Back in March, I wrote about eminent domain for Huffington Post: "Oligarchs In Florida: How An “Arab Spring” Could Make Big Sugar Even Wealthier But Save The State". The case for eminent domain in the Everglades Agricultural Area is on the table in Florida, thanks to Florida Senator Bill Nelson who recently endorsed action by federal agencies to initiate eminent domain proceedings, starting with a rigorous analysis to identify the most suitably located lands in sugarcane production to convert to water storage and treatment marshes for the critical public purpose of relieving Florida's estuaries and bays from their role as Big Sugar's sacrifice zones.
The EAA plus surrounding public lands including Everglades National Park comprise a total of about 2 million acres — historically, natural wetlands — but Big Sugar’s hammerlock on water management infrastructure and flood control practices ensure that the entire state dances to its tune.
Big Sugar gets what it wants, when it wants it. This turns into a problem during times of drought and flood; more the norm than the exception in a rapidly changing world where the state’s population growth collides with the impacts of climate change.
The chorus is rising: buy Big Sugar lands, send clean, fresh water south. What this means is taking about 100,000 acres out of sugarcane production to the purpose of storage and cleansing marshes so that Lake Okeechobee stormwater runoff doesn’t destroy property values, tourism-dependent businesses, and natural resources around the southern rim of the state.
The refusals from Big Sugar (“We are just ordinary people and good citizens who care” and “we’ve already done our fair share”) cannot stand up to fact and science.
For Huffington Post, Jane Kleeb takes up the eminent domain theme: "Keystone XL and Eminent Domain Embody the Republicans' Crisis of Identity."
The Republican Party is facing a serious crisis of identity. On the one hand, they stand up for property rights in their Platform, which would be music to the ears of rural voters and urban folks on the front line of pipeline fights if the GOP were not also Keystone XL’s biggest cheerleader. Not only do they praise the foreign pipeline in their Platform, but also using it as a proxy for their energy policy: drill anywhere and everywhere, no matter the risk.
The Republicans’ stance on ending eminent domain abuse while supporting the Keystone XL pipeline is the perfect case study of how the GOP can’t seem to find its identity.
The Republican Platform says, “The Framers of our government knew, from history and experience, that when private property is not secure, freedom is at risk.” Then, later in the Platform document, they go on to say that they support the Keystone XL pipeline and the only reason the pipeline was rejected was President Obama caving to “environmental extremists” clealry ignoring the threat the pipeline posed to landowners’ property rights along its route.
There is no question environmentalists helped stop the pipeline, but it was the unlikely alliance of climate advocates, farmers, ranchers, and Native communities who were on the front lines of the fight. Landowners went to court battling eminent domain, which ultimately was a huge factor in stopping the risky pipeline.
In fact, eminent domain has a routine, not an exceptional, place in U.S. legislative and judicial systems. When utilities need right of ways or local governments need roadway expansions, eminent domain is a powerful tool. It is a tool that also gives private property owners a means to be equitably compensated for loss of land.
The central question about eminent domain is whether it serves an important public purpose. For the fossil fuel industries, driving the Keystone pipeline through eminent domain, was a very important purpose. But it was a narrow purpose for industrial (and polluting) profits. On the other side of the ledger, it is very clear that using eminent domain to perpetuate the risks of climate change made the Keystone XL a very damaging project to the public interest.
Using eminent domain to negotiate conversion of Big Sugar lands into storage and cleansing marshes promotes another public choice. The domination of this polluting industry (involving a crop that benefits from the most egregious form of corporate welfare and subsidies) is already, in situ, a bad decision. Algae blooms now surrounding the southern half of the Florida peninsula demonstrate what a poor decision it has been to turn over water management to users like Big Sugar.
Eminent domain in South Florida, unlike Keystone XL, advances and does not subtract from the public choice do support clean water, coastal real estate values, and a vibrant tourism-based economy.