March 29, 2012
Guest editorial from The Everglades Foundation
In the Everglades, the taxpayers foot the bill for the agriculture industry's mess.
The Everglades Foundation released an independent study conducted by the respected research institute, RTI International, that uncovered some rather stunning findings. We always knew taxpayers were paying a disproportionate share of the cost of cleaning up pollution flowing into the Everglades from agricultural interests south of Lake Okeechobee. We just had no idea the disparity was this bad. The numbers aren't pretty: While the giant sugar conglomerates and other agribusiness operations south of the lake produce a whopping 76 percent of the phosphorus pollution in the Everglades, they pay only 24 percent of the costs of clean up.
Who pays the rest?
You do. Floridians pay through higher property taxes and with money raised through other tax revenues to the state's general fund. We pay again (along with all other taxpayers in the U.S.) through federal tax revenues spent to finance Everglades restoration projects designed to protect this fragile ecosystem and the water supply for 7 million Floridians.
We all agree that tax dollars need to be invested in projects to save this very special place. But it is hard to imagine why the handful of heavily subsidized sugar companies that are producing most of this pollution should be allowed to stick us with the bill to clean up their mess.
The fragile wetlands of the Everglades have long been choked by pollution, especially phosphorus from fertilizers used in industrial agriculture. Sugar cane in particular makes up the largest share of the crop land that drains directly into the national park. But a new study shows that despite the fact that the preponderance of gunk feeding into the Everglades comes from agriculture, it is the taxpayers, not the industry, who fork over for clean up.
Why this state of affairs?
"It's a little secret that the sugar industry is one of the most generous political donors on every level of government," says Kirk Fordham, CEO of the Everglades Foundation. The US Sugar Corporation spent $907,000 to lobby the Florida legislature in 2011 alone, and its rival Florida Crystals wasn't far behind, doling out $570,000.
The sugar daddies quickly issued a statement calling the study "hocus pocus." Gov. Scott's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Last year the governor cut funds for Everglades water clean up, and the Sunshine State has been fighting a legal battle with the feds for years over its responsibility to pay for pollution abatement in federally-managed areas of the Glades. Gov. Scott is currently in negotiations with the Obama administration to draft a new version of a decade-old state and federal restoration project.
Could the study shift the balance of payments? Fordham thinks so. "Rick Scott ran on a platform of protecting the taxpayer, and there would be no better way to follow through on that commitment than to demand that polluters pay more than taxpayers."