May 16, 2011
Save the trust funds
If you care about the environment, fight back, contact state legislators
April 6, 2003
The environment is under attack in Tallahassee.
Developers, special interests such as the sugar industry, and Gov. Jeb Bush are looking to gut Everglades cleanup plans and trust funds designed to ensure preservation of vital lands.
Residents must speak up. It's time to call on legislators to kill the proposals that could undo more than 20 years of work in Florida.
Pleading hard economic times, the governor and House Speaker Johnnie Byrd have crafted a proposed budget (House Bill 1793) which eliminates all trust funds established by the Legislature to assure such things as the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the Conservation and Recreational Lands Trust Fund, education trust funds, and many others. The money is to be siphoned out of these funds and put into the state general fund where it can be spent for any purpose.
Years of critical savings gone in a single fiscal year? Don't let it happen.
Destruction of the trust funds is a breach of trust with the people. Past state leaders sought to ensure steady, reliable funding of programs aimed at resolving critical issues facing Floridians.
The unfortunate side of this is that the raid on trusts is unnecessary - at least, it wouldn't be necessary if the governor and Legislature would address a serious reform of the state tax structure.
Reorganizing and reducing the number of sales tax exemptions would bring in enough new money to make up for the current revenue shortfall. A revocation of tax exemptions handed out during the Bush administration would achieve the same ends, but don't expect it to happen. The argument raised by the governor and Speaker Byrd is that revising sales taxes to meet the state's fiscal needs would amount to "new" taxes, something the two have pledged to avoid no matter how much pain it causes ordinary citizens and local government.
Arguing that the economy does not permit plans to restrict the flow of phosphates into the Everglades, as required under the Everglades Forever Act, legislators are now seeking to delay restrictions until 2026. The proposal has the support of the sugar industry.
Finally, there is House Bill 1005, a water resources act sponsored by Rep. Baxter Troutman, R-Winter Haven, which aims to kill provisions of the 1972 law reserving water for Everglades restoration - instead allowing water, even reclaimed water, to be used for development and under private control. A companion bill is seeking the same end in the Senate (SB 2200). The proposed legislation takes water out of public ownership and gives it to private developers and interests.
You won't be surprised that this measure was written so completely by developers that Rep. Troutman had to ask them to explain the bill when it was presented for committee hearings.
The Legislature should stand up for the people and the environment by killing attempts to raid the trust funds in the state budget bill (HB 1793), and by killing House Bill 1005 and Senate Bill 2200 before they proceed one step further.
Write, e-mail or call your legislators in the House - fortunately, Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie staunchly opposes Senate Bill 2200. Let it be known that people are watching closely to see who supports true environmental protection, who practices wise-ant, fiscal common sense, and who is really caring for all the needs of the state.
Here's how to contact this area's members of the Florida House of Representatives.
* Rep. Richard Machek, D-Delray Beach (Dist. 78; parts of Martin, St. Lucie counties) -- 1301 Capitol, 402 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee 32399, phone 850-488-5588; or Suite 300-A, 5341 West Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach 33484, phone 561-279-1633, fax 561-279-1634. E-mail: email@example.com
* Rep. Stan Mayfield, R-Vero Beach (Dist. 80; parts of St. Lucie, Indian River counties) -- 212 Capitol, 402 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee 32399, phone 850-488-0952; or P.O. Box 2380, Vero Beach 32961, phone 772-778-5077, fax 772-778-7210. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Port St. Lucie (Dist. 81; parts of Martin, St. Lucie counties) -- 214 House Office Building, 402 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee 32399, phone 850-488-8749; or 121 S.W. Port St. Lucie Blvd., Port St. Lucie 34984, phone 772-873-6500, fax 772-873-6502. E-mail: email@example.com
* Rep. Joe Negron, R-Stuart (Dist. 82; parts of Martin, Palm Beach counties) -- 221 Capitol, 402 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee 32399, phone 850-488-8832; or 2400 S. Federal Highway, Suite 250, Stuart 34994, phone 772-221-4904, fax 772-221-4906. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
# # #
Bush getting bad advice on Everglades legislation
Palm Beach Post
Friday, April 11, 2003
Gov. Bush and his chief environmental regulator either don't understand the behind-the-scenes manipulations by the sugar industry that threaten Everglades cleanup and restoration, or they are part of the industry's efforts to gut rules and delay restoration indefinitely.
The governor told The Miami Herald this week that U.S. Reps. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Porter Goss, R-Sanibel, "need to be briefed" to understand that industry-written changes to the 1994 Everglades Forever Act are not a problem, even if the changes allow more pollution and a 20-year delay in enforcing any water-quality standard. The Florida House Natural Resources Committee approved the amendments this week; a Senate panel considers them next week.
Gov. Bush, however, is the one who needs the briefing. Unless he wants to be known as the governor who killed the Everglades, he should seek information from sources other than sugar lobbyists and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David Struhs.
