Thursday, June 15, 2017

Conclusion: The Agony of Florida, Its Rivers, Bays, Estuaries and Politics ... by gimleteye

Donald Trump won the White House with talking points that stirred a devoted base. One of them: "The system is rigged." In so far as Big Sugar and the state of Florida are concerned, Trump is right. The system is rigged. But what does one do with that information?

First and foremost, understand: Big Sugar has an Achilles Heel. Big Sugar's singular vulnerability is that its reliable voters don't extend beyond a few communities huddled around the Everglades Agricultural Area. That's why Big Sugar is laser-focused on the internal clock spring of politics, but not so helping anyone understand how to connect the dots. If fact, Big Sugar is vigilant in this respect.

Florida's sugar producers are astute in doling out political money -- to both Democrats and Republicans -- through affiliations for example; allying with and funding hand-in-hand with other cartel enterprises in Florida, like the state's electric utilities, and unrelated business councils like Associated Industries of Florida. In a perfect democracy Big Sugar would only be a special interest vying on a level playing field with the public good.

Remember the public good? The ideal that a representational democracy enlightened by and for the people could arbitrate the fair and equitable relation of the branches of government to special interests? The public good was up-ended by Republicans in the late 1908's, calling for the end to the welfare state, calling on voters to embrace personal responsibility, moral values, and derided the cultural relativism of liberals.

Thirty years later, Republicans claim that government shouldn't be in the business of picking winners and losers. That's the entire theme of President Trump's determination to erase subsidies for alternative energy like solar.

Yet the sugar program in the Farm Bill remains untouchable and inviolate, conferring the vast profits that amass great wealth for the shareholders -- a form of corporate welfare that Republicans nevertheless embrace.

The appropriate response would be for voters -- both Republican and Democrat -- to make Big Sugar and water policy reform a litmus test at the ballot box: do you support termination of the sugar program in the Farm Bill, or not? Yes or no. Do you support a new law to provide for land acquisition in the EAA, or not? Yes or no.

Although it is hard to see the way through, because the right of corporations to give unlimited campaign contribution is hardened in a missile silo, there is always hope that Floridians will awake, someday, rubbing the sleep from their eyes like Rip Van Winkle.

When they do, they will see that there are civic groups like, like the Everglades Trust, the Southwest Florida Clean Water activists and Captains for Clean Water willing to make the arguments and draw the connection between the state's water policy and the economy and the environment; in snapshots that put Big Sugar in its appropriate context: a polluting industry that is harming democracy, harming people and harming the natural resources that Floridians love. No one visits Florida for the sugar cane.

On the signing of the new Everglades law by Gov. Rick Scott, Senator Negron said, "After 20 years of talking, southern storage is finally becoming a reality. We are well on our way to putting the harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the pages of history, instead of the front pages of daily newspapers."

Environmentalists and citizens had a different idea about southern storage than the one that emerged as a result of Senator Negron's hard work in the recent legislative session. Their dream was to create enough shallow water storage to absorb the impact of flooding from Lake Okeechobee. Not a deep reservoir that shifts all the risk to taxpayers.

Instead, the new law frames a dictate from Big Sugar: you will do things our way or not at all.

You will not use eminent domain to pursue a shallow water flow-way, you will only have conversations with Big Sugar if Big Sugar willingly wants to, you will fork over public dollars to do the engineering and science so we can sell rainwater on our private property to the public, and you will require waiting a decade before revisiting this issue.

But Big Sugar does not dictate how you vote.

In 2008, then Gov. Charlie Crist had done the unthinkable: negotiated an option to buy U.S. Sugar Corporation lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area. To be sure, not all the lands were optimally located for a southern flow-way, but if 187,000 acres had been purchased with Amendment 1 dollars -- secured by a committed electorate in 2014 -- Florida would have been well on its way to increasing leverage on the big landowners inside the prospective flow-way: namely, Florida Crystals and the King Ranch, -- the largest landowner in Texas that knows a thing or two about ownership of water as a private right.

But Florida Crystals and the King Ranch had other ideas, and by the time the dust had settled on the 2010 election -- with Gov. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio securing the governor's mansion and U.S. Senate seat respectively -- even U.S. Sugar had reason to pull out of the deal.

Gov. Rick Scott was 100 percent committed to deny the opportunity to create additional storage out of sugar lands. Whether or not he understood the intricacies of Big Sugar's strategic plays to control Florida's water future, Scott was all for letting private industry have the run of the field. Navigating the arbitrage at the edge of federal and state health care reimbursement laws made him rich.

The die-off of the U.S. Sugar option was encouraged by Gov. Scott's political appointees of the South Florida Water Management District. Despite pleas from the public and environmentalists, they allowed the provision for a partial purchase to expire in 2015. Too bad. Then the rains began to fall.

