Tuesday, February 10, 2015

More, on the Jeb Bush I know … by gimleteye

On the Sierra Club Everglades list serve, there is a lively discussion about Jeb Bush's legacy in Florida related to the environment. Former water management district senior scientist, Larry Fink, writes compellingly today about one of the most tragic, impactful legacies of the Bush terms as governor: toxic mercury pollution. While there are many examples how Jeb's intolerant, narrow-minded vision for Florida's future abandoned taxpayers to the whims of polluters, the proliferation of methyl mercury in Florida's environment is the worst bar none.

Methyl mercury is a neuro-toxin with profound impacts on human development from the embryo, forward. In some parts of Florida, in the middle of the Everglades, it exists in the highest concentrations in freshwater found anywhere in the world. How did it get there, who is responsible, how can it be stopped? You will never, ever hear truthful answers from the State of Florida. I hope Larry's post can be parsed by our non-technical readers. It is a short burst covering the career of Don Axelrad, a scientist and former employee of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) who knows more about methyl mercury pollution than anyone in the state.

Jeb Bush was governor of Florida for eight years, beginning in 1998. At the time, I was a Sierra Club leader on Everglades and suburban sprawl issues, and also chair of the Miami Group of Sierra Club. I spent several years in the early 2000's working on an effort to hold the state of Florida accountable for deep well drilling, used to dispose of municipal wastewater and for wells that purportedly "store" fresh water for later retrieval. I learned, first hand, the level of fear that permeated Florida's environmental agency when anyone tried to pierce the veil of secrecy and control imposed by Governor Bush, who was a micromanager; forceful and intolerant of dissent.

Larry Fink writes about Don Axelrad, the state's top mercury scientist at the time. Don and Larry, both, were on the "inside": struggling to give voice to science over ideology. Then there were those of us, on the "outside", trying to support change; an effort I would add with extraordinarily limited financial resources. As an editorial aside regarding the pitched battles of David versus Goliath during the Bush years in Florida, I deeply regret the failure of Florida environmental organizations to litigate on methyl mercury; a failure I live with every day. Here is Larry Fink's post, verbatim:
"One of the unsung heroes in the battle to Save Our Springs (SOS) is Don Axelrad, Ph.D., then of FDEP, who worked with City of Tallahassee officials to obtain a multi-million dollar EPA grant to upgrade the Tallahassee Wastewater Treatment Plant to reduce the levels of nitrate in direct discharges and leaching of dewatering sewage sludge into the underlying aquifer. http://www.wctv.tv/home/headlines/City_of_Tallahassee_Upgrades_Its_Wastewater__125665533.html and thence to Wakulla Springs. http://wakullaspringsalliance.org/accomplishments/

Instead of praise, he was ignored officially and punished unofficially for working on a project unrelated to his responsibilities as the chief side-kick and then head honcho as Statewide Coordinator for FDEP's Mercury Program. This is because Jeb Bush tolerated no free-lancing or going off-script.

Concurrently, he was increasingly marginalized, harassed, the subject of political rewrites and kangaroo-court peer review of work products by FDEP judged superior by the South Florida Environmental Report Peer Review Panel for Chapter 3B, and threatened with termination when he would not be abused into leaving voluntarily. http://my.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/pg_grp_sfwmd_sfer/portlet_prevreport/2013_sfer/v1/chapters/v1_ch3b.pdf

So severe was his marginalization that he was not allowed to work on Florida' s Statewide Mercury TMDL development process or report after the decision was made not to promulgate a revised mercury WQS (water quality standard) based on methyl mercury in fish flesh. http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/tmdl/docs/tmdls/mercury/Mercury-TMDL.pdf

When Don had had enough, he left FDEP and accepted an appointment at Florida A&M University, where is talents, productivity, and commitment to excellence are appreciated and rewarded instead of squelched and punished.

Don was subsequently replaced as Statewide Mercury Program Coordinator by a hack who is willing and able to shill for Big Sugar's political science to make the downstream Everglades sulfur cycle-mercury cycle link go away. So bad was the first post-Axelrad Chapter 3B that it was widely panned by the same Peer Review Panel that found Don's Florida mercury program and reports world class. http://my.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xweb%20about%20us/agency%20reports; http://my.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/pg_grp_sfwmd_sfer/portlet_prevreport/2014_sfer/v1/chapters/v1_ch3b.pdf

Don and Curt Pollman have now published a rebuttal to the rubbish being foisted off on the people of the various constituencies of the SFER as sound mercury science when it is not. http://www.pubfacts.com/author/Donald+Axelrad

The beginning of the end for Florida's world-class mercury program and reports began and continued under Jeb Bush, who, as you might recall, was the first Florida governor not to appoint at least one token environmentalist to SFWMD's Governing Board. Unfortunately, unlike Bush, Crist was not a micromanager, so he never called off the dogs, let alone reverse the damage."

Larry E. Fink, M.S.
Waterwise Consulting, LLC


Anonymous said...

Recently, Michael Putney wrote a Herald column praising Jeb Bush. Yesterday, Michael Schiavo (Terry Shiavo's husband) wrote a letter to the editor taking issue with Mr. Putney's column. Mr. Schiavo's letter is amazing and should be required reading for all. It makes a compelling case that Jen Bush's failures were in other policy arenas, not just with the environment.

Mercury ,Memories,& Sadness said...

Jeb Bush and his brother should be in prison. Their crimes against humanity will be felt for years. Their ability to bankrupt lives is amazing and their are idiots out there today who would vote for them in a minute.

Anonymous said...

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney should definitely be indicted and found guilty. They are guilty of numerous crimes. Jeb Bush is no friend to women and he is no friend to the environment.