Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The only remedy -- and safety -- for jobs, the economy and our waters is the ballot box: REJECT the Toxic Trio. Scott, Putnam, and Caldwell ... by gimleteye

In his OPED published by the Treasure Coast Palm Dr. Gary Goforth writes that upcoming elections are pivotal for the state's economic future; severely threatened by water pollution. He is correct. 100 percent.

Gov. Rick Scott, running against incumbent Bill Nelson for the US Senate, blames the federal government for failing to protect Florida's water. The facts are indisputable: Scott and his designated successor, Adam Putnam, have relentlessly ATTACKED federal efforts to clean up Florida's waters. The reason is simple.

Their major campaign benefactors are polluters. Big Sugar. It is no mystery why Big Sugar uses politicians like Scott, Putnam, and Matt Caldwell, the state legislator trying to take over Putnam's job as ag commissioner: they profit when regulatory hurdles are weakened, eroded, diminished, and rendered ineffectual.

They mint billions. Taxpayers pay the price.

Somehow, Florida voters were conned over years and decades that without jobs we "could not afford" environmental regulations that strictly protected our waters and that industries were the better arbiters of what was in the public interest.

This trend started in the 1980's Reagan era with the Wise Use Movement, uniting timber, mining, and fossil fuel extraction industries who linked up with free market/ libertarians to undermine the purpose of environmental rules developed (in a Republican administration) a decade earlier. At the time, Big Sugar billionaires like the Fanjuls and US Sugar Corporation shareholders saw the wisdom joining their interests to a movement that began in the fight for access and rights to exploit for their profit publicly owned lands in the American west.

The trend continued through the 2000's and the rise of the Tea Party, in Florida and elsewhere, whose leaders have championed the anti-environmental regulatory agendas of polluters.

The net result is where we are today: leaders like Gov. Rick Scott scrambling to paper over terrible legislative errors with campaign ads that misdirect voters. It is NOT the federal government's fault that Florida has abdicated its responsibility to effectively protect our waters. Waters we need for our economy. Waters we need for our lives.

The Lake Okeechobee disaster is engulfing Florida. It is the result of policies actively pursued by elected officials who have taken sugar campaign money and badly cheated the public.

The only remedy -- and safety -- for jobs, the economy, and our waters is the ballot box. This November, VOTE!

State officials must strengthen environmental policies to solve algae crisis | Guest column
Gary Goforth Published 6:00 a.m. ET Aug. 22, 2018
Treasure Coast Palm

Through recent changes in environmental policies, the state of Florida has failed to protect the health of its citizens, the environment and regional economies from ongoing toxic algae crises.

As we vote this fall, it is critical we elect leaders willing to restore strong environmental policies.

The source of the toxic blue-green algae currently damaging estuarine ecosystems, regional economies and human health is a very polluted Lake Okeechobee. Members of every branch of Florida government, state agencies and others have known about the source of this pollution for more than 45 years: excessive levels of nutrient loads in stormwater from the surrounding watershed.

In 2001, the state developed a total maximum daily load of phosphorus for the lake’s watershed, established specifically to reduce the frequency of algal blooms in the lake. State legislation then established a January 2015 deadline for achieving compliance.

Hundreds of millions in public funds have been spent on dairy buyouts, agricultural best management practices, regional water-quality treatment projects and other efforts. However, the state continues to allow landowners to discharge high levels of nutrients with little to no enforcement, and the pollution of Lake Okeechobee and the estuaries continues.

The water quality of the lake is at an all-time crisis level and human health, the environment and the regional economy are suffering as polluted lake water is discharged to the estuaries.

In 2017, phosphorus loading to the lake was more than five times the total-maximum-daily-load target. The result: an algae bloom covered 90 percent of the lake this summer.

Pointing fingers at the federal government is misguided, for it is the state, not the federal government, which has the primary obligation to protect water quality. Recent policy changes in Tallahassee have exacerbated the effects of pollution of the lake and in the estuaries. These policies need to be reversed in order to control the toxic algae crises.

Our choices in the upcoming elections will be pivotal.

Examples of damaging policies that should be reversed by those elected include:

1. Significant environmental protections were dismantled in the state’s 2016 omnibus water bill. For example, the January 2015 deadline to clean up water entering the lake was deleted and replaced with an ambiguous planning process. Also, a quantitative regulatory program for limiting discharges was replaced with a planning process with no enforcement provisions to hold landowners accountable for the pollution leaving their land.

2. State agencies charged with protection of water quality have had their staffs and budgets slashed in response to mandates from Tallahassee. The state Department of Environmental Protection lost more than 1,000 jobs, and the number of new enforcement cases has plummeted by 86 percent since 2010.

3. The state’s annual “progress report” on pollution of the lake underestimates pollution loads and needs to be improved. For the last two years, DEP published reports indicating phosphorus loading to the lake has decreased, yet these claims conflict with the measured loads to the lake.

4. The legislative and executive branches have failed to implement the will of the people as expressed in the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative (“Amendment 1”). Designated funds need to be appropriated to implement storage and treatment projects around the lake.

5. The state encourages application of nutrient-rich human wastewater residuals (Class AA biosolids). These applications have been estimated at up to 1,000 tons of phosphorus into the Lake Okeechobee watershed every year. Applying biosolids in excess of plant requirements must cease.

Accelerating the state and federal projects to send more lake water south will certainly provide some long-term relief to the algae crises. However, those projects will not stop the discharge of polluted lake water to the estuaries. As long as the state fails to carry out its duty to control the pollution of Lake Okeechobee, recurring algae crises will be the norm.

By restoring strong environmental policies for the state, those we elect in November will be our best hope in resolving the toxic algae crises.

Dr. Gary Goforth is a Stuart-based environmental engineer with more than three decades of experience in water resource management in Florida. He serves on the board of directors of the Florida Oceanographic Society.

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