Tuesday, July 22, 2014

FPL, the US military, Barbra Streisand, frightened voters and more … Mayor Philip Stoddard, an elected official with the guts to stand up to a big utility -- interviewed on climate change and sea level rise on National Public Radio … by gimleteye

There are a few news items that are important, and readers ought to take them all in to make their own assessment.

1) Last week I wrote about FPL's naked power grab at Turkey Point Nuclear. FPL is mounting its cooperative effort with the Rick Scott administration to push out scientists and engineers at the South Florida Water Management District from supervision of the extraordinarily dangerous clogging of the Turkey Point "cooling canals". It is proposing that the Rick Scott governing board of the District cancel  a prior legal agreement that held FPL accountable … or should have … for its massive pollution problems in the existing nuclear reactors. (The decision awaits a vote by the water district governing board.)

FPL's cooling canals had already been failing before the recent $3 billion uprate and are now massively failing. To understand the full extent of what FPL is doing, it is necessary to put the most recent developments in context of the environmental impact assessment due in 2016 for the new nuclear reactors, Unit 6 and Unit 7. Sweeping its toxic mess under the proverbial rug only begins to describe what is happening.

2) Here is another part. Florida's utilities yesterday petitioned the Public Service Commission to gut conservation goals for electricity production. What's going on? Try this on for size: FPL top shareholders and executives, and those of the state's other big electric utilities, are determined to keep making money as long as they possibly can -- that is to say, to get extraordinarily wealthy -- through the business model of extracting increased levels of profit through higher unit production of electricity, no matter what.

In other words, Florida refuses to go along with the premise and practice of mandating utility profit through energy conservation and unit reduction of energy production. That profit model could not only save enormous investments in hard infrastructure -- like Turkey Point new nuclear, en route to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- but reasonably point ratepayers to reduction of carbon emissions at the root of climate change. Here is the lead from the Tampa Bay Times report: "Florida's big public utilities spend very little on energy conservation. On Monday, they will ask state regulators for permission to spend even less. The state's energy future depends almost exclusively on construction of expensive new power plants, the utilities argued in preparation for the Public Service Commission hearing and in their previous public statements. The utilities see little merit in any other strategy. Solar energy? Not reliable. Increased efforts to encourage use of energy efficient appliances and building practices? Not "cost effective." Studies that show it is cheaper to conserve power than to generate it? Misleading. Given the pattern of recent decisions, there's a good chance the PSC will approve the requests from Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Florida Power and Light to gut conservation goals."

3) Will it take a national security crisis of immense proportions before the bunkers harboring the nation's utility executives start to crack? That is a question that climate change is leading towards. What would that crisis look like? How would the federal government respond? This leads to an incredibly dismal report on voter turnout. According to the Center for the Study of the American Electorate yesterday, "If the first 25 statewide primaries (for U.S. Senate and/or state governor) are any guide, the nation is likely to witness the lowest midterm primary turnout in history. It is also likely to witness the greatest number of states setting records for low voter turnout."

4) Recently, on May 22, Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Bill that, despite the DOD request, no funding could be used to address climate change as a national security issue. All but three Republicans voted for the McKinley Amendment. Save four members, Democrats all voted against it. (For a terrific OPED by Barbra Streisand on the political logjam around climate change, read the recent report here: "The U.S. must lead on climate threat".)

So where, readers, do you think these circumstances lead? For one, to a conclusion: the nation's utilities are more powerful than our government. FPL, in Florida, IS our shadow government. And FPL has decided that IT will take care of the science of toxics, IT will decide -- through elected officials it controls including Governor Rick Scott -- what areas of South Florida can be sacrificed in order to deliver safe, reliable profits to top executives while delivering on-demand electricity to consumers. And Republicans, who are doing the business of the nation's big energy corporation as a matter of virtual remote control, will withhold the only institution -- the US military -- regarded by the public as maintaining integrity independent of politics from speaking out on the planet's biggest national security threat and most real and present danger: climate change. Why is there no debate about this?

For one, because Americans aren't voting. Why aren't Americans voting? Because they are scared to death. Scared by the economy, scared by the climate, scared by a media driven by corporate media that exploits fear and weakness because that's what trains eyeballs on TV screens.

We can do better and we must. It starts by voting and by voting for candidates for public office who have had the guts to speak out against a status quo that is hell-bent on gathering all the acorns as quickly as possible because the shitstorm is coming. We need leaders. Instead, what we have are an elite on their high mountaintops bending down to voters at the shoreline, whispering, "Don't tell us what to do."

One such leader is South Miami leader Philip Stoddard, who was interviewed last week on NPR, "Climate Risk for Real Estate Values in South Florida." Listen.

Go to the link to see the photos of people boating along the submerged Miami streets...you'll wish this was YOUR mayor speaking...and remember this is the area where FPL just spent $3 BILLION to renovate the Turkey Point nuke plant....


