Monday, January 26, 2015

Adam Putnam, Big Sugar and the Great Destroyers … by gimleteye

Fox News Florida branch, Sunshine State News, printed last week, "Putnam on Water Policy: Get Priorities Right From First, Then Spend Accordingly" (January 23, 2015). Some interpretation is needed for readers inclined to take the faux news source literally.

Adam Putnam is the telegenic, multi-millionaire farmer and two-term Secretary of Agriculture. We last observed Secretary Putnam paving the way for Florida Power and Light and the Cabinet's green light to two new nuclear plants at Turkey Point.

Putnam read the motion to approve in the final cabinet meeting before the Nov. 2014 election. For Florida electric utilities and for the recipient of its largesse, Gov. Scott, the optics were perfect. Putnam said a few words. Pam Bondi seconded. The bobble-headed governor, bobbled smilingly. After years of controversy, court hearings and dodging by FPL and hob-knobbing with utility lobbyists by the members of the PSC, Florida Power and Light got what it wanted. Adam Putnam, the man who would be the next governor of Florida, delivered the sunshiny news.

So, it bears paying attention when Sunshine/ Fox surrogate reports what Putnam said to the Florida legislature about water policy.

"Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Thursday urged members of the House State Affairs Committee -- the lawmakers charged with increasing spending on water sources and sensitive lands -- to first create "an overarching, already prioritized (water) policy" that will keep the state on the right course for land purchase in good times and bad."

The background for the story is the jostling and jockeying by politicians to grab the $20 plus billion in funding through Amendment 1, that passed by 78 percent of Florida voters last November.

But wait: the basis of the story is that Florida has no "overarching, already prioritized water policy" for land purchases. Who says?

For decades, priorities for water policy and land purchases have been right at the tip of environmentalists' tongues and clearly stated in state policies through Forever Florida --gutted by the GOP legislature during Scott's first term -- and missions of FDEP and the state water management districts.

At the top of the environmentalists' list has always been: Buy Big Sugar Lands For Restoration Into Everglades Wetlands. So why is Putnam deleting history?

The issue is -- and has always been -- that large property owners who control Florida elections have zero interest in fixing their land prices so long as they perceive an endless run of increasing values.

There are some well-publicized cases of state land purchases by willing sellers who recognized the importance of protecting Florida's natural heritage. Then there are cases of lands being purchased at fantastically inflated values (cf. Jeb Bush, Palm Beach Aggregates, L-8 Reservoir). These are not, however, the extraordinarily wealthy farmers -- supported by billion dollar subsidies -- who control state elections.

Those farmers -- Big Sugar billionaires -- take elected officials like Putnam on all-expense paid trips by private jet to the King Ranch in Texas where they discuss strategy, how to expertly game the system through delay, litigation and more delay. Putnam, by the way, slammed a door in the face of a Tampa Bay Times reporter who broke the US Sugar / King Ranch story last year, but that is so yesterday's news.

The second paragraph of the Fox News affiliate's story: "Putnam recommended a long-term plan that focuses on the state's three areas of current emphasis: springs restoration, the northern Everglades and the Central Florida Water Initiative." What, no land purchases in the Everglades Agricultural Area?

What about state purchases of significant acreage now in Florida sugarcane, beginning with the tendered US Sugar properties, the absence of which is bottling up Everglades restoration as completely as a waste water pipe stopped with feminine hygiene products? Nada. Not a word.

Sunshine State News added, "Nobody on the committee, chaired by Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, had a question or comment for the commissioner during or after his presentation. Putnam later said he wasn't surprised -- "this is a lot to dump on somebody at one meeting." Wait!

Now the bullshit meter is racing.

Putnam's omission of buying Big Sugar lands with Amendment 1 funds is exactly what the sugar industry wants. No one had a question on Caldwell's committee because the script did not call for questions. Just blank-faced nodding.

And what about the great unwashed public? Here is what Big Sugar tells you and me, through a press release reported by the Palm Beach Post (of course, not the Herald) a few weeks ago during the annual meeting of the Everglades Coalition:

“Surely the preference for Amendment One Funding will be the significant number of shovel-ready projects that will benefit the Everglades, estuaries, lakes, springs and beaches and other environmental priorities all over the state. While the SFWMD holds a legal option on U.S. Sugar land, Everglades restoration plans have taken a much different direction over the last several years as governed by a Federal consent decree and the State’s Everglades Restoration Strategies. As a result of the numerous projects being requested around the state and the emphasis on implementing the shovel-ready projects in South Florida, we have not seen any serious interest in purchasing a large amount of land for which there is no plan or project.

Florida sugarcane and polluted irrigation canal
"No serious interest" is a lie, pure and simple, and that lie is at the heart of Secretary Putnam's comments and its purpose is to do what Big Sugar has always wanted: push off the date to the infinite future when Everglades restoration might be finally addressed. 

