Friday, January 11, 2013

Miami Dade County Commissioners Capitulate To FPL Nuclear ... by gimleteye

At the end of a long hearing -- filled with polite earnest testimony, mostly opposing the surrender of local authority to new $30 billion nuclear reactors by FPL -- the county commissioners did what they do best: demonstrate that when it comes to complicated decisions involving the long-term interest of our communities, electricity, water and millions of visitors, their default position is to surrender to state and federal authority.

We speculated why the earlier, December 14 public hearing on FPL's planned nuclear reactors was suspended mid-course, leaving environmentalists fuming when the commission "lost its quorum". It is hardly the first time that disrespect to citizens was the order from the dais. EOM surmised, at the time, that county staff wanted another chance to "pressure" FPL after years of so-called discussions. It is important to note, that FPL has thwarted precise disclosure and details of its plans at every level of regulatory review for two new nuclear reactors. It is an intricate form of legal gamesmanship, taking advantage of processes that work at cross-purposes to the benefit of legal applicants. To be sure it is expensive, but early cost recovery for utilities (a de facto subsidy approved as policy by the Florida legislature) makes it very lucrative for teams of lawyers and consultants, as well as key executives.

When the proceedings were halted on December 14, the behavior of FPL representatives left it clear that the loss of a commission quorum was not a setback so much as a pause in the Kabuki drama, the game of pretend. No one can doubt that when the county threatens to flex its muscles against FPL there is a certain whiff of kryptonite in the air. (That's the substance that suddenly robs Superman of his powers, in comic book fiction.)

Yesterday's meeting sealed the point: in the past month the county was able to negotiate nothing. It accomplished no progress for the public. If the plan was to "give" the county something to show citizens that elected officials aren't lapdogs, it failed. FPL will get what it wants, entirely. The public will lose more high quality wetlands, against the county's own code, and those "radial collector wells" that constitute the biggest assault against a national park in US history will only require "monitoring". The diversion of Dec. 14th was a useless exercise along the data points leading to Christmas bonuses for FPL executives.

At stake yesterday -- through a series of requests by FPL to Miami Dade County, sitting as the local zoning authority -- was no less than whether the county would retain any jurisdiction at all over a plan to create one of the largest, if not the largest, nuclear power generating facility in the nation. It was a horror to watch the "mayor" of Homestead, Steve Bateman, salivating over FPL's promised billions when the aquifer under his own community is being turned to salt by the violation of FPL's existing consent agreement with the state of Florida on two reactors and cooling canals that are failing.

In 2007, environmentalists tried to find an ounce of backbone in the county commission through the initial train of decisions required by FPL to amend local zoning in order to push its ambitions for two new nuclear reactors forward. There was none to be found then, and less now.

If you thought your local representatives would be curious about the details of cooling what could become the largest nuclear reactor site in the United States, you would be wrong. If you thought that your local representatives would penetrate complexity in order to protect current and future taxpayers, you would be even more wrong.

The environmentalists in attendance yesterday at the County Commission made an attempt to raise climate change and sea level rise as the sort of condition that would give local government a moment of pause, with respect to the advisability of building $30 billion in new nuclear reactors at sea level in a region noted to be the most vulnerable to economic loss -- not in the United States -- but anywhere on earth. Dr. Harold Wanless, chairman and of the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami and a world authority on climate change, made no progress with the argument we have advanced here, at Eye on Miami: during the service lifetimes of FPL's nuclear plant, the chances that the Florida rate base will be severely impacted are very high.

Put another way: the margin of error on sea level rise is declining to certainty: we are in the midst of the initial throes of a climate gone awry, right now.

But county commissioners couldn't be troubled about what will happen twenty to fifty years from now, any more than the team of FPL lobbyists, advisors, and employees: all will have retired, one way or another, on the fat of the land above sea level. In the meantime, they will all talk about "mitigation" ad nauseam. "Recycling". Using paper cups instead of styrofoam.

It is blindingly obvious that there will be no accommodation by local government for climate change  until insurance industries abandon coastal areas. Whenever that happens, you can count on every single person who is in position of power today, to say "our hands were tied" and "There was nothing we could do." Take it to the bank (just not, US Century Bank.)

More shocking, or less -- depending on how jaded one may have become -- the Miami county commissioners entirely avoided the question of putting a massive new well field, designed to draw 120 million gallons per day, directly under a national park. The back up cooling system for the new nuclear reactors is benignly called a system of "radial collector wells". What it really is, is a large Hoover vacuum that will essentially destroy any hopes of reviving the fortunes of Biscayne Bay.

County commissioner Dennis Moss, who is the most knowledgeable on the commission about issues related to land use and water quality and supply, did his level best to retain some shred of dignity for the county commission and county government. It didn't work.

There is not a single county in the United States that would have shown such blatant disregard for a national park.

FPL, in its applications, scarcely mentions the presence of Biscayne National Park. It is as though the national park were a trifle, an unfortunate bystander. Environmentalists testified about the collision of billion dollar values, including the efforts to revive the Everglades and the clearly detailed need to put more fresh water into the bay, but county commissioners simply refused to allow the generations of bad mistakes, filled wetlands, delayed restoration, diverted water flows to deter them from their blind mission: doing whatever Big Money wants. It doesn't matter if the Big Money is US Century Bank, Lennar, or FPL. These are Great Destroyers.It is a common theme in Miami Dade County history: we border more national parks and protected public lands than any other county in the nation, and that gives us more right to spurn and destroy them. It used to be that familiarity with our parks breeds contempt, but this generation of public officials doesn't even have familiarity: just contempt.