Climate Risk for Real Estate Values in South Florida

Air Date: Week of July 18, 2014

Biologist Phil Stoddard is the mayor of South Miami, a South Florida suburb threatened by rising sea levels. Mayor Stoddard tells host Steve Curwood that municipalities in Florida are doing all they can to prepare for climate change, but he does not think the state government is taking the issue seriously, and the risk to real estate values is considerable.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The latest climate science
is sobering when it comes to projected sea level rise in the years ahead.
Only days ago, the Obama administration awarded several millions to helping
states and tribal regions prepare for the effects of climate instability,
including flooding. For Miami, Florida, one of the most affluent cities in
America, sea level rise is already a problem. This low-lying region is
seeing flooding and local politicians are trying to figure out how best to
respond. Philip Stoddard is the Mayor of South Miami, a suburb. He was also
trained as a biologist. Welcome to Living on Earth, Mayor Stoddard.

STODDARD: Well, thank you very much. Good to be here.

CURWOOD: So tell us about the situation in south Florida. How is sea level
rise affecting the Miami area right now?

STODDARD: Well, what we’re seeing right now is effects on the coastal areas
and effects inland, and they’re a little bit different.

So in the coastal areas, South Beach, this is the south end of Miami Beach,
gets these king tides particularly in the autumn where on the high tide the
water currents are coming in pretty hard, and they force their way in the
storm drains and the streets fill up with seawater. And people’s cars rust,
and people kayak down the street, and they sell their apartments and move.
And so now, Miami Beach is investing a huge amount of money in backflow
preventers and pumps and so forth to stop this problem. So that's the
coastal problem.

Inland, it's a little bit different. South Florida is extremely flat and so
when we get a lot of rain inland it tends not to go anywhere. Now with the
sea level gradually creeping up on us it means that there's less downhill
for the water to go, and so we tend to see more puddling. We’ve been
installing pumps in the inland areas trying to move the water out, but
pumping water uphill doesn’t work very well. So the projection is that at
some point we’ll no longer be able to pump the water out. There will be too
much sea level rise to move the water out, and at that point the inland
low-lying areas are just going to flood out.

CURWOOD: So what are the sea level rise projections in the Miami area, and
with that rise in sea level, what do you expect to have in terms of impacts?

STODDARD: The scientists believe now that there's enough heat already stored
in the oceans to melt the polar ice sufficiently to put probably 60, 70 feet
of water over the planet. That takes out all of South Florida, we don't have
any land that’s above 25 feet above sea level. So in the long run, we're all
gone, and then the question is how long are you talking here?

CURWOOD: Yeah, how long are you talking here?

STODDARD: I think we'll be looking into -- in about maybe 100, 200 years
before we start seeing total inundation on that scale. Now the problem is
that we have systems that are very sensitive to sea level, particularly our
freshwater supply and our sewage systems that fail at one foot. We've seen
now somewhere in the range of eight inches to ten inches in this area since
people begin recording, and that has caused some, you know, some problems.
We can address those problems in the short term. We can have a good life
here for, I don't how long, but certainly the rest of my lifetime I think.
Now will my children be able to survive in South Florida for their
lifetimes? I very much doubt it.

CURWOOD: Looking at your town, South Miami in particular and the Miami area,
how is the advent of global warming affecting things such as housing prices
or insurance?

STODDARD: I mean, house prices are going up down here. It’s still a great
place to live. What we’re starting to see is pressure on the flood
insurance. Our insurance rates are higher than elsewhere in terms of flood
insurance, and we have to have flood insurance for mortgages. And the
federal government has held off increasing them by one more year. But at
some point we're going to have to start paying what someone in FEMA
considers to be the realistic risk and our insurance rates are going to go
up, and that makes it hard to sell your home.

CURWOOD: What are the odds, do you think, that the Miami area is going to
see a crash in real estate prices as people begin to realize that this
climate thing—it's not an “if” but a “when”?

STODDARD: Well it’s—we get to debate this one. I mean, here, we’ve gotten
out of the solid science into the area of economic speculation, but I think
it's inevitable, and what we don't know is when. Ultimately if the water is
going to cover us, real estate prices are going to go from high to zero, and
the only thing we don't understand exactly is when it's going to happen and
what's going to precipitate it.

So my own prediction and I could be wrong on this, but this is my
prediction, is that there will be some natural event, a hurricane, a big
storm surge—I call these primary disruptors—and one of these primary
disruptors is going to shake people, shake their confidence, and some people
are going to start moving out. And that point, it's anybody's guess what
happens to real estate prices. Once the perception is there, that it’s not a
safe place to park your money for real estate, prices drop. Perceptions are
very, very important.

CURWOOD: Now what are you doing as the Mayor of South Miami to address this

Low lying and coastal, Miami, Florida is one of the United States’s most
vulnerable cities when it comes to sea-level rise (Photo: Bigstockphoto)

STODDARD: Well I think the most important thing we can be doing right now is
educating people, just starting the discussions, explaining the science to
people in terms they can understand. I don't know that I'm smarter than
anybody else, but I sure work hard at trying to understand what's going on,
and so I'm able to explain the science to my residents. I’m able to assure
them that we are in fact paying attention and the things that we need to be
doing, we are doing.

