back down from the fight. We are pushing an enormous boulder uphill and cannot do it without you. 

We are thankful for a Governor and First Lady who have staked their legacy on Everglades restoration. Governor DeSantis said it best at his swearing-in back in January – "We will fight to restore our Everglades and we will never ever quit. We won't be cowed, and we won't let the foot draggers stand in our way." – and he has not let up on the gas pedal since.

We're thankful for inspired leadership. From the most amazing board of governors ever assembled to lead the South Florida Water Management District to the talented and passionate Secretary of Environmental Protection, Noah Valenstein, we have good people at the helm.

We're thankful for progress. This year brought the end of one of sugar’s leases. Building filtration marshes and the reservoir in the EAA is now the top priority. We are hopeful for shovels in the ground before year end. The bridging of Tamiami Trail and the removal of the roadbed is in its last phase and for the first time in 100 years, water can flow south under the Trail into the southern part of the system.

We're thankful for legislative heroes. A growing number of men and women in the Legislature are recognizing the importance and value of Everglades restoration. Leaders like Senators Rob Bradley (R) and Jose Javier Rodriguez (D) and State Reps. Chris Sprowls (R) and Anna Eskamani (D).

We're grateful we have Congressional leaders. Congressmen Brian Mast and Francis Rooney have worked tirelessly to usher in a new paradigm for the future of Florida’s waterways and Everglades – against all odds.

In the history of Everglades restoration, there has never been a better year. My sincerest hope is that next year’s Thanksgiving note will be even brighter.

Thank you for sticking with us! We at the Trust wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Kimberly Mitchell
Executive Director  


 


The Good. The Captains.

One of the Trust’s foundational commitments is and will always be to share the good, the bad and the ugly as it relates to the Everglades and waterways. And we will never, ever sugar-coat it.

My last few updates have focused on the ugly – those who stand in the way of fixing this mess (you know who you are, Big Sugar). But for this week’s update, we want to focus on the good. The mighty good.

One of our partners – Captains for Clean Water – is in the running for the prestigious Eagle Rare Life Award from Garden & Gun Magazine. This award celebrates those who lead a rare life, demonstrating courage, leadership, survival, devotion, character, and heroism. We're asking for your help. 

As boat captains and fishing guides, Chris Whitman and Daniel Andrews saw firsthand the degradation of Florida’s waters and have gone on to become unlikely leaders in a movement started before they were even born. With their local fisheries fouled, and no solution in sight, they set aside their rods and reels and charted a course of change.

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Carnage they could touch and smell

Not all progress on Everglades restoration is tangible – moving and cleaning water, building things. Far from it. Over the years, one of the key challenges to restoration has been in engaging all Floridians, explaining what’s at stake and encouraging them to action.

In 2016, we witnessed a critically important constituency of stakeholders get organized and educated, demanding action for clean water. Fishing guides, boat captains, anglers, boat manufacturers and tackle shops. This army of small businesses, whose very existence depends on clean and plentiful water, now actively battle to save the Everglades and Florida's waterways. They are giants and they’re not slowing down.

Tapping into non-traditional, but extremely valuable, stakeholders has been harder. Hotels, tour companies, restaurants and retailers have been unwilling to join what has historically been viewed as an environmental fight. Those reliant on tourism feared taking a stand would highlight the problem and be bad for business today, even though being silent would kill it tomorrow.

But worse than being silent, the Florida Chamber of Commerce has become a big part of the political problem. Candidly, they’ve gone from advocating for the interests of big business (not a bad thing) to simply a money-laundering operation for special interests buying political influence. They prop up the status quo through massive moves of money hidden from public view (a very bad thing).

 

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Full steam ahead!

Every single day, we work over, around and through obstacles in the name of Everglades restoration. This work has never been easy, but these obstacles have made it more difficult, dragging out real solutions years, even decades, longer than necessary. This week we hurdled over another big one.

We told you last month Florida Crystals notified the SFWMD they would “agree” to terminate a lease on land that is crucial to the EAA reservoir. The lease extension was granted by the prior administration in a gift to sugar before the new Governor could be sworn into office - a deliberate move to delay the EAA reservoir project. Instead of allowing the land to be returned to its rightful owner - the public - the former administration handed us yet another obstacle to Everglades restoration we’d have to battle to remove.