Two moments stood out, in particular, from the comments of commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz -- a charter member of the unreformable majority this blog has tracked for years. Diaz digged at the effort of environmentalists to stop a recreational park for all-terrain vehicles, his pet project, in the middle of Big Cypress National Preserve as an example, one supposes, of extremism and failure to "find a balance". Nonsense, of course, but the kind of nonsense that no doubt animated hours and hours of back room manoevering and inside dealing.

Diaz also remarked how FPL had been an exemplary corporate citizen, or words to that effect, and not a single county commissioner even bothered to mention that FPL has been in continual violation of its most important promise to the county and the state of Florida through salt water intrusion caused in South Dade by its two existing nuclear reactors.

This point, apparently, was outside the narrow scope of the zoning request before the county commission, but it ought to have been front and center because the violation by FPL of its commitments to the state and obfuscation -- also allowing the state to dawdle and dissemble -- demonstrate how corporate power has hard wired the failure of democracy to protect the public interest.

FPL's existing nuclear reactors were licensed and approved by the state of Florida on the condition that its cooling canals -- forced to be created by environmental lawsuit -- would not cause salt water to inflitrate our fragile, sole source Biscayne aquifer. FPL made a promise, through a consent agreement and has not only been in continual violation but has fundamentally denied the science and proof of its culpability.

The deal Miami Dade county commissioners made yesterday puts the county in the identical position if the new nuclear reactors are ever built: that violations of conditions will somehow cause "mitigation" by FPL. As one environmental representative noted, yesterday, "isn't it very difficult to stop salt water intrusion when it occurs?" County staff meekly nodded, not that it mattered to anyone else.

The slow movement of salt water into water we drink could eventually strip the economic vitality from South Florida. (Sea level rise has already ruined some municipal drinking water wells further north) -- a biblical crisis in the making -- we can point exactly to the political forces represented by yesterday's institutional stasis: hardened as concrete.

Barbara Jordan, from the dais, tried to make a kind of observation of the proceedings: it was like a fight between titans, FPL versus the environmentalists. Ali versus Frazier. The Thrilla In Manila. But Jordan was wrong, and she knew it. There was only one Goliath in the building: FPL. There is no level playing field.

Lastly, a big shame on you, county staff. Yesterday was another example of Kabuki theater, where staff played exactly the rehearsed roles -- not ruffling feathers, hewing to the script, never too hot and never too cold -- The Goldlocks Defense of their own employment and prerogatives.

Unless I am mistaken, the Miami Herald didn't even report yesterday's proceedings in this morning's paper. The point: we tried. 


Anonymous said...

The Everglades Coalition is meeting in Coral Gables. Will this be discussed?

Geniusofdespair said...

Chuck Rabin did report it but not with the underpinnings you provided.

Anonymous said...

I know it will be too late at that point but what recourse would the Federal government have if there's damage to the national park because of this?
Besides going after FPL, could they then screw the people even further by charging that Miami-dade commission entered into an agreement that they knew was stupid and put some of the responsibility on the county?
Is this agreement so bad that FPL would be indemnified against any liability because they were allowed to do what they're going to do by the county?

Christina said...

I know it will be too late but what recourse would the Federal government have if the whole damn thing went up in smoke like in Japan?

Anonymous said...

What about the Department of Interior - with Biscayne National Park threatened by this FPL proposal, did National Park representatives speak at the County Commission meeting and object? The Secretary of the Interior Salazar is in town to speak to Ken Salazar is in town to speak to the Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Everglades Coalition - what does he have to say about this?

Anonymous said...

Miami Dade County Mayor Gimenez is also speaking to the Everglades Coalition - will he be asked his position on the FPL unusual use permit?

Gimleteye said...

These are good questions. I wonder if the environmentalists at the Everglades Coalition have even considered them.

Anonymous said...

Expanding nuclear facilities in the middle of hurricane alley? I think salt water intrusion could be the leaset of our problems

Anonymous said...

How quickly they forgot Japan.

Anonymous said...

I am again angry with this county , these commisioners except moss dont give a damm about anyone but themself's they need to be voted out or recalled, this year the other half is up for election including javier souto he needs to go

Anonymous said...

I really hope this is brought to the attention of the department of the interior this is a major assault on a National park and by the way the whole area is under federal juristiction ( national park service) why dont they have a say ???

Anonymous said...

It was approved by less than a super-majority vote, which makes it subject to a successful veto by Strong Mayor Gimenez-Osterhodt. He has ten days to show his true colors.

Anonymous said...

Moss made the motion for approval NITWIT!
Moss sucks now and has always sucked.

Anonymous said...

Gimenez won't veto this decision. His chief fundraiser, George Lopez, is the lobbyist for FPL.

Anonymous said...

Miami-Dade Commissioners are stupid and as usual, they cave in to polluters and criminals.