Monday, March 11, 2013

Big Sugar: The Great Corrupter ... by gimleteye

Big Sugar poisons people, politics, and the Everglades. The influence on public health of sugar is undisputed. Its control of massive corporate welfare accruing to a few of the wealthiest farmers in America is also undisputed. Its role in destroying the Everglades is undisputed.

The latest attack on public protections is taking place now in the Florida legislature, where a new sugar offensive is meant to insulate the profits responsible for causing so much destruction.

Miami ex-politician Gaston Cantens (check our archives on Cantens) is the latest megaphone for the billionaire Fanjuls-- of Florida Crystals and Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic --, who live both in Coral Gables and Palm Beach and social royalty in the pages like Women's Wear Daily despite their undisputed role as polluters. The alleged scandal against US Senator Bob Menendez, instigated by the radical right, features Casa de Campo; the playground used to entertain members of Congress and further sugar the political process.

The Palm Beach Post -- not the Miami Herald -- is on the case.  Randy Schultz' Sunday OPED hits the nail on the head.

Posted: 12:01 a.m. Sunday, March 10, 2013
Schultz commentary: Big Sugar mounts new attack on the Everglades

By Randy Schultz
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Florida’s sugar growers say they really, really, really want to save what’s left of the Everglades. They mean it right up until the time comes to really, really, really save what’s left of the Everglades.

Last week, the sugar industry staged a classic Tallahassee ambush.
This year, the Legislature must write a bill to implement the Everglades restoration deal Gov. Rick Scott made last April with the Obama administration. The Senate version is what environmental groups were expecting. It is five pages long. It adheres to the goal of cleaning farm runoff enough that it no longer harms the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Palm Beach County and Everglades National Park. It keeps financial pressure on sugar farmers, whose runoff fouled the “River of Grass” for decades until the Legislature passed the Everglades Forever Act in 1994.

As the session opened Tuesday, however, word of the ambush began to get out. The sugar growers were working their own bill in the House. Their bill is 16 pages long. Their bill could free them from higher costs associated with the last, toughest phase of the cleanup. Their bill could allow the sugar industry to decide in 13 years that it has cleaned up the Everglades — even if the Everglades isn’t clean enough for healthy wildlife and plant life — and that if the public wants a cleaner Everglades, the public can pay for it.

In fact, the public is helping to pay for Everglades cleanup. The money comes from an assessment on the South Florida Water Management District tax bill, and it amounts to about $30 for a house valued at $300,000. The growers pay through a separate tax on their land. They also must clean water before it leaves their land, using what are called Best Management Practices. The district then monitors the level of pollution in water leaving the farms.

As the growers point out, runoff is much cleaner. But the runoff isn’t clean enough, and it’s a good bet that getting the water clean enough would require more from the growers than they want to pay. The House bill seeks to give the growers a way around meeting that final standard and avoiding extra costs that might arise under the “Polluter Pays” constitutional amendment voters approved in 1996.

On Thursday, the bill had a hearing before the House State Affairs Committee. The Everglades is not just a World Heritage site. It’s key to South Florida’s water supply. Yet the bill passed 17-0. What bipartisan capitulation. While it was co-opting politicians, the sugar industry was trashing environmental groups — Audubon of Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation — massed to oppose the bill.
Gaston Cantens is a vice-president of West Palm Beach-based Florida Crystals, the largest grower. He accused the environmental groups of “information pollution” and of “knowingly spreading garbage.” Such opposition was designed to “tarnish the successful restoration partnership between Everglades Agricultural Area farmers and the state.” Right. A “partnership” forced on the farmers.

Robert Coker, a vice-president of U.S. Sugar, was even funnier: “While Audubon is busy filing lawsuits and spreading lies, farmers are on the ground every day producing food for the nation while also working to improve water quality in the Everglades. With the nation facing snowstorms sweeping across the Northeast, they depend on EAA farmers to produce their winter harvests.” Right. When residents of Connecticut were under three feet of snow last month, they survived on thoughts of sugar.

A vice president of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative chimed in by referring to “environmental activists.” Yikes. Not activists! Cue the scary music.

We should have known 10 years ago that this was coming. The Everglades Forever Act set a deadline of 2006 to achieve that last, tough, Phase 2 anti-pollution standard. In 2003, the sugar industry got the Legislature and then-Gov. Jeb Bush to push that deadline back 10 years. The governor’s plan pushes the deadline to 2026, in part because he won’t raise taxes enough to clean the water sooner.

The growers’ argument in 2003 was this: Hey, everyone knows that we can’t meet the standard, so why pretend? It was outrageous, but it worked. The delay passed the Senate 38-0 and the House 98-16. Among those House members voting yes was Gaston Cantens. Florida Crystals took notice.

In 2003, the South Florida Water Management District was on board with the anti-Everglades bill. This time, at least, the district’s position is that the Senate bill is better. District officials say they will work with the House. Gov. Scott said he prefers the Senate bill. But don’t underestimate the power of the ambush. The House State Affairs Committee chairman is a speaker-to-be.

Ten years ago, sugar growers got around the Everglades deadline. This year, they want to get around paying for it. Despite their claims to the contrary, they really, really, really don’t care about saving what’s left of the Everglades.

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