Monday, January 18, 2016

Florida politicians reversing course on environmental protection at full speed ... by gimleteye

Gov. Rick Scott opens 2016 legislative session.
Call it cold rage; the way environmental protection has been mislabeled, rebranded, and repackaged by the GOP legislature without any unified opposition by Florida Democrats.

Environmentalists could see it was coming during the Jeb Bush era, when Jeb re-branded the Florida Department of Environmental Protection: "more protection, less process". What Jeb brought was a succession of efforts to suppress the rule of law and regulation, especially governing water quality, water resources, to advance Florida's signature industrial wealth creator: rampant sprawl.

Charlie Crist, who succeeded Jeb, was indifferent to the case for managing Florida's growth and agriculture in order to protect natural resources. Rick Scott, who succeeded him, has been a disaster of the highest order.

This year's travesty -- the water policy bill -- effectively destroys the expectation that the state will regulate and enforce against polluters. It represents, instead, capitulation to the idea that polluters will self-regulate and if they screw up, so be it.

One is tempted to call Scott, "clueless", except that Scott's wealth in the private sector was based on his skill trolling for profit at the margins of health care laws and reimbursement regulations. In other words, when it comes to spying opportunities to make money from exploiting environmental rules and regulations, Scott instantly understood both the constituency -- Big Sugar and Big Development -- and the way to solidify his political authority.

This is how Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida legislator set out on their own course, ignoring critics while pandering to special interests. Harder to understand: why the Florida Democratic members of the legislature have been so derelict in their responsibilities to offer resistance, as if to say of Tallahassee: "all ye who enter here, abandon all hope."

The water policy bill making its way after near unanimous approval in the House is exactly as Carl Hiassen described in the Miami Herald: "a major win for polluters and the politicians they own."

So why did every Florida Democrat in the House -- with the notable exception of two representatives, including Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami-Dade -- approved this catastrophic measure?

In part, because in its badly weakened state, Florida's environmental movement was incapable of mounting a unified opposition to the measure. In the last session of the legislature, Floridians were outraged that the GOP failed to enact the authorization of Amendment 1 for land acquisition as the constitutional amendment -- passed by more than 68 percent of voters in 2014 -- required.

Some environmental groups -- notably Audubon of Florida and the Everglades Foundation -- supported the water policy bill because it offers $200 million to the failing Everglades. But we saw the same mechanism of divide and conquer at work in the early 2000's, when dangling hard cash in front of environmental groups for the Everglades was just a sneaky way to mask even more damage to the public interest.

One long-time observer commented on an Everglades list serve, relative to the absence of public outrage: "The gap grows between the Everglades as an environmental cause and the Everglades as an environmental business." In other words, after decades of broken promises, environmentalists in Florida -- and Democrats, too -- have been shuffled into chutes like compliant cattle. "If you want your elected office, just move along."

Ours could have been the generation that built on bipartisan consensus to protect Florida's environment, but we watched quietly while the GOP and the fear-mongerers put that consensus in reverse, full throttle.

Carl Hiaasen: Polluters win again in the state Legislature

Proposed law would let polluters police themselves.
Tax dollars will be used to subsidize clean-ups.
Rules about violations, enforcement vague and undefined.


Touted as an environmental breakthrough, the water policy bill passed last week by the Florida Legislature is actually a major win for polluters and the politicians they own.

Enforcement of clean-water rules is basically being replaced by the honor system. Big Agriculture couldn’t be happier.

Same goes for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, whose dream of one day becoming state agriculture commissioner is closer to reality. The Brevard Republican has been an obedient little soldier for the special interests that divert and exploit the state’s fresh water supplies.

Current Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam was the political shepherd for the user-friendly new law. It was written by lobbyists for mega-farming and land corporations, and rammed through the GOP-controlled Legislature.

The Senate passed it with nary a single dissenting vote, reluctant Democrats saying this year’s version was better than last year’s awful bill, which didn’t pass. Even some environmental groups went along with the rewrite, asserting that it was the best they could hope for.

Which is just sad.