We also told you about Governor DeSantis’ efforts to unwind that lease.  Last week, the Governor and Florida Cabinet worked to unwind a separate but related lease.  See, back in 2013, Florida Crystals asked the prior Governor and Cabinet to approve an additional 30-year lease to grow sugarcane on state-owned land.  When environmental groups objected to the extensions because the land was likely to be needed in the future for Everglades restoration, Big Sugar had its doo-boy Matt Caldwell tuck language into legislation that mooted any legal challenge to the action.

 

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Keep your eye on the prize

Earlier this week, we were with the Governor in Jupiter as he made his announcement of proposed legislation from the Department of Environmental Protection for the 2020 session. Though not finalized, it expedites water quality improvements throughout Florida by incorporating recommendations of his Blue-Green Algae Task Force. 

Because these will be changes in law, and creating law is outside the purview of a Governor, the report focuses on four areas for the Legislature to address:  agricultural operations, wastewater treatment plants, septic systems, and stormwater runoff. The task force also made specific recommendations for each focus area, which the Legislature should enact in good faith.

Now Florida's Legislature must act in service to the public and approach this work in an honest and comprehensive manner. Florida can't survive more legislation that only goes halfway, mandating change without funding. Or worse, legislation written by industry henchmen, designed to benefit polluters at the expense of Floridians.

 

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Rotten: 500,000 acres of corporate shame

It's no secret the Everglades are suffering a slow death at the hands of man, largely due to corporate greed and decades of bad water management policy. The solution has been on the books 20 years yet we're still only in the planning stages of the chief component of Everglades restoration: The EAA Reservoir. That's not by accident or government inertia. It's by design.

With the benefit of billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies annually, the sugar cartel's vast wealth has enabled them to develop a network of immense influence. A system, carefully comprised of lobbyists, lawyers, and fake activists that serve only their narrow self-interest. For decades they've dictated water policy in Florida, without breaking a sweat. Big Sugar's reach is extensive, meticulously constructed and invisible to most. 

Last week, Netflix aired their much-anticipated exposé on Big Sugar in their documentary series Rotten. I’ve added the link right below my note to get you there.

Rotten. What a perfect word to describe Big Sugar – an industry that rots our political process, the Everglades and our environment, drinking water supply and wildlife. (Not to mention our health.)

 

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Shifting the status quo.

This year we've been laser-focused on the change we need to realize Everglades restoration, specifically the EAA reservoir. We've seen some solid wins, but more is needed. 

Recently, Governor DeSantis announced that he will seek $625 million in recurring funding for the next three years for Everglades restoration and protection of Florida’s water resources. This funding will meet the $2.5 billion goal outlined in the Governor’s Bold Vision for a Brighter Future budget. And, just as importantly, Everglades champion Senator Rob Bradley stood with him on behalf of Florida’s legislature. The Governor and key members of the legislature are on the same page about the Everglades. That's an enormous shift! 

For decades, we've watched the sugar cartel infiltrate every level of government, keeping their priorities top of mind and running roughshod over the rest of us. 

Now, we've got a Governor who gets it and supports the right levels of funding. Key legislators, like Senator Rob Bradley, are standing in support of the Everglades. Florida's congressional delegation pushed hard to make the Everglades a federal budget priority. This is the new status quo. 

 

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The Everglades: Shifting the paradigm

The Everglades, our coastal estuaries and Florida’s waterways, all in need of immediate attention and remediation, are certainly not environmental and economic outliers.

Greed, political graft and stupidity are not affected by geographical boundaries.

Freshwater bodies across the United States are under assault and impaired by the same things – greed, political graft and utter stupidity.

From the Great Lakes to the Rocky Mountains to Florida Bay, the headwaters of the Florida Keys, profoundly bad decisions and decades of inaction have allowed both the redirection of the natural flows of water, and corporate interests to pollute those waters. The combination has been devastating to the one thing all living creatures need to survive – clean water.

 

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Big Sugar: No Honest Broker 

“You’re just not getting enough sugar in your diet,” said no doctor to me or the Everglades, ever.

From the food on our plates to our air and waterways, our political systems and the Everglades, sugar is proving to be a significant adversary. It doesn’t have to be this way for their business to thrive, of course, but they have grown accustomed to doing whatever it is they want. For them, the power is so intoxicating that they’ve lost sight of anything resembling reason.

No reasonable person would believe it’s okay to burn toxins right next to an elementary school. No rational person would think it proper to force trillions of gallons of polluted water onto their neighbors, year after year. No honest broker would believe it proper to force the taxpayers to clean up their mess.

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