State legislators are trying to change the law without consulting the federal agencies that are Florida's partners in the effort to improve water quality in the Everglades and the $8.4 billion plan for restoration. That project is designed to provide water for the ecosystem and Florida's future residents. As Rep. Shaw has warned, changing the law without consulting Washington would jeopardize the $4.2 billion in federal money for restoration and open up the cleanup to litigation.
The bill in the Legislature would allow higher amounts of phosphorus -- which drains into the Everglades from farms -- than scientists believe can return water quality to a safe level. While phosphorus amounts are much lower than before the Everglades Forever Act, farmers are not close to meeting the lower, permanent standard.
Under the proposed law, polluters -- including suburban drainage basins -- wouldn't have to meet any water quality standard until 2026, rather than the 2006 deadline the law requires. The changes also would extend a South Florida property tax to help pay for the cleanup, which could bring more lawsuits under the "polluter pays" constitutional amendment. It would allow growers to pay only an additional $15 million toward cleanup, not the higher costs that enforcement of the 2006 deadline would require.
Gov. Bush can tell legislators he would veto the bill. Or he can go down as the governor who made the Everglades the Neverglades.
# # #
Letter to the editor
Stalling Everglades cleanup for 20 years will make it moot
Palm Beach Post
Friday, April 11, 2003
I was outraged as I read the April 3 article "20-year delay sought for Everglades cleanup law." It makes me sick to see the work of the past 30 years being destroyed by Gov. Bush and his administration.
All the state needs to do is to make sugar farmers do what other farmers are required to do, which is on-site retention of water polluted with phosphorus and pesticides. This was first suggested more than 30 years ago, but the sugar interests were exempted.
On-site retention requires farmers to take a portion of their land to build reservoirs to recycle water off the cropland and into the retention ponds. In dry times, the retention ponds are available to provide irrigation. This keeps the overly enriched and pesticide-laden water out of the Everglades and out of state waters.
When the Everglades Forever Act passed in 1994, I thought it was a stall so the sugar farms could conduct business as usual. Now, Gov. Bush and his administration support a measure that would allow the industry to stall another 20 years. By that time, there will be no Everglades to restore.
JOHN C. JONES
West Palm Beach
Editor's note: John C. Jones was executive director of the Florida
Wildlife Federation from 1972 to 1986.
# # #
Not so sweet
Posted April 11, 2003
Our position: Lawmakers are falling for a plan to pull back on Everglades protections.
That's effectively what farming interests south of Lake Okeechobee now are telling Floridians, the court system and Congress.
In 1994, those farmers, primarily sugar growers, heralded a detailed agreement that ended years of litigation and allowed Everglades restoration to begin. Just two years ago, those very same interests assured a federal judge that they remained wholly committed to the settlement. Ditto
Congress, which agreed to shoulder a huge chunk of the $8.4 billion restoration tab, based on the accord.
What a difference a legislative session makes.
Weeks ago, the growers suddenly showed up with a bill that would seriously undermine the 1994 agreement and delay for more than a decade a requirement to reduce fertilizer-laden runoff from farming operations that for years fouled the Everglades.
The accord called for the state Environmental Regulation Commission to set a standard for phosphorous discharge into the Everglades. That level was to be achieved by 2006, though reasonable exceptions could extend the deadline until 2011.
Now, though, the terms of the 1994 agreement are fatally flawed. At least that's the story growers are spreading around the state Capitol.
Incredibly -- or perhaps not so incredibly, given the millions of dollars sugar interests pump into political campaigns -- the sugar bill nearly flew out of a House committee this week. That was despite protests from environmentalists, renewed threats of lawsuits and dire warnings from a key congressman that it could undermine federal participation in the restoration.
Too bad, the farming interests say. They don't want to have to meet the ERC standard for another 20 years, until 2026.
Sadly, for the Everglades and for the millions of Americans who are paying to restore the fabled River of Grass, Gov. Jeb Bush and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David Struhs agree. They say that it may be impossible to meet the 2011 deadline.
That may be true. But absent a firm deadline, what impetus do farmers have to sustain the admirable phosphorous reductions achieved so far? None. None at all.
Yes, the legislation requires farmers to theoretically reduce phosphorous levels every five years. But the bill is so vague as to make that provision meaningless. What's more, the sugar proposal precludes the purchase of additional private land to build filtration marshes -- the very marshes that have helped reduce phosphorous levels since 1994.
South Florida U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw warned that the bill would be "an albatross" around the Florida congressional delegation's neck as it tries to sustain federal dollars for the restoration.
Is that what the governor and lawmakers want? The Senate is expected to entertain the sugar lobby next week. That's when lawmakers should dismiss such folly.
# # #
No backsliding on Everglades; Florida should honor commitment to cut phosphorous pollution
12 April 2003, (Copyright 2003)
When Interior Secretary Gale Norton was in South Florida a few months ago, she said she favored a tight restriction -- 10 parts per billion -- on the amount of phosphorous in water released into the Everglades. Gov. Jeb Bush had also voiced support for that standard.