Environmentalists, and especially the Save the Indian River Coalition and its allies, have been clamoring for years about the need to purchase sugar lands to restore a semblance of natural fresh water flow to the dying River of Grass. Store more water and cleanse it, on Big Sugar lands, and less pollution will rip through the estuaries, the Indian River and Caloosahatchee River.

By the way, when then-Gov. Charlie Crist initiated negotiations to purchase US Sugar lands south of Lake Okeechobee, the largest sugar producer in the state -- the Fanjuls of Coral Gables and Palm Beach -- immediately jumped behind Marco Rubio's campaign for US Senate against Crist.

You see: Big Sugar wants to complain that no one is demanding purchase of its lands, while making sure its proxies in the legislature and the Ag Secretary who-would-be-Governor keep any mention of buying Big Sugar lands out of sight, and any mention of eminent domain as far from the public forum as Pluto from Florida Bay.

And while we are on the subject; Fox News Florida Stand-In, Sunshine State News, might have alerted its Florida readership that Matt Caldwell -- silent at Putnam's policy speech -- is another GOP aspirant in the pocket of Big Sugar. (His top leadership post is closely tied to successfully assisting in the unseating of then Lee County commissioner Ray Judah in 2012. Judah, the most informed and outspoken elected official and critic of Big Sugar, was drowned by nearly $1 million in dark money contributions to his opponent, after 24 years in office.)

Faux Fox surrogate continues: "The commissioner characterized the role of committee members in guiding the administration of the "Florida Water and Land Legacy" money as an opportunity to plant a flag in their own personal legacy, "an opportunity to think big and act boldly."

But truth be told, there is no thinking big or acting boldly in this legislature unless it receives the stamp of approval from vested interests who are dead-set against selling their property for environmental purposes, according to the Amendment 1 requirements. Period.

The Fox Sunshine State concludes, "Several groups applauded Putnam's address to the committee, including the H20 Coalition, an offshoot of one of the state's largest business organizations, Associated Industries of Florida. AIF had recommended against Amendment 1 before the Nov. 4 election." No kidding. Now they are at work to direct traffic on how funds are used for Amendment 1.

In other words, the Great Destroyers got Florida Wildlife Federation and Audubon of Florida to do the heavy lifting to pass Amendment 1, and now the black hats have moved in with legislative wire cutters and are in the process of hijacking the largest pot of money ever made available in Florida -- some $20 billion -- to protect the environment.

It's a real life "Ocean's Eleven" except instead of a casino that is getting robbed with hi-tech wizardry, it's the do-gooders opening the vault doors for the black hats to come in, at the last minute. As they leave, they'll hand out a few hundred thousand dollars to any of the groups who will put them on their board of directors or maybe give them an award at their annual meeting.

The do-gooders will get their own plaques featuring wading birds that went extinct despite their earnest efforts and a thank you note.

"Commissioner Putnam'’s recommendations provide an excellent framework to increase Florida'’s water supply and enact common-sense, science-based water quality reforms," AIF President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Feeney said in a written statement. Wait, Tom Feeney?

Oh that Mr. Feeney, as the Tampa Bay Times reports: "(who) … was state House speaker from 2000-2002, when he was elected to Congress from Central Florida. Feeney twice won re-election. Then he fell out of favor after becoming a crony of corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who paid for the congressman to play golf in Scotland. In September 2006, Feeney was named one of the “20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress” in a report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). He is mentioned four years in a row (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008) in the annual reports of CREW. Earlier, Feeney was Jeb Bush's running mate in his first race for governor in 1994." In 2001, the Orlando Sentinel blamed Feeney for the worst session of the Florida legislature in modern history.

Need to read more?

Last week at the Davos World Economic Summit, former Vice President Al Gore said that along with putting a price on carbon emissions, "we need to put a price on denial in politics. People need to stop financing denial." Snap.

People need to stop voting for denial, but Al Gore, when he had the chance as presidential contender in 2000 to put pressure on Florida's Great Destroyers, couldn't find his way to the microphone. He was advised by the same Florida Democrats who direct party traffic flow today. Auden said it best in his 1919 poem, The Second Coming: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

So there's our Monday morning wrap-up. Can't wait for Tuesday.


Anonymous said...

The people who run the state toy with Everglades defenders like a cat with a mouse. Sure, let them have a few gala benefits. Even contribute a little money here and there. And threaten the shit out of them every time someone like Charlie Crist stumbles off the script. The bottom line is that the bad behavior started with Clinton who left the Everglades in the lurch so that he could keep partying with Alfie Fanjul in the DR (and split the Cuban American vote). The federal govt. should never never have settled with the state in the early 1990s. It's been downhill from there.

Malagodi said...

Democracy in Florida is an attraction at Disney.

Anonymous said...

Well said by a former WLRN staffer who knows of what he speaks.

Skip Van Cel said...

This is so depressing.

GreenGuy said...

BRAVO!! What a great investigative piece by you sir. Thank you for keeping everyone honest and exposing the polluter shills for who they are. We need to keep the lights on so the cockroaches have to do their dirty deeds right in front of us instead of hiding in the darkness. Keep up the GREAT WORK!!