Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Gimleteye: Heaven forbid Florida ...

All things considered, from the Chamber of Commerce perspective it has been a pretty good year for South Florida. The real estate market bounced back thanks to buyers from booming parts of South America. From another point of view, Florida is a backed-up cesspool.

Over the weekend, Carl Hiaasen unleashed his sanitized invective against the use of Lake Okeechobee, by the state at the prodding of Big Sugar, as a toilet flushing through the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River. A mayor of one small community called me last week, apoplectic at the destruction the runoff is causing. Isn't there someone to sue, he wanted to know.

Let me tell you, in an unsanitized version, how that works out.

I'm the board president of Friends of the Everglades. (You can make your contribution here.) Friends won an important federal court victory in 2008, when a federal judge supported the Friends' and Miccosukee Tribe holding that EPA violated the Clean Water Act when it allowed Jeb! Bush et al. to reconfigure the measurement metrics of pollution in the Everglades. The result of change the measurement standards for phosphorous pollution of the Glades was to blow to smithereens the federal agreement with the state, from 1993, that was itself the result of years of litigation. So what was achieved?

While Friends, founded by Marjory Stoneman Douglas in 1969, was the irritant resulting in nearly $1 billion of promised projects, the question seems already: what level of government will keep its promise to clean up the Everglades to standards the scientists believe will protect and restore the faded River of Grass?

Of course, past behavior is a predictor of future results. Want proof?

Yesterday, Biscayne Waterkeeper filed a 60 notice of intent to sue under the Clean Water Act, for the massive deficits in the Miami-Dade wastewater system serving 2 million residents and meant to protect the waters of Florida's most populous and largest county. In an earlier post we cited the ugly mess in sewer plants operated by the County, observed by US EPA inspectors. Twenty years ago, we were in the same bowl of shit.

In 1994, Friends of the Everglades filed a similar 60 day letter, pushing EPA to sue Miami-Dade County and resulting in a Consent Order. Yesterday, Miami attorney Paul Schwiep who is also lead counsel for Friends in Everglades litigation, wrote on behalf of Biscayne Waterkeeper: "Miami-Dade County agreed to a First Partial Consent Decree, which was entered as an Order of the Southern District Court of Florida, in Case No. 93-1109-CIV-Moreno, on January 13, 1994. In Paragraph 8 of that Order, Miami-Dade County specifically agreed to "take all steps necessary to minimize further unpermitted discharges of untreated wastewater containing raw sewage to local surface waters..." Miami-Dade County has failed to comply with this lawful Order of the federal court in that it has not taken all steps necessary to minimize further unpermitted discharges of raw sewage to local surface waters. If it had, then the (violations), as described above, would not have occurred and would be occurring now." (my emphasis)

EOM described the shit storm a month ago. You may want to review it, again.

So there is phosphorous pollution of the Everglades. Pollution of Lake Okeechobee and the estuaries. There is sewage flowing and breaks happening regularly in Miami-Dade and other coastal counties. And Eye on Miami has also tracked the relentless spread of toxic mercury into the Everglades, unabated by government, that now hosts some of the hottest, hot spots in the nation. What else do you need to know?

All our shit goes somewhere. All our effluent goes somewhere. I have spent twenty five years as an environmental activist struggling to find funding and energy to use federal laws (because state law is so abysmally compromised by special interests) to effect some sort of leverage against the tidal wave of shit and pollution all pushed by the same lie and its corollary: growth pays its own way and environmental protection is impossible without strong economic growth.

Jeb! Bush was the foremost exponent of this ethos. It was his mantra, along with "less process, more protection". Think Eric Fresen, David Rivera, Marco Rubio. Think about those "whack-a-do, right-wing crazies" conspiring to suppress the vote (of African Americans in the case of former Florida party chairman, Jim Greer's claim in a civil lawsuit.) Those are just a few of better known legislators whose inaction on pollution allowed the state to slip further and further into the muck.