As polluted water from Lake Okeechobee cascaded across incoming state senate president Joe Negron's district, the idea of purchasing an additional 60,000 acres of Big Sugar lands gained traction, but only long enough for the November presidential election to come and go -- helping to deliver to the White House a part-time Floridian well-known to the Palm Beach sugar barons as an arriviste. Big Sugar invested heavily in both Jeb Bush -- who had already proven his facility as governor ink dividing and conquering Florida's environmental and Everglades communities -- , but really supported Marco Rubio.

During the presidential primary campaign, Rubio -- who faced angry Republicans in flooded Republican districts -- defended Big Sugar's prerogatives through the Farm Bill as "a matter of national security". This -- for a commodity, sugar -- that imposes trillion dollar a year costs on the American health care system as a consequence of over-consumption. Primarily in poor communities that can least afford the cover massive treatment costs.

Conservatives who ardently believe that government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers might start asking the question in 2018 of candidates: why is government picking winners like Big Sugar?

Big Sugar supports the following front-runners. For GOP candidate for governor of Florida, the current Agriculture Secretary, Adam Putnam. For Agriculture Secretary, state representative Matt Caldwell, Big Sugar’s chief ally in people's house. For U.S. Senate, Rick Scott who will take on the senior Senator from Florida, Bill Nelson.

What about the Democrats? As Joe Negron pointed out during the legislative session, the Democrats in the state legislature -- like Senate minority leader Oscar Braynon -- proved to be some of the most intractable obstacles to delivering a clean bill including a 60,000 acre reservoir. Big Sugar knows how to ring the Democrats' bell. So long as the state’s top Democrats refuse to delineate the case against Big Sugar, the only place that environmentalists will can take solace in, according to Carl Hiaasen — "a 14,460-acre reservoir is better than no reservoir.” If a 14,460 acre reservoir can work, cooking in the hot Florida sun.

Voters should understand, too, how science is the collateral victim of Big Sugar. In a press report after Gov. Scott signed the new Everglades reservoir bill into law, Gaston Cantens, vice president of Florida Crystals, said "the initial proposal could have threatened existing Everglades restoration plans, but this most recent version uses science-based research to continue the construction of CERP projects." Cantens, a former state legislator from Miami-Dade County, is twisting the conclusion of the nation's top scientists -- in the National Academy of Science. More land to store and cleanse stormwater runoff from sugar farms and other sources of pollution.

The acquisition of additional lands is critical to solving Florida’s water crisis. In 2017 progress towards that end was diverted just like an irrigation in a ditch dug in the middle of the Everglades Agricultural Area.

In December (2016), I wrote that I didn't know "... how the Negron initiative is going to work out, except to cite from history; that initiatives to protect Florida's natural resources are of story-teller / elected officials, one after another, making promises then claiming victory with half-measures costing billions. Their dual purpose: placate restless voters and taxpayers while keeping the status quo intact. That, in a nutshell, is the history of Everglades restoration.”

Floridians need to vote with their hearts and, also, with their contributions. Make Big Sugar a litmus test. Insist that “kicking the can down the road” does not constitute progress no matter how many billions are spent.

We can move on, but -- eventually -- we are going to have to move back. Big Sugar controls Florida but it does not control the rain. Whether by drought or by flood, the day will come when a majority of voters call on Big Sugar to throw down its spears. And Big Sugar will have to do it because too many voters will have arisen from their slumber.

Also Read: part 2

Read: "Part One: The Agony of Florida, Its Rivers, Bays, Estuaries, And Politics"

Selected references:
Read more here:
Help for the Everglades is on the way — maybe, CARL HIAASEN, May 5, 2017


Unknown said...

Who can I credit for the image of the many dead fish with the shadow. I want to use it for an educational video.
Dr. Tom Poulson
Emerritus Professor
Ecollogy and Evolution
University of Illinois at Chicago

Anonymous said...

"And Big Sugar will have to do it because too many voters will have arisen from their slumber."

OR... Big Sugar won't have to do anything, because most voters, Florida's tourists, and even corporations will have thrown in the towel....and left town.

Anonymous said...

Those in Florida who have trouble raising the funds they need often accept money from Big Sugar and/or FPL, at a price, of course. This problem has been the Achilles Heal of Florida's environmental movement. Here I refer to socially responsible politicians like Dwight Bullard who took money from Big Sugar, and nonprofits like Florida Audubon who let themselves be co-opted by FPL's money. (Of course immoral funding monsters like Rick Scott and Frank Artiles do the same). What do we do to protect the environment? Do we contribute our own small checks to otherwise good politicians and nonprofits in an attempt to free them from co-option or do we condemn them and go with other politicians and groups who resist the candy? I've done the latter, but I put the question out there for consideration.