Monday, November 26, 2018

Toxic waters linked to cancer and Alzheimer's dusted by Big Sugar in Florida mid-term elections ... by Alan Farago

On Twitter, former Reagan official Bruce Bartlett summed up the GOP response to climate change. He wrote: "There is no conceivable response to climate change that doesn't involve harm to the US economy. Therefore, we will do nothing until we all die."

That is, in fact, the GOP prescription that entraps taxpayers, citizens and voters. It is codified through hundreds of millions of political campaign contributions -- funded lies -- by fossil fuel producers and supply chains, their dark money pools, and stand-in trade associations like the US Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers. "We will do nothing until we all die."

The same could be said of the microcosm that is sending Florida outstanding waters into a death spiral of toxic algae blooms and health hazards linked to cancer and Alzheimer's: the immobile, intractable profit imperatives of Big Sugar. In this case, we will do nothing until every last inch of Florida's waters are stripped of life to benefit the biggest recipients of corporate welfare in the US farm policy: Florida's few sugarcane billionaires. Sugar's defenders include the Associated Industries, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the state's big electric utilities.

I can hear the howls of protest from Big Sugar shills, but it is a sad fact: not a single policy devised through political compromises at the time -- not the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, not Mod Waters, not the Tamiami Trail bridges, not underground injection wells, not Central Everglades planning, and certainly NOT the planned Everglades reservoir -- changes this equation: that sugar gets the water it wants, when it wants the water and wherever it wants it at whatever time of year and the rest of us get its toxic waste.

The one thing that sugar refuses to do: sell enough land for storage and treatment marshes -- even at taxpayer expense! -- to clean up its fouled waters and the legacy pollution it caused by using Lake Okeechobee as its cesspool. Big Sugar's attitude: "we will do nothing until we all die."

Just like the fossil fuel industries, Big Sugar buttresses its claims by hiring the best lawyers, consultants, engineers, scientists, and politicians that money can buy. Big Tobacco figured it out, until a cascade of multi-billion dollar judgments forced the industry to pay for the cancer it caused.

Will Big Sugar ever be held similarly accountable? Not by Republicans, for whom prohibiting "external costs" of pollution should be a core conservative principle. Not by Republicans, for whom corporate welfare embedded in the Farm Bill they support is a damning indictment. (Senator Marco Rubio, in the 2016 presidential primary, called support of the sugar subsidy program a matter of "national security". Excess sugar consumption, of course, being the leading cost component in $1T annual health care emergencies in the United States.)

Environmentalists don't like to talk about these matters in such frank terms. Instead, they soldier on, through the art of the possible. In 2016 they signed off on a disastrous piece of legislation that began as an effort by then Senate President Joe Negron, a Republican, to fix the horrendous pollution of the state's east coast rivers and bays during the extreme rainfall winter of 2015/2016. Big Sugar turned his bill into their Trojan Horse, by inserting a provision into the law -- passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott -- that prohibits eminent domain in the Everglades Agricultural Area. What they did was like the fossil fuel industry saying: we will agree to fix climate change so long as it does not involve impacting the consumer preference for gas, oil and coal.

At the time, Negron went to his Democratic colleagues, looking for help. He found only one in the state senate, Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Harvard educated attorney from Miami. Big Sugar has taken great pains to lock up Florida Democrats, shunting just enough money to state legislators and their political committees to make them appear competitive with the GOP. And if scandal should strike, as it did to former state senator Jeff Clemens -- the Democrat who blocked efforts to add storage and treatment lands to the EAA Reservoir legislative package -- there is always a cozy job waiting at the other end, as it has for Clemens with Florida Crystals, the billion dollar empire of the Fanjul family that maintains US Senator Marco Rubio, its chief ally in Congress.

Big Sugar sees the world just like Bruce Bartlett observed of Republicans and climate change: there is no conceivable response to fixing Florida's toxic water crises that does not involve harming its profits. "We will do nothing until we all die."

In Florida's case, doing nothing still involves the expenditure or waste of tens of billions of dollars. But don't count on the Fanjuls or descendants of Charles Stuart Mott and principal shareholders of US Sugar Corporation to do nothing. They are well along in their plans for power plants, inland ports, and new cities and suburbs in former Everglades wetlands. "An unstoppable force!" is how Bush campaign chairman and former developer Al Hoffman crowed to the Washington Post more than 15 years ago.

Unstoppable, because both Republicans and Democrats agree to do nothing or "something" so long as the money flows and the appearance of progress quells public discontent.

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