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.

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Army Corps agrees: Immediate change is required

Army Corps agrees: Immediate change is required

Inherent in solving a problem, any problem, a few principles are universal. You must be willing to admit you have a problem. And you must be willing to accept that things will change. Then, you must implement the necessary changes. Simple, and hard, as that.

But what happens when those causing the problem, along with those who benefit from the problem, also control the narrative? And what happens when they are the only ones with access to the problem solvers?

Stagnation. Campaign contributions. Deflection. Red herrings. Fake groups. Campaign contributions. Hired “scientists” pointing in a different direction. Repeat.

Ultimately, though, you witness an entire collapse of the system.

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SFWMD: Public servants, serving the public.

Last week, at the monthly SFWMD Governing Board meeting, a cast of sugar and ag characters lined up at the podium, urging that the Board move forward with 10 aquifer storage and recovery "ASR" wells north of Lake O. They led with choreographed, false claims that these ASR wells could help mitigate the need for discharges when the rains come.

Thankfully, the District board members were cautious. They asked questions that must be answered, though their hands may likely be tied by a sugar-controlled Legislature.

To be crystal clear, 10 wells wouldn’t put a dent in the problem. Each well could possibly capture 5 million gallons of water a day. Multiply that by 10 and you have 50 million gallons a day.

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New leadership brings new outlook. Refreshing.

A new breed of men and women have been appointed to the Governing Board of the most powerful agency in South Florida, comprising 16 counties – the South Florida Water Management District.

For the first time in the history of the agency, not one of the board members has ties to agriculture or big users of the public’s water. Each of them has a background that includes the environment. Thinkers and doers, they did not accept this assignment to be wallflowers or part of the “go along to get along” crowd.

The Board, along with agency leadership from Drew Bartlett, has the mandate to make generational changes to systems – environmental and political – that have been decimated over the past 30 years. They’ve been empowered by Governor DeSantis and the public to do it.

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Don't eat the fish in Lake Okeechobee...

“Lake O, laden with nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, is again fostering what is becoming an annual bloom of toxic algae. Meanwhile, commercial fishermen are busy harvesting catches of catfish, bream and tilapia from these same algae-laden waters.

So we're actively harvesting and selling fish caught from waters we know to be harmful to human recreational contact. This has bad idea written all over it.”

TC PALM: Lake Okeechobee fish: Is it safe to eat?

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A legal reckoning for Big Sugar, decades in the making

For 50+ years, the sugar industry in Florida has wreaked havoc on our waterways and Everglades. But it has also knowingly employed a toxic process called pre-harvest burning, in order to reduce their costs in the harvesting of sugarcane, inflicting harm to those who breathe the air.

This poisonous practice sends smoke and ash blanketing communities, seeping into homes, schools, and public buildings in Pahokee, Belle Glade and South Bay. The air, thick with smoke and noxious fumes can lead to asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems. These carcinogens in the air can be toxic for people of all ages, but are especially dangerous for children and the elderly. 

Florida Crystals and US Sugar have had the technology to eliminate the burning of cane, using a mechanical process referred to as green harvesting – a clean and sustainable practice that doesn't send toxic smoke and carcinogenic ash into the air to blanket homes and property.

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Congressman Brian Mast: Everglades Superstar

A broken water management system, a relic from the 1950’s meant to drain the Everglades of its lifeblood – clean freshwater – is being kept broken in favor of sugarcane, flying in the face of science, facts, and common sense. For the cartel to get water when it wants it and drainage when it wants it, everyone and everything else has become expendable.

Big Sugar has hijacked the people’s water and our political process. From local and state government to the halls of Congress, there are two camps. Those who will take on the status quo and those who are beholden to it.

On the west coast of Florida, in GOP-rich territory, Big Sugar controls most of the Republican politicians. On the east coast, in DEM-rich territory, Big Sugar controls most of the Democratic politicians. This is how the sugar cartel works to rig the system, always having a side to go to.

Nowhere in the state is there a starker example than in Palm Beach County.

This week we highlight an Everglades champion. His name is Brian Mast, and he’s a U.S. Congressman representing Florida’s 18th, covering Martin, St. Lucie, and Palm Beach counties.

First elected in 2016, Congressman Mast made halting the discharges from Lake O to both coasts of Florida a top priority. Challenging sugar’s henchmen and footdraggers – from the old regime at the South Florida Water Management District to the halls of Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers, Mr. Mast has been smart and relentless.

This two-term congressman is moving the needle, garnering the respect of both his colleagues and constituents, Republicans and Democrats alike. Brian Mast is an Everglades superstar.

Now, you can just imagine the ire he has drawn from the sugar cartel.

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Jose Javier Rodriguez: Everglades Superstar

Often and justifiably, we focus on the bad guys in this environmental and economic disaster. But it’s also important for Floridians to know who the good guys are. This week we’re highlighting another Everglades champion: State Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, (affectionately known as JJR).

Whether at home in Miami-Dade or at the State Capitol, donning his trademark rainboots, Senator Rodriguez keeps Florida’s environment and the challenges we face with climate change front and center. JJR realizes sea level rise isn't just an issue of critical importance to Miamians, but for all Floridians. He also recognizes that a hydrated and healthy Everglades is key to fighting saltwater intrusion as a result of sea level rise. 

An Eagle Scout (well, of course he was!) and time in the Peace Corps filled his early years, JJR has spent his political career eschewing special interests. As a State House Rep, he introduced legislation to limit deep injection wells. In the State Senate, he's introduced legislation to force polluters to clean up their own mess; legislation to ban permitting of oil and gas wells in the Everglades; and legislation that would force developers to assess sea level rise in construction planning. 

In 2017, when Jeff Clemens, Democratic Senate Minority Leader, blocked every effort to pass SB10 - the legislation for the critical reservoir in the EAA, one Democrat, in particular, stood solid on the Senate floor.

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The Everglades clicks their heels!

After 30 years of fighting for Everglades restoration, we're used to small wins.

Most of the time we see incremental progress, but not big wins.

This week, however, we're celebrating a giant leap forward. This time from our partner – the federal government.

Recently, we told you about the White House amending their original budget request for the Everglades in next year’s budget. The Trump Administration increased it to our original $200 million request. The House approved it. We’re waiting for the Senate to vote on it any day. 

Now, we've got a commitment from US DOT for $60 million, the federal funding we need for the work to begin under Phase 3 of the Tamiami Trail bridge project.  We've already seen three and a half miles of bridging completed, with the actual roadway removed. This final phase includes the last six and a half miles of road work and giant culverts that will allow water to flow under past the roadway into Everglades National Park and down to Florida Bay. 

For the first time in decades, we're getting the level of federal funding that is necessary to move Everglades restoration forward. And that wasn't possible without the State's $40 million portion. 

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Toxic Florida: A Human Health Crisis

With sound, independent and overwhelming scientific consensus as our guide, we have worked for the past 30 years to get local, state and federal officials to understand the dire circumstances facing Florida and America’s Everglades.

We told them it would get uglier
it has.

We told them it would get more expensive
it has.

We’ve explained the cost of inaction
it’s incalculable.

The most important issue isn’t what we must do next. That question is already answered and is uncontroverted scientific fact: Send more clean water south to the Everglades and Florida Bay.

Given that we know what to do next, we are left with ballot-box choices.

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