Saturday, June 11, 2016

Sick and tired of "loss": it is time for leaders to decolonize and de-couple Florida from Big Sugar ... by gimleteye

Florida taxpayers are treading water in a toxic stew. It is a fact. Weather extremes are causing Lake Okeechobee to regurgitate onto downstream taxpayers and voters.

In fact, the water management system in Florida that Big Sugar controls -- using levers of campaign finance that keep its chosen politicians in office, in Tallahassee and in Washington, DC -- works perfectly well, if perfectly is measured by what is required to keep the Everglades Agricultural Area "dry" when everywhere else around it is flooded with pollution.

Taxpayers on Florida's coasts, rivers and estuaries are now being coated with toxic algae blooms and green slime. Some of those blooms are linked to brain disease in humans.

If members of the Florida legislature spent just one week scooping green algae off the shoreline where the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers catch scummy, dirty water puking from the gates of Lake Okeechobee hell, this problem would be solved lickety-split.

Instead, Florida taxpayers are being treated to another in the endless round of public relations campaigns by Big Sugar and its mouthpieces. Just like Groundhog Day. We've seen this bullsugar before.

We saw it in the 1990's when Big Sugar fought voter referendums that would have conclusively forced the industry to pay for its pollution of the Everglades. Big Sugar squealed like a stuck pig. We heard it in the 2000's when Big Sugar lobbied the legislature to drastically lower pollution standards it had agreed to, only a few years earlier. We heard it in 2010 when Big Sugar pulled the rug out from the deal it had agreed to, only a few years earlier, to put US Sugar Corporation lands into public ownership.

This is Big Sugar's strategy: make a deal, claim victory, undermine the deal, ratchet back protections and agreements until environmentalists sue, delay in court, kick the can down the road, appeal until another deal has to be made, claim victory again, undermine the deal, ratchet back protections until environmentalists sue again, all the while clawing every last cent that can be made out of former Everglades muck. Do it again and again and again with profits guaranteed by corporate welfare embedded in the Farm Bill.

That is the strategy. Get the facts from Florida Bay, from mercury content in the Everglades, from the lifeless St. Lucie, Indian River Lagoon, and Caloosahatchee. The facts are disgusting.

How much longer are Florida voters and taxpayers going to be hostage to "loss"? Just the other day, the Treasure Coast newspaper editorial board called for "a commitment to bold change." Voters, here is what bold change looks like: it is time to judge candidates for public office by a simple litmus test.

Decolonize and de-couple our taxes, our economy, and our environment from Big Sugar: yes or no.

Editorial: Effort to halt Lake O discharges requires a commitment to bold change
By Editorial Board
Yesterday 12:49 p.m.

The news last week was good. But it’s hardly time to celebrate.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced algae samples taken from two sites along the St. Lucie River contained no toxins. But that's subject to change. Our local waterways remain fouled with green slime; our ecological disaster continues unabated.

On May 19, following a meeting with U.S. Sugar executives who said they would "absolutely" meet with local leaders and environmentalists to identify a way to permanently stop discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie River, the Treasure Coast Newspapers Editorial Board called for what might be termed a discharge "summit."

"We must seize the moment," the editorial board wrote.

State Sen. Joe Negron appears to have had a similar thought: Less than a week later, Negron announced he was working on a plan to reduce the discharges. He said he'd spoken with scientists, environmentalists and the agriculture industry, and hopes to decide on a game plan by early fall.

We're heartened to see Negron taking what appear to be concrete steps to address the crisis.

And there may be no need for a separate "summit" beyond what he's doing; there's little point in duplicating efforts.

Nonetheless, as Negron develops his plan, there are numerous factors to bear in mind.

We had suggested that the University of Florida Water Institute be involved in the quest for a solution. Acting institute director Thomas K. Frazer said he would "certainly be willing to explore" that possibility. And we think it's vital the institute be involved in the search for solutions, as the institute is intimately familiar with the issue.

It completed a Florida Senate-commissioned report in 2015 that identified the need for "enormous increases in storage and treatment of water both north and south of the lake."

Negron acknowledges the need for more water storage.

"We now have a dedicated funding source to pay for a solution (Amendment 1), which will require additional storage," Negron said in an email interview. And he said he's spoken with landowners "who may be willing to work with us to obtain additional capacity."

Does that include the sugar industry? Negron didn't say, but certainly the industry must have a seat at the table and be part of these discussions — so long as industry representatives are indeed willing to engage constructively with not only lawmakers, but environmentalists and independent scientists like those at the Water Institute.

Most importantly, this can't be a public relations whitewash. The condition of our waterways requires a commitment to bold change — on the part of all involved.

It's worth recalling that we've been here before.

Three years ago — during "The Lost Summer of 2013" — the Senate Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin met in Stuart. Negron and other legislators sought short- and medium-term solutions to the discharges which then, as now, wreaked havoc.

Subsequently, discharges were reduced — though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it was weather-driven.

Now here we are, back at square one. If this is to be another "lost summer," it must be our last.

That's ambitious, but necessary. We are confident Negron grasps the urgency of the situation, and we hope everyone else who must be part of any solution understands it may require compromise, even sacrifice.

This isn't going to be easy. But the alternative is the loss of yet more summers — and so much more.





Why do we want to pay EAA industrial agriculturalists to keep their own polluted swill waters on their own property, which they are required by law to do already?

Because we are stupid and have bottomless pockets?

Anonymous said...

It's good that the University of Florida will be involved. They recognized the need for water storage and treatment north of Lake Okeechobee. I believe U.S. Sugar has already stated their willingness to find ways to stop the discharges.

marcd1 said...

Water treatment and storage is definitely needed north of Lake Okeechobee. And there are 120,000 of publicly-owned land south of the lake that can be used for treatment and storage.