How many people know that the fee assessed to rock miners in Miami-Dade County aimed to provide seed capital for a new water treatment plant to benefit millions of people who drink water was shifted permanently to building an underground wall to prevent people and farms beyond the urban development boundary from flooding? I assure you, not many. That's what the Florida legislature did this session, thanks to your elected representatives.
There is just too much ground to cover for civic activists. The lobbyists know it. That is why one of the favored tactics of the lobbyist class is to send citizen activists on "fishing trips" or down rabbit holes. Invent really awful legislation that will never see the light of day, while making sure the less bad stuff makes it through the pork grinder.
People seem to have forgotten that federal and state environmental regulations were created in the first place through the recognition that citizens need protection from local profit impulses. In the bad old days, this tendency was expressed through dumping toxics directly into rivers and streams. As the decades passed and our knowledge grew, it turns out that modern activities and pollution are harmful in minute quantities. It doesn't take an oil drum filled with sludge, only a few parts per million or billion to wreck what people treasure.
As a result of greater understanding and science, private business launched ever more sophisticated attacks on environmental rules and regulations. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression-- a kind of slow motion dissolving of housing markets led the way-- provided all the cover lobbyists and industry needed to eliminate regulatory authority at ever level of government.
That's the backdrop for the neutering of local environmental agencies like DERM, state agencies like DEP and DCA, and now the call by arithmetically challenged county commissioners like Pepe Diaz to assemble a public "working group" to change decades of policies surrounding the urban development boundary in 90 days.
County Commissioner Jose Pepe Diaz' proposal (in Committee on March 14) is a sham, but it raises a point worth consideration.
Why aren't citizen advocates or their representatives compensated to the same degree as lobbyists like Jeffrey Bercow, representing developers, or Truly Burton, representing the South Florida builders, or other "environmental land use" lawyers, when they are called to service by government officials like Pepe Diaz?
So here is a bright proposal: levy special taxes on rock miners and developers, to be paid into an independent trust fund, allowing charitable conservation organizations to fund activists and staff at the same wage rate as Mssrs. Bercow et al. Does $750/hr sound right, to you? It does to me.
The other day in county chambers, attorney Bercow said that all developers want is "a level playing field", a kind of tongue-in-cheek complaint. I'm all for a level playing field: fund an independent trust, with granting rules allowing equal access by conservation and civic groups whose missions are to protect the Everglades and Biscayne Bay. That would bring us closer to a level playing field; providing funding for citizens who are capable, for lawyers and scientists and engineers to compete with FPL, Lennar, Atlantic Civil, DiMare or Florida Crystals.
There is a not-so-bright myth circulating that environmental groups are "rich". That they have plenty of money to throw staff at civic engagement and even lawsuits. What a crock of s#$t. I know, because I not only know these groups, I spent the better part of two decades volunteering, helping to lead, and helping to fund the same entities that Diaz and Joe Martinez and the rest of the Unreformable Majority want to drag into their "working group" instead of taking on the burden of accountability, themselves.
On the front lines, over this same period of time, we have watched the county commission allow the local environmental authority's mission to wither, staff to be demoralized beyond belief, funds raided, diverted, and lobbyists given keys to the kingdom. It's a crying shame.
The point is this (because I really don't expect rock miners and developers to give a single cent to fund their opponents): the long slow decline of civic participation and engagement is, in part, a result of the 40 Year War on the Environment. The black hats know this perfectly well. Smart. Voters, not so well and not so smart.