Thursday, June 30, 2016

Florida's water quality catastrophe: political spin machines are in over-drive to protect Big Sugar ... by gimleteye

Sugar Cane
Here is some advice for the Florida GOP leadership. Whoever you tasked to supervise the public relations spin machine at the state taxing agency, the South Florida Water Management District; find new ones.

Starting last March, the District tried countering a blossoming and loosely arranged network of citizens who have taken to social media to by-pass the normal, historic channelization of media along lines of the politically correct defense of Florida's shadow government: Big Sugar.

Big Sugar, ignoring its past role using Lake Okeechobee as its open sewer for many decades, claims it has nothing to do with the rampant pollution of Florida's waterways.

Sugar Farm

What Big Sugar doesn't admit is that every acre purchased by taxpayers and taken out of sugarcane production to use as water cleansing marshes comes with conditions and keyholes for delay toward a single end: to prevent, to raise the price, to inflict as much pain as possible on taxpayers when the next demand comes to solve the problem clear enough to anyone with open eyes: significant additional acres is needed in the Everglades Agricultural Area to store dirty water and stop Lake Okeechobee from puking toxic slime onto coastal real estate and tourism-related industries and to scrub that water clean until it can be sent south to renourish the Everglades and Florida Bay.

For example: the common talking point by the District and the Florida GOP is that the feds are at fault for failing to invest in Lake Okeechobee. Bullshit. Water quality is a state responsibility. Long ago, the U.S. EPA delegated water quality to the state of Florida.

Not only is it the responsibility of the state, the state and the Florida GOP have hounded the feds into submission on water quality standards that might have otherwise prevented the catastrophe of Florida's waterway pollution. Whenever the feds raised the issue of limiting nutrient pollution, from nitrogen and phosphorous, with hard, fast numerical standards, the Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, Big Sugar and its elected standard-bearers in the state capitol and in Congress, all rushed to stop the feds.

This is the inconvenient truth that the District's political broadsides won't touch: admitting its own culpability; that for nearly two decades, the Florida GOP staked its power and majority control of the legislature on LOWER, DIMINISHED water quality standards with serial, targeted attacks against the kinds of tough standards to regulate pollution that might have stopped this year's raging coastal catastrophes.

Instead, the District is putting out lame "gotcha's" like the one saying that blue green algae has not been scientifically proven to cause brain disease in humans. No one says the linkage has been conclusively proven. How long did we have to listen to the tobacco industry say that smoking does not cause lung cancer? The point is: Florida's taxing authority, the water management district, has doubled-down on making science and facts that don't fit its agenda, disappear with lame bullet points.

If you are skeptical about the validity of this criticism, go out and find the answer to two questions: over the past six months, did any agency of state government -- including the Florida Department of Health -- do water quality testing in Florida's bays and estuaries for toxic algae? Has any state agency made it a priority to collect and publish a database of rare bacterial infections caused by contact with contaminated water? The kind of bacterial infections that turn surgeons into butchers scraping away diseased flesh to save the patient.

There is an answer to both these questions: "no".

It took the top GOP leadership -- Gov. Rick Scott, Ag. Secretary Adam Putnam, and US Senator Marco Rubio -- a long time to see that mounting frustration at the mismanagement of Florida water resources during a period of historic winter rainfall had little to do non-profit environmental groups. Their miscalculation expressed itself through Marco Rubio's poor result in the March presidential primary. Rubio, a proxy for Big Sugar and the Fanjul billionaires who funded his campaign, turned into a target of public anger for a crisis caused by the GOP establishment. Rubio also blames the feds. The government he serves. He attacks stronger, tougher water quality standards. In 2003, he led the charge in the Florida legislature to weaken Everglades pollution measures -- violating the state's earlier settlement with the federal government -- and set back water quality in the Everglades for more than a decade.

Even as this summer's water catastrophe was brewing in Lake Okeechobee, the Florida GOP in Tallahassee still lowered state-wide water quality standards. And even as the lobbyists and insiders toasted their victory against protections for Florida's waterways, conditions ripened in Lake Okeechobee to expose what they had done.

What the Florida GOP can't absorb is that the massive pollution coating Florida's coasts in toxic slime is also sliming its case with Republican voters. The District governing board is tarring itself with its own brush.

The many photos and videos of algae blooms and devastated coastal real estate show: Florida's water quality catastrophe is taxation without representation; the same that motivated another generation to a rebellion we celebrate on July 4th, but in Florida; not near the water.

1 comment:

Joe Podgor said...

It's time for the U.S. Attorney to reopen the original Everglades Lawsuit against the Governor and the State of Florida. The federal court retained jurisdiction, and the settlement agreement has been breached by the state. The parties should regroup, coalesce, and this time press for enforcement. Barring that, the parties should join in pressing EPA to reclaim the setting and enforcement of water quality standards in Florida. Just because it's hard doesn't mean it's not absolutely necessary.