It is not an excuse to say there are too many people. We know what needs to be done to stop pollution. Assess the true and complete costs of pollution at their source, where the pollution is created. The law says that this is the standard for cities stormwater and sewerage as it is for the primary polluter of the Everglades, Big Sugar. The polluter pays. In the case of the Everglades, it is in the Florida Constitution but never put into practice by state legislators. Surprised?

Neither Democrats nor Republicans have had the guts to stand up to polluters. In Florida, however, the GOP dominates and so the assessment of responsibility is clear. Moreover, the GOP makes no pretense to hide its antipathy to environmental regulation. To the contrary, it exalts bogeymen like clean water.

The GOP approach to solving pollution is to leave the matter of regulation and enforcement to the polluters -- some of whom, like the Koch Brothers -- are involved in producing the base materials of our consumer culture and others -- like the Florida's billionaire Fanjuls -- just the sugar. The GOP approach to regulating pollution is to re-write the rules so they cannot possibly be effective, undermine the mission of regulatory agencies from pressure both outside and from within.

It will be more than a decade before we know if the promises made by Republican Governor Rick Scott were kept. Meanwhile, the implacable sugar industry never stops sowing the seeds of discontent; ensuring that career bureaucrats in water management agencies will always be looking over their shoulder as a first order of priority.

For Miami-Dade County elected officials, the game has always been about postponing the costs of growth so that the next generation of home buyers will be left holding the bag. For Big Sugar in the Everglades, it is all about keeping the profits flowing more reliably than rainfall until the last inch of soil -- made of thousands of years of accumulated muck, plentiful and many feet deep -- is exhausted to the cap rock limestone that covers all of South Florida. When the industry is done using up the soil, then the public can have what they own for whatever imagined purpose supercedes their own profit.

The image of a state floating in a sea of pollution will never be the topic of a Chamber of Commerce campaign. The roads in Miami are good. The lights and A/C work. You can't beat Florida in December, even if you can't swim or fish in the water.

Is this what citizens are fated to do: every ten or twenty years file and win a federal lawsuit that goes nowhere, because elected officials thumb their noses at the judiciary? If you are an individual, Heaven forbid you are ever before a federal court. If government is the violator of its own laws, Heaven forbid you are federal judge.


Anonymous said...

It's a shameful situation. You would think in a tourism state public officials would take pride in assuring we have clean and pristine swimming and fishing waterways. It's as much our heritage as architectural landmarks and archeological sites that are protected and revered in other countries, even poor countries that recognize the value of their treasures.

Anonymous said...

Again, where is the tourism bureau, the Beacon Council, Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce? Can't have that world class signature city of the future with sewage flowing in the streets and water.

Anonymous said...

We citizens won't be around in 20-30 years to sue again. Didn't you hear? Miami is going down, into the sea. Let's just clean up our mess before we go.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this article. It is almost enough to make one throw in the towel. I think we all have to keep some pressure up (thank you Baykeeper!) Ultimately the business community will wake up to the awful consequences of all of this and somehow take control away from Big Sugar, etc.

Anonymous said...

The sewage problems can either be resolved responsibly or disastrously. So far, Miami is choosing Door #2.

Anonymous said...

The sewage problem can either be addressed responsibly or disastrously. Right now, Miami-Dade's choosing door number 2.

Anonymous said...

Terry Murphy, Natacha Seijas.

Anonymous said...

I'm in! I've been saying this stuff for years. I just became a member of Biscayne Waterkeeper and made my first - of many donations.

Anonymous said...

On October 8th or 9th the following appeared when I googled Peter Picknelly and Demetrios Panteleakis:

1 day ago – Maybe we need our own town square stockades to put them in side by ... real estate group, run by Peter Picknelly and Demetrios Panteleakis.Can someone please amplify this quote. Is the writer speaking of Picknelly and Panteleakis when speaking of "putting them in stockades." Please develop this if anyone knows why that is implied. Important for research program on-going on possible fraud.