So, we are watching for flooding. We're correcting drainage problems where
they occur. We’re looking into the land development codes and what changes
have to be made in order to prevent people from creating problems in the
near future. I think we’re doing all the right things. We've also got larger
scale sustainability issues where Florida has to take a leadership role.
We’re not going to solve the problems of flooding by putting solar panels on
our houses, but we need to be setting the example; because I mean, if we who
have the most to lose don't set an example, who else is going to follow us?

CURWOOD: Now what about the state government there in Florida? What is the
state of Florida doing about the threat of climate disruption?

STODDARD: I think the state’s official position involves an ostrich with his
head in the sand. I mean we have a governor who was asked about climate
change in my presence, and he says, “I’m not a scientist, next question
please.” I mean that was a stupid answer quite frankly. Everybody can't be a
scientist, but you have to listen to scientists. And you know, you hear
people say, “Oh well, the scientists don’t agree.” Well, scientists never
agree on everything exactly; that's the process. We debate stuff; we look at
evidence. We sort it out. But the state of Florida? No, the state of Florida
is in the dark ages.

CURWOOD: So you’re a politician, but you're also a biologist. So as a
scientist, what do you think when you hear politicians really ignoring this
threat of climate disruption?

STODDARD: [SIGH] I mean, I despair, quite frankly. You know, this is the
largest threat that the planet has ever seen. I mean, you know, if we
thought for instance that there was a Death Star posed over the Earth, and
they said, “We’re going to send a big tube down into your atmosphere and
pump it full of carbon dioxide until we cook you guys out of there.” Well,
we would mobilize all of the forces we could as a civilization to fight
back. “Oh no, you’re not going to cook us out of here.” But yet here we are
essentially doing it to ourselves through the fossil fuel industry, and
we’ve got people saying that it’s not happening, people who don't want to
talk to the scientists, people who really have a vested interest in the
destruction of the planet. How can we have these people as leaders? How can
we elect them? It boggles the mind.

CURWOOD: Why do you think that local politicians such as yourself are
leading the way on climate—addressing climate change in this country, which
is clearly a national, international issue?

STODDARD: I think we're leading the way because we see what's about to
happen to us. When you see the train coming, and it’s coming directly at
you, it's hard to ignore it. You know, when I talk to my geologist
colleagues and my hydrologist colleagues, and they say, “Oh, yeah…” I’m not
sure I should say this on public radio, but they said essentially, you know,
“We’re done for. There's nothing we’re going to do down here.”

I have colleagues who've sold and left, figured they’ll get their money and
take off. But most of them, I have to say are sticking it out, and a lot of
them are very dedicated to making changes in the medium and short term that
will sustain our civilization for longer. And there’s a very, very good
reason for doing this even if you sort of despair in the long term, and that
is that we can handle problems better if we have time to adapt to them. If
something happens very quickly, it creates mayhem because you can't plan. If
you can see it coming, then you can start planning, then you can have
intelligent solutions to even very, very difficult problems. And that's why
it is so critical that we do things now and in the short-term that buy us
time, that let us take an orderly approach to the changes that are coming
for the planet.

CURWOOD: Philip Stoddard is the Mayor of South Miami. Thanks so much for
joining us today.

STODDARD: You're very welcome.

Philip Stoddard is the Mayor of South Miami

EPA Climate Impacts on Coastal Areas

Read more about Miami and climate change in the Guardian


Anonymous said...

I would like to see a detailed list of things that need to be done to lead the way on Climate Change. And I mean specific: like which roads should be built,, which lands should be set aside for water resource parks to absorb rising seas, which lands govts should acquire, which govt projects should be eliminated it or moved inland (museums, convention centers, sports stadiums), what programs should be started and subsidized like solar panels on homes and businesses, if there should be a climate change impact fee on new construction/condos.
What else would EOM readers recommend?

Unknown said...

Great piece Gimleteye.
Add to the list an upgrade to land development codes, calling for increase in base elevation, no building on or near the bay, water-resistant ground floors...

Anonymous said...

Attributed to FDR: "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it."

Enviros do a lame job of making politicians 'make me do it'.

Most enviros are afraid to call out the GOP and their crony capitalist sponsors who deny climate change, who are all about corporate give aways, who falsely claim solar is too unreliable and costly so we need new nukes at Turkey Point.

If the professional enviros are afraid to loudly proclaim 'the emperor has no clothes', then there is no pressure on politicians to do so.

Stoddard and this blog are a 'breath of fresh air' amongst a Tropical Storm of fearful, 'split the baby' compromising and petty professional enviro wimps.

Anonymous said...

People don't vote because it doesn't make a goddamned bit of difference who you elect. All of the pols (and the Democrats, too!) are in the pocket of big business and we get f**ked no matter who we elect. That's why we don't vote, not because we're scared. It doesn't make any freakin' difference! Emma Goldman, a famous anarchist, once said that if voting made a difference, they'd make it illegal. That's exactly what the Republicans are doing in Florida and everywhere else. It will take blood in the streets to make a difference.

Anonymous said...

Last anon - um... head-scratching over your own contradictory ipso facto.

You quote Emma Goldman saying that if voting were effective, they'd make it illegal - yet your conclusion was that Republicans were trying to make it illegal - so you conclude that's why you don't vote.

I always vote. With logic like yours, I'm glad you don't.