Phosphorous, a component of fertilizer, is the biggest polluter of the Everglades. It causes excessive algae blooms and the rapid, overwhelming growth of invasive plants that crowd out and kill native plants, especially sawgrass.
Despite the sugar industry's opposition, environmentalists figured the state standard would become 10 parts per billion because Florida has a 2006 deadline to drastically curtail phosphorous pollution. That deadline was set in the Everglades Forever
Act of 1994, a state and federal agreement.
Republican state legislators now say, however, that there's not enough money to do that job by 2006. They cite a South Florida Water Management District report that says 15 parts per billion would be acceptable at this time.
The House Natural Resources Committee is crafting a bill that would set the less-stringent figure and extend to 2026 the target for substantially reducing phosphorous in the Everglades.
The Legislature should reject that bill and stick to the stricter standard. The Everglades is a national treasure, so many Americans will be watching to see if Florida's politicians follow through on the 1994 commitment.
Florida voters, of course, will also take note of who is willing to vote for a 20-year delay in cleaning up the Everglades.
# # #
A Times Editorial
The Everglades 'albatross'
St. Petersburg Times
published April 12, 2003
As a House committee voted Wednesday to postpone Everglades cleanup for two more decades, Florida's top environmental cop was remarkably docile. "Whatever date is put into law will not speed up or slow down our process," said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David Struhs. "That is because the laws of man cannot affect the laws of nature."
Is that so?
The Everglades is losing roughly six acres a day to cattail invasion because the laws of man allowed sugar and dairy farmers and urban developers and flood-control engineers to use it as their sewer. After environmental groups waged fruitless battles over the years to change those permissive laws, a U.S. attorney sued in 1988 and found a federal court that would listen. The result was that some new laws of man, the 1994 Everglades Forever Act, were passed. Those laws were primarily responsible for the impressive reduction to date in the amount of phosphorous, once pegged at 300 parts per billion, that pours off farmlands and into the
The cleanup delay that Struhs and Gov. Jeb Bush are so willing to accept is the handiwork of House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Spratt, who is from LaBelle, in the heart of sugar cane country. Spratt, too, advances a novel argument. He says that delaying the deadline is actually a way to hasten cleanup, because adherence to the 2006 deadline would just spur lawsuits. Spratt might want to run that rationale past U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler, who still oversees the court settlement that forced lawmakers to adopt the 1994 law. Hoeveler's next scheduled hearing is in June.
Those who have watched development and agricultural interests manipulate the Legislature may not be surprised by this latest stunt. But some U.S. House members are understandably outraged. "This is bad legislation and an albatross around the neck of your congressional delegation, who have to advocate for federal dollars on your behalf," wrote U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale. "You cannot amend this bill now, shift the responsibility for paying for the cleanup once again to the taxpayers and then expect the federal government to keep writing checks to restore the same Everglades Florida won't stop polluting."
Congress, you see, is pouring $8.4-billion into cleaning up the River of Grass. Call it the money of man, and understand why Shaw expects the laws to match.
# # #
"The Sweet Deal"
April 13, 2003
Whatever Big Sugar wants, Big Sugar gets. And who can argue with that?
After all, the Florida sugar industry is a major contributor to state candidates and political parties. It's entitled to some payback in a state that has become notorious for cash-register policy making.
Right now, what Big Sugar wants is some wiggle room--a lot of wiggle room, actually - in Florida's ambitious Everglades Forever Act.
And so, obligingly, the House Natural Resources Committee this week voted 16-1 to amend the act and provide a 20-year extension on the requirement that phosphorous pollution in the Everglades be reduced. Phosphorous comes from agricultural runoff, and it plays havoc with the Everglades' already precarious ecological balance.
How anxious are lawmakers to hand this sweet deal to their Big Sugar patrons? Consider that the committee vote came despite a strong warning from Florida members of Congress to the effect that watering down the act may jeopardize federal funding for 'Glades restoration.
"This is bad legislation and an albatross around the neck of your congressional delegation who have to advocate for federal dollars on your behalf," warned U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Ft. Lauderdale, in a letter to committee members.
"I know many of my colleagues would see their way clear to revoking their support for Everglades funding and using this piece of legislation as their justification."
But never mind that. Congress doesn't hand out campaign contributions. Big Sugar does - to the tune of more than $800,000 to candidates since 2001 alone. Big Sugar wants a sweet deal in return; and figures it's already paid for it.
True, a lot of Republicans ran for election last year while brandishing the Everglades Forever Act to show their environmental credentials. But the elections are over now, the Republicans won, and it's time to pay back their financiers.
Lawmakers may be able to slip this sweet deal past Gov. Bush, but it will still have to stand up to judicial scrutiny. U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler is overseeing the settlement of a 1988 lawsuit in