Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Big Sugar: Great Destroyers of Florida Foist Costs of Pollution on Taxpayers ... by gimleteye

One of the repeated claims by the Unreformable Majority of the Miami-Dade County Commission is what good environmentalists, farmers are. Certainly, some are. They are for the most part small organic farmers. At the county commission meeting of Feb 21st (noted, below), commissioners rose up in a throaty support for farmers wrapped around antagonism to regulations protecting wetlands.

The brain-dead, one-sided meeting provided further ammo to take down the county department charged with environmental regulation. "Farmers are the best environmentalists!"

photo taken at Whole Foods, South Miami, FL
Here are a few points that extend well beyond Miami-Dade County borders.

Farming in Florida is not like the good old days when sticking a seed in the ground, keeping the soil not too wet and not too dry, was a formula for profit. Today industrial scale agriculture-- like growing sugar cane in 700,000 acres around Lake Okeechobee -- requires thousands of tons of fertilizer and soil amendments each year to grow (highly profitable) crops in exhausted soil.

So when Miami-Dade and other county commissioners get on soap boxes with how farmers are the best environmentalists, living close to the land and all that, know it may be true for a few but it is largely a bunch of crap to the big farmers who run the Farm Bureau. Its business is to balance the risks of farming against the friction of environmental regulations, the uncertainty of loan repayments based on developable potential, and the future value of land as crappy subdivisions.

The bottom line-- Tea Party pay attention here!-- is that scale farm operations are major polluters who use millions of dollars-- earned through farm bill policies tacitly endorsed by voters through politicians they elect-- to shift billions of dollars of pollution costs to taxpayers.

Now, a reality check: in 1996, nearly 70 percent of Florida voters approved an amendment to the Florida constitution requiring sugar farmers to clean up 100 percent of the pollution they cause in the Everglades. Keep that number in your head. How did that work out for nearly 70 percent of Florida voters who voted for billions of dollars of Everglades cleanup to be assessed where it belongs?

A new study funded by the Everglades Foundation, by independent economist firm RTI, shows that in the past decade Big Sugar has only funded 24 percent of the clean up costs associated with Everglades restoration. Not 100 percent as required by state law. The chemical culprit is the same as that used and overused on lawns: the phosphorous component in fertilizer. Phosphorous in quantities greater than 10 parts per billion -- a few grains in a bucket of sand -- kills the Everglades.

Who funds the rest of the multi-billion dollar cost of land acquisition, treatment marshes, and continuous monitoring and operation? Taxpayers.

Here's another astonishing statistic, to refute the Miami-Dade county commissioners who want to argue who is paying for what.

According to RTI, the cost of treatment marshes and other provisions required to clean up phosphorous once it passes from big sugar lands to public lands is $350 per pound of phosphorous. The cost for "best management practices" that deliver the same benefits if those measures were incorporated by farmers to their farming practices? Only $47 per pound. Think about that, next time you buy a pound of sugar for a couple of bucks. How about them apples?

When farmers say they are good neighbors and complain about excess environmental regulations like those that protect wetlands as harming "jobs", remember who is paying the bill for failing to pay attention. Instead of requiring farmers to keep the phosphorous on their farms and clean it up right there-- requiring them to add $46 to the cost of a pound of phosphorous (the true cost)-- industrial scale farmers figured out a way to get taxpayers to pay 8 times that amount in order to use PUBLIC lands for their sewerage. (You can join Friends of the Everglades, today, fighting these and other inequities and violations of federal law in federal court.)

This leads, then, to another question: why doesn't the state of Florida mandate best management practices that are not only far cheaper but also required both by law and recommended by recent federal court rulings instigated by environmental organizations that protect taxpayer interests? Oooo, there is that word, "mandate"! The GOP hates mandates!

