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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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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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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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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