David Guest, the longtime managing attorney for Earthjustice in Florida, warned that the damaging effects of the new water bill will “come back to haunt us all.” From now on, farms that send polluted runoff into Lake Okeechobee will only need a permit to restrict the quantity being discharged — not the amount of fertilizer crud in it.

The plan allows Big Ag operators to supervise their own waste releases, which is a fantasy come true for those who pollute, including the sugar barons.

Theoretically, farm companies would work on deadlines to minimize the amount of phosphorus and other harmful substances in their outflow using so-called “best management practices.”

But the guidelines are mostly voluntary, and devised by the agriculture lobby, so you can guess how rigorous they are. Not very.

Sympathetic legislators went even farther, inserting in the law a “cost-share” provision that directs water-management districts to use tax dollars to subside Big Ag’s anti-pollution efforts.

In other words, the public will be paying farm corporations to do something they should pay for themselves — clean up their mess.

Supporters of the final water bill say significant enforcement powers were added to the plan, . , but that’s mainly on paper. The reality will be different.

At the urging of environmentalists, language was put in allowing the state to inspect farmlands to make sure proper clean-up practices are being followed. However, the law conveniently doesn’t state how or when these inspections would be conducted, or what would constitute a violation.

It doesn’t even say what the fines and penalties would be. And, of course, no money is being appropriated for hiring extra inspectors at the hilariously misnamed Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

So, in truth, the new water bill has no real enforcement mechanism. Another cynical move by GOP lawmakers was placing the Department of Environmental Protection in charge of periodically reviewing the water management practices, to see if pollution is actually being reduced.

It’s no secret that Gov. Rick Scott has made a priority of castrating the DEP. Only a sucker would believe the agency will be re-staffed and re-empowered to take on the task of monitoring corporate polluters.

There’s no denying the water bill is ambitious and far-reaching, and Big Agriculture isn’t the only winner. Developers seeking to tap into rivers and waterways, particularly in Central Florida, should send thank-you notes along with their campaign checks to Tallahassee.

A water plan with pollution rules set by the polluters is exactly what you’d expect from the same gang that betrayed the 4 million Floridians who voted for Amendment One.

Some Democrats and environmentalists say they’ll strive to toughen the weak phosphorus rules and expedite cleanup actions. That won’t happen without an epic shift in political power.

Meanwhile the crap being pumped from Lake Okeechobee and surrounding farms continues to imperil the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, the Indian River Lagoon, Gulf Coast beaches and, most critically, the Everglades.

Under the new rules, some farmers and landowners will honestly try to improve the water they flush into our wetlands and our drinking supply. Others won’t, because it’s cheaper and easier to dump unfiltered waste.

If voluntary compliance really worked, we wouldn’t need any pollution laws. Corporations would care as much about clean, safe water as ordinary families do. Unfortunately, that’s not the real world. It’s just a fantasy promoted by industry lobbyists and bought politicians.

And now, in Florida, it’s going to be the law.

Read more here:


Liz Hernandez said...

With the exception of a few individuals, the politicians/ legislators in Florida sell themselves like whores. Actually, if a comparison is to be made, the prostitutes will come out way ahead on being ethical, for at least they provide a service that is helpful and useful. Unlike the politicians/legislators that sell themselves, lie, cheat,steal from taxpayers, and hurt others and our living spaces in the process.
Besides air, water is the 2nd most CRUCIAL things for our existence.
Will they realize this before it is too late?

Anonymous said...

Amendment 1 passed with 75% statewide.

Anonymous said...

It is impossible to overstate the negative effect the Scott Administration has had on the State's environmental regulatory agencies i.e. FDEP and the Water Management Districts. Not being able to utter or write the words "climate change" isn't close to being the half of it. Never ones to aggressively enforce the laws designed to protect the State's natural resources, State regulators are now afraid of their own shadows. Enforcement is now termed "Compliance Assistance", which really means go ahead and do what you want because we won't make you do otherwise. No matter who is the next Governor of Florida, it will take decades to undo the damage wrought by Scott, if that is even possible.