The reason is that farmers-- the best "environmentalists" according to county commissioners in Miami-Dade like Linda Bell and Javier Souto. -- have tied up the Republican majority state legislature in baling wire. (Don't get me wrong: you can count the number of Democrats who have stood up for taxpayer equity and assessing the true costs of pollution on the polluter, on one hand.) Since 1996 the legislature hasn't lifted a finger to enact the specific provisions of what nearly 70 percent of voters approved. If nearly 20 years delay hasn't proved the lie that industry can regulate itself better than government can to public benefit, think again. (You can't defend the Great Destroyers unless the excess mercury caused by Big Ag and running into Florida waters has clouded your thinking processes.)

This would seem an issue ripe for Tea Party involvement. It is not complicated. Failing to protect taxpayers from predatory practices of Big Sugar, the Tea Party badly undermines its own credibility.

So next time you hear county commissioners or anyone else for that matter huff and puff how environmentally friendly Big Sugar is, rub the sleep from your eyes. Thank our small scale, organic farmers: yes. But Big Sugar and its lobbyists turned the climate for environmental regulation into an empty husk, not fit for locusts. 

1 comment:

Show-Me, MO said...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Federal Sugar Subsidies

Federal Sugar Subsidy Helps Destroy Florida Everglades

Byline: Shireen I. Parsons
Every year, federal subsidies put billions

of dollars into the pockets of sugar cane

magnates. Flush with cash, they spend

millions buying politicians and blunting

reform efforts to halt the continuing

destruction of the unique environment

in the Florida Everglades.

In "The Sweet Hereafter", in the November Harper's, writer Paul Roberts documents the long-term costs of subsidizing sugar.

Three counties south of Lake Okeechobee produce more than half the nation's sugar cane. Cane fields have destroyed the natural saw-grass marsh over an area the size of Rhode Island.

Every acre is irrigated and drained with a costly series of pumps, dams, dikes and canals. Tax dollars pay for it all.

Federal sugar programs keep domestic prices at least 50 percent above world market prices. Artificially high prices encourage sugar growing in what would otherwise be economically marginal swampland.

To replace lost imports, Florida's sugar-cane acreage jumped tenfold by the mid-1960s.

The biggest victim was the Everglades. The annual breeding population of elegant wood storks dropped from 20,000 in 1960 to 1,800 today.

The endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow population dwindled from tens of thousands to 3,500. Biologists say this vanishing bird shows the declining health of the Everglades.

The key reforms are reducing phosphorus runoff from cane fields and restoring natural water flows.

But sugar cane cash still has the upper hand with politicians from both parties. Consider these facts:

In 1992, the Fanjul family, with vast holdings in Florida and the
Dominican Republic, began playing both sides of the political game. Pepe Fanjul was vice chairman of the Bush-Quayle Finance Committee. Alfy Fanjul backed Clinton and Gore and hosted a $120,000 fund-raiser.

After Clinton won, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt came up with a plan to save the Everglades very similar to one created by Alfy Fanjul. Taxpayers got to pay more than half the $700 million it would cost to filter pollutants from water flowing to the Everglades.

In 1996, sugar interests spent $25 million in an advertising campaign to successfully counter an environmental campaign run by Save Our Everglades.

In 1998, sugar interests in Florida spent $26 million on state political efforts from winning referendums to electing Republican Jeb Bush as governor.

Between 1990 and 1998, sugar interests spent $13 million on presidential and congressional races.

Today, domestic producers sell sugar at 22 cents a pound. Producers in most other nations get 8 cents. America's artificial price prop adds $1.4 billion to the shopping bills of U.S. consumers each year.

People like the Fanjuls get the best of both worlds. Owning half of all sugar lands in the Dominican Republic, they raise sugar cheaply, import it, then sell at artificially high U.S. prices.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., calls the federal sugar subsidy program "one of the most invidious, inefficient, Byzantine, special-interest, Depression-era federal programs".

Vice President Al Gore's plan to restore the Everglades over 20 years would cost taxpayers $8 billion. His program is backed by several environmental groups. But, Roberts point out, Gore's bill does nothing to regulate or curtail the vast sugar fields that created the problem in the first place. And the Fanjuls keep raising money for the Democrats.

Maybe the obstacles are just too great. Unions back sugar because they fear thousands of jobs could go overseas. Politicians back sugar because they get paid so well. And, all the while, Americans are paying nearly three times too much for sugar.