Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Florida: The Sinkhole State ... by gimleteye

Most Floridians are in the dark about one of the state's most secretive, regulated and wealthy industries: mining. In other states, mining is defined by mineral extraction. In Florida, mining involves scraping the surface layer of the earth; excavating ancient fossil bedrock for limestone, to make cement, asphalt and concrete, and phosphate derivatives, for agricultural fertilizer.

Mosaic is the nation's largest producer of the latter. Its multi-billion dollar revenues in Florida are focused on an area to the east of Tampa/ St. Petersberg where one mine recently drained over 200 million gallons of "slightly radioactive" water through a sinkhole that opened beneath a retention lake. Here is how large the operations are in the region: the mining area is 3/4 the spatial area of Rhode Island.

Recently, Jaclyn Lopez wrote an OPED for the Tampa Bay Times: "It's time to rein in Florida's phosphate strip mining". "Florida is starting to wake up to its massive phosphate mining problem," she begins.

Mosaic's public relations, like Big Sugar in its battle to retain the industry's privileges to pollute both Florida coasts, is trying to calm the public, claiming no threat to drinking water supplies from the disappearance of 200 million gallons (plus whatever volume is vanished through rainfall now pouring slightly radioactive and acidic tailings into the earth). It is a problem like FPL's at Turkey Point, where massive failure of its cooling canal system is radiating pollution beneath populated areas of south Miami-Dade and a national park.

The Mosaic problem is also like Japan's Fukushima. There, public confidence in government and corporate authority has been shaken to its bones by the fact that the nuclear reactor's fissile materials have "disappeared" into the earth.

All these problems point to hubris. All these problems -- byproducts of ingenious ways to accumulate wealth and power -- could have been prevented by effective government regulation.

It is precisely the environmental regulatory function of the federal government that has been under continuous attack since the nation's foundational laws were passed in the early 1970s.

Since at least the early 1990's, Florida environmentalists pleaded with the US Army Corps of Engineers -- the nation's permitting authority for wetlands destruction, and chief agency responsible for regulating mining activities in Florida -- to conduct a regional aquifer study in exactly the area where the massive sinkhole has now exposed Florida's drinking water to pollution.

In other words, we knew what was bound to happen in North Florida as water supplies were drained from sandy aquifers. The science of sinkholes is not complicated.
Dr. Sydney Bacchus, who offered expert witness testimony for many civic and conservation groups during these decades, is the unsung hero and sentinel of mining's threats to North Florida's aquifers.

The US Army Corps of Engineers, under pressure from state and federal lawmakers who are quick to bend to the will of lobbyists and campaign funders from the mining industry, has denied and obfuscated the scale of the problem much like the Japanese government with Fukushima.

Groups like Ms. Lopez' Florida Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, NRDC and Friends of the Everglades have tried to use federal courts to bring polluters to justice.

These issues -- of regulatory failure -- are critical to the question; who will Florida choose to be the next president of the United States? Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? Voters also have a choice with state leaders, so we don't have the earth pulled out from under our feet.


Anonymous said...

You are so beautifully well written and direct.

The plume of radioactive waste is not only under Miami-Dade county and a national park - add Monroe County as it seeps southeast with no mandatory testing wells to monitor the contamination spread.

Kendall Realtors said...

Calling the company and the government irresponsible for not warning the public weeks after the disaster is horrific.

FLGirl305 said...

It is horribly irresponsible. The state's newly adopted self reporting regulations clearly don't work. Perhaps we need to wait until the water glows in the dark, stops flowing, or worse. Is there worse? And yes the glowing in the dark part is just a sci-fi reference.