Wednesday, October 10, 2018

When it comes to Florida politics, Big Sugar is an equal opportunity polluter ... by gimleteye

In politics, Big Sugar is an equal opportunity polluter: it casts its net wide irrespective of party affiliation.

In this election cycle, Big Sugar put up its "Toxic Trio" on the Republican side. Gov. Rick Scott, slated to advance from the governor's mansion where he proved his worth, to the US Senate. Scott was the friendliest of governors to Big Sugar. He axed the Florida Department of Community Affairs, the state agency formed out of bipartisan consensus in a kinder 1980's moment when balancing economic growth with protection of the environment was a priority. No more. Scott also slashed the budgets of the science staff of the South Florida Water Management District and set his governing board members to harassing citizens objecting to the trashing of Florida waters. For that good work, Scott gets Sugar's support to be in the US Senate.

Big Sugar's chosen successor to be the next Florida governor was Adam Putnam until he was upended by Congressman Ron DeSantis. Putnam is from a family whose farmland was purchased by the state for FIVE TIMES its appraised value. Putnam was Big Sugar's best friend as state agriculture commissioner and went to Washington to oppose Congress' involvement is approving tough anti-pollution rules for farmland runoff into public waters. For that, Big Sugar put him on the ladder to be the state's next governor.

The third in the "Toxic Trio": Matt Caldwell. As state legislator, Caldwell headed a political committee that made sure Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah's political career would end. Judah had the guts to call out Big Sugar's pollution of waters in Lee County. In the last weeks of his 2012 campaign, Big Sugar dumped a million dollars into a PAC controlled by Caldwell. Gone. For proving his mettle on this and other anti-environmental initiatives, Caldwell is on tap to succeed Putnam as the state's next agriculture commissioner.

In the 2017 session of the state legislature, the "Toxic Trio", Scott, Putnam, and Caldwell, lined up against the initiative by then Senate President Joe Negron to fix "once and for all" the terrible trashing of Florida's waterways as a result of billions of gallons of filthy Lake Okeechobee water released to lower lake levels. Caldwell held the Big Sugar line in the State House of Representatives.

At the time, Miami state senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat, emerged to partner with Negron's call for at least 40,000 acres of additional storage treatment marshes in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Big Sugar is farmed on about 500,000 acres. More than 200 scientists signed the Now or Neverglades Declaration endorsing the plan to add marshland to soak up polluted Lake O water. Over many years and science based work, the nation's premier science agency -- the National Academies of Science -- called for the same. Florida voters in 2014 had overwhelmingly approved a major ballot referendum to raise money for this purpose.

Negron asked Rodriguez to help build Democratic support for his bill. Big Sugar blocked that, too. State Senator Jeff Clemens, from Palm Beach County, set the Democratic roadblock in the Senate. Later Clemens would complain that environmentalists failed to lobby him. Still later that year his political career would self-destruct as the result of a sex scandal. But Clemens landed on his feet: he now works for Big Sugar.

If Governor Scott had agreed to exercise the 2010 option to purchase US Sugar lands, there would be today more than 130,000 acres in public ownership. Taxpayers and voters would be 8 years ahead of solving the terrible algae bloom problem that starts with Big Sugar's legacy pollution in Lake Okeechobee, from the decades the industry used the lake as its open sewer.

If Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam had supported tough federal pollution standards, instead of the wishy washy "voluntary compliance" measures -- promoted by Rick Scott -- that allow certain Big Sugar farms to dump huge volumes of pollution into taxpayers' laps, we would far along the path to hold the polluters accountable for the costs of their pollution.

If State Rep Matt Caldwell had supported Senator Negron's original plan, Florida taxpayers wouldn't be on a fool's errand of supporting deep well injection to "solve" the pollution problem by burying all that toxic waste below our drinking water supply. We wouldn't have to twiddle our thumbs, watching our rivers turn to shit, and wait more than a decade for proof a massive $2 billion EAA reservoir, 23 feet deep, will be anything more than a breeding lake for the same red tides, algae, life-threatening bacteria and phantom viruses we suffer today.

Guess who won't get a chance for a soft landing on Big Sugar's payroll like Jeff Clemens did or Gaston Cantens, the former Miami legislator who runs the Fanjul billionaire's political operations?

Florida taxpayers. No soft landing, either, for Florida voters.

There is a lesson here. Know where your candidates stand in relation to Big Sugar BEFORE you cast your vote. Pay attention to where their money comes from. Follow the PAC money that supports their campaigns. Vote Clean Water.

(Click here for a link to the Bullsugar Candidate Questionnaire.

Click here for a link to the Bullsugar Voter Guide.)

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