Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Florida's Environmental Failure: could voters put a state agency into "receivership"? ... by gimleteye

Today, claims of "FAKE NEWS" envelop us, but here is one undeniable truth in Florida: our waters -- which belong to the people -- are dissolving in a toxic soup of pollution. This, despite decades of environmental rules and regulations and billions invested.

Florida's Everglades, held in the public trust for future generations, is on life support after huge taxpayer investments and billions more promised to come. And people are suffering. Highly toxic algae blooms coated both Florida coasts in 2016 and persist in ecological treasures like Florida Bay; more billions lost in a state economy that depends on tourism. Some of that algae can trigger incurable brain disease.

Everything we have tried, in terms of protecting Florida's water quality, is on the order of half-measures or worse. Take North Florida's springs: once as clear as plain air and now clogged and coated with algae. Or Apalachicola Bay, where the historic shellfish industry has disappeared.

Elected officials and decision-makers tell us: there are no silver bullets. It is always someone else's fault. Georgia. Municipal waste. The shrugging platitudes are excuses. The solutions are always the same: bury the pollution in deep wells. Shift it somewhere else.

The regulatory structure within which the public frames its hopes for clean water and a safe environment for people, for the economy, and for habitats is bankrupt, overwhelmed by external costs and internal conflicts.

This set of interlocking phenomena did not happen all at once, although there are manifest examples of contributing factors like Gov. Rick Scott's decision to eliminate the powers of the Florida Department of Community Affairs -- the single state agency with a mission to balance the needs of economic development with the environment. To conservationists, DCA was never a panacea. The agency and its mission grew out of a bi-partisan consensus in the early 1980's that the state needed to take a strong role in balancing economic development with environmental protection.

DCA was hacked to death, piece by piece, by politics steered by unregulated campaign contributions and dark money pools from industry associations, Big Agriculture, and the development supply chain that minted billions from construction at the shoreline and through the conversion of low-cost farmland and wetlands into suburban sprawl.

With DCA, though, at least civic activists had a platform; a legal framework to challenge political decisions. They could petition in state court when they believed local government permitting violated the intent and spirit of state growth management laws.

Now, there is no platform and growth management is a hollow shell.

The hollowing out of government agency and missions is a successful tactic of the anti-government AltR. Its apotheosis at the federal level is President Trump, blithely ignorant of facts and dismissive of science. Trump and his agents like EPA chief Scott Pruitt are torching federal authority to protect the nation's air and water. For instance, Trump has said that he can't wait to dismantle the Clean Water Act.

The states can do a better job, he says, without apparently understanding that Florida can't. Hasn't. Won't. In Florida, the life rafts are designed to sink.

A lawsuit filed yesterday against the State of Florida by a group of children, alleging that the state has failed its responsibilities under the public trust doctrine and constitution to proactively address climate change and its impacts points in the same direction. In that case, Delaney et al. v. Florida, we know that the solution is based in sound science; we must stop and reverse the combustion of global-warming emissions as soon as possible.

Isn't that the same case in Everglades restoration, and isn't the injury by state government in the case of climate change denial the same as the denial of science embedded in the state legislation that emerged, after two years of controversy, to place a huge man-made reservoir south of sugar plantations and Lake Okeechobee? Carl Hiaasen described it this way in a recent OPED:
At 10,500 acres, the reservoir will be relatively small and so deep (23 feet) that some scientists don’t think it can do the job. The design was chosen over better options by the board of the South Florida Water Management District, which under Gov. Rick Scott functions as a policy arm of Big Sugar.
As one example, TCPalm reporters exposed how the water district in 2015 allowed a U.S. Sugar lobbyist named Irene Quincey to “edit” and weaken planned regulations on harmful phosphorous pouring out of Lake O.

Among her contributions to the final draft was deleting the word “enforceable” from three key passages.

So it’s no shock that the water district bowed to the corporate cane growers this year, too. The original reservoir proposal by Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican whose tourism-dependent district gets slimed hard by the green algae blooms, called for a 60,000-acre project.

That would have been big and shallow enough to deal with much of the fouled lake discharges. However, sugar producers didn’t want a larger reservoir because they opposed taking any cane acreage out of production, even if the state paid them for it.
Just like a corporation, a state agency should be held to be bankrupt when it fails to uphold its mission to protect individual liberties and rights. In the case of the Everglades reservoir, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection claims it is following law and the balance of taxpayer interest and property rights, but it has manifestly ignored the parts of the law that inconveniently conflict with the aims of the state's powerful campaign contributors: Big Sugar. FDEP does the bare minimum. But the bare minimum has the further effect of allowing mission creep and the goal posts to shift further and further away from protecting people and the environment. Surely, the Florida constitution is being violated.

When a corporation goes bankrupt, its business is put into receivership. Why shouldn't receivership apply to state agencies like FDEP, as well? Who would "receive" a failed state agency? It could be a special master of the court, supervising the work and recommendations of a science panel comprised of experts who are independent of Florida's regulated communities. They wouldn't be able to legislate of course, but if the state legislature refused its recommendations at least the destruction would be more highly visible. A special master, moreover, could be a brake on further agency backsliding.

The status quo cannot hold, because if it does, the verge we are on will reveal even more nasty surprises.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues.
When I look at your website in Ie, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer,
it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
Other then that, fantastic blog!

Anonymous said...

This is literally one of the stupidest arguments that I have ever heard. Is the DEP bankrupt? You're complaining about the laws. DEP has no ability to create or change the law. Advocating in this manner is undemocratic.

Anonymous said...

We'll see about that.