Saturday, June 01, 2013

Gov. Rick Scott welded to the hip to Big Sugar ... by gimleteye

The Orlando Sentinel only captures part of this year's capitulation to Big Sugar: "Scott signs environmental bill: When Big Sugar was sued, it turned to the legislature".

From the perspective of the White House, Florida begs the question: if Floridians don't care about Big Sugar, why should we (White House) risk political capital?

That is the only explanation for the EPA's ambivalence to Florida, ringed with pollution that could be controlled but isn't.

May 30, 2013

TALLAHASSEE — When environmentalists filed a lawsuit earlier this year to force Florida's powerful sugar industry to cut a better deal with the state for Everglades restoration, Sugar took its fight to safer confines: the Florida Legislature.

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday signed into law an environmental-regulation bill that does everything from easing permit requirements for boat shows and marina expansions to expediting natural-gas-pipeline construction and placing new restrictions on cities and counties that environmentalists say will make it harder for them to slow down bad development.

And it contains language — added at the end of the 60-day legislative session — that blocks a lawsuit filed in February by the Florida Wildlife Federation against sugar grower Florida Crystals.

"That happens in politics, especially if you're dealing with the sugar industry," said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation. "The sugar industry has a lot of money and is extremely powerful. They won this round."

The legal challenge was over a January vote by Scott and the Florida Cabinet giving Florida Crystals and development and agricultural giant A. Duda & Sons 30-year leases on 14,000 acres of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area in exchange for other lands needed for restoration projects.

Pictures: Child stars gone bad

Fuller and other environmental groups had contended the leases were far sweeter than previous six-year leases extended to sugar growers in the 'Glades and would make it harder to impose tougher anti-pollution requirements on the sugar industry in the future. The agricultural areas in question account for much of the nutrient pollution, primarily phosphorus, pouring into the River of Grass.

The sides had been in settlement talks that broke down before lawmakers opted in late April to add the language "ratifying" the leases to HB 999.

"It is a disturbing trend that citizens' access to the court is being eliminated when it's inconvenient because it interferes with the wishes of the powerful," said David Cullen, a lobbyist with the Sierra Club, which had asked Scott to veto the bill.

"Now we won't be able to ask them to clean up their act for another 30 years."

Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in an email that the bill "continues to protect Florida's environment while working toward Governor Scott's goal of making Florida the number one state for business by reducing burdensome regulations."

But it's also a classic example of Tallahassee influence-peddling and sausage-making.

Florida's sugar companies — including Florida Crystals and U.S. Sugar Corp. — are political bluebloods in the Capitol, regularly funneling millions of dollars into state campaigns.

Florida Crystals alone was the fourth-biggest spender on lobbyists during the 60-day session, paying about $295,000 to 25 lobbyists, including former Senate President Ken Pruitt.

It's also a member of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, which pays environmental-regulation superlobbyist Frank Matthews, with the firm Hopping Green & Sams.

According to emails the Orlando Sentinel obtained through a records request, HB 999 began as a four-page "glitch" bill to clean up mistakes in prior legislation.

But at the urging of Matthews, the legislation — pushed by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, and Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City — quickly became a "train," in the parlance of Tallahassee, for a hodgepodge of other regulatory changes.

"I wanted to run by the senator the possibility of expanding the bill … and grow it into an 'environmental' glitch bill addressing boat show and mooring field approvals, water quality testing/sampling, artificial waters and ditch exemptions, agricultural water supply inputs ... etc.," Matthews wrote to an aide to Altman in January.

Although he wrote most of the bill, Matthews said Thursday that the addition of the sugar-industry language was not his handiwork.

"The Legislature was interested in ratifying the land leases that was part of the land swap that make the restoration monies work," Matthews said.

"It was kind of just unfinished business. I'm afraid [HB 999] was just a convenient vehicle."

Altman said he thought the sugar language wound up in the bill because the company's lobbyists didn't want to add it to a separate Everglades cleanup bill (HB 7065) to avoid losing environmental support for it. That bill, signed by Scott earlier this week, funds part of an $880 million cleanup plan by extending a $25-an-acre tax on sugar cane and other agriculture south of Lake Okeechobee to pay for cleaning polluted storm water running off the farmlands.

"This [lawsuit] language had a little bit of controversy, and I think they didn't want to do anything to upset the apple cart," Altman said.

The bill is also the second major change "streamlining" environmental permitting that Patronis, a wealthy restaurant owner in the Panhandle, has passed in the past two years. He did not reply to phone calls and emails seeking comment.

Altman said the bill was a product of compromise, citing five controversial sections of the bill that were removed late in session — including language blocking tougher local fertilizer bans and exempting Wedgefield and its Ranger Drainage District from Orange County wetlands rules.

But the overall thrust of the Legislature is toward fewer regulations to conserve green spaces and protect water, environmentalists said.

"We need to step back and assess the impact of these previous bills and the damage that's been done. That message has been largely unheeded," said Mary Jean Yon, legislative director for Audubon of Florida and a former division director at the Department of Environmental Protection.

Matthews said lawmakers and regulated industries will always want to tinker with the rules, and that because the bill had been "modified and compromised … no one is doing handstands over the content."

"That is just an illogical argument that we've reached a state of perfection," he said. "That's like me saying we should stop trying to improve the Everglades. Didn't we already improve the Everglades?" or 850-222-5564


Anonymous said...

What hope is there when voters are plain ignorant? Look at Oklahoma that elected the Senate's climate change denier in chief, GOP Jim Inhofe. After the recent tornados, Inhofe ridiculed the idea that they had anything to do with climate change. But federal disaster assistance? "Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) said on Tuesday that federal aid to tornado-ravaged parts of his home state will be "totally different" than a Hurricane Sandy aid bill he voted against late last year." Yeah right.

Anonymous said...

EPA is no friend of Florida citizens. Narrative nutrient pollution standards, Everglades pollution, the Miami-DAde wastewater / sea level rise crisis, wetlands permitting everywhere.

Anonymous said...

It's all about the pension, dude.

Anonymous said...

Our State Legislators claiming some type of victory for the environment need to legalize Marijuana because that's what they have to be smoking to think anyone who understand the issue buys their crap for one second. Scott needs to go. Too bad the GOP can't or won't put someone against him in a primary. The EPA backed down too soon. Miami Dade was predicable because no one wants to own the mess the BCC created in the first place.

Anonymous said...

"Florida Crystals alone was the fourth-biggest spender on lobbyists during the 60-day session, paying about $295,000 to 25 lobbyists, including former Senate President Ken Pruitt." That's the reported money. How about the paid vacations to Casa De Campo? As in, what happens in the DR, stays in the DR?

Anonymous said...

Vote them all out from the Governor to our local politicians in Miami. Enough is enough. Think about the fact (science I know is foreign to the GOP) that by the time the children of today grow in to adult hood, about 25% if not more of the Everglades will be gone. Sickening.

Geniusofdespair said...

Last reader...and maybe a good percentage of the developed coast.

Anonymous said...

Anon's comment about Inhofe shows how silly they are. He never thought he would have to go hat-in-hand, on bended knees to beg members of the NY delegation for their votes on disaster reflief for his state. The delay by the GOP of disaster relief for NY was unconscionable. Well, the old saying rings true, "be careful how you treat others, you many need their help someday".

100panthers said...

Two solutions, I am good with either one.

1-Divide the state into 2 states with dividing line near Orlando.

2-Give up sugar growing and plant organic marijuana, it would create jobs and limit number of acres planted to keep prices high.

Geniusofdespair said...

100 panthers. I am not an expert but I think that a crop like rice (that can take a lot of water but doesn't make the farmers much money)is better because you can keep the polluted water on the land and not drain it into the Everglades ecosystem. Draining off water is necessary with sugar cane crops. I know they were trying to breed a sugar cane that could grow in more water but the yield per plant was lower. It is all about money. Can Marijuana grow on water drenched land? Keeping the polluted nutrient rich water on the farmland is the key, draining it into the Everglades has to stop. I might be wrong.

100panthers said...

Yeah I know rice is a better crop though we have arsenic in the ground so a problem. Just kidding about Marijuana, though if it was limited to keep prices high it would have little impact.

How about restoring the EAA instead of building Desalination plants, the latest genius move suggested by Rep. Albritton who is the chair of Ag and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.,0,1484206.story

Of course, Desal plants are energy intensive and are more efficent if paired with nuclear power plants...think this is the objective? The Florida legislature is always looking for corporate give aways at public expense.

Is DeSal a closet endorsement of Nukes? "In a December 26, 2007, opinion column in the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nolan Hertel, a professor of nuclear and radiological engineering at Georgia Tech, wrote, "... nuclear reactors can be used ... to produce large amounts of potable water. The process is already in use in a number of places around the world, from India to Japan and Russia. Eight nuclear reactors coupled to desalination plants are operating in Japan alone, nuclear desalination plants could be a source of large amounts of potable water transported by pipelines hundreds of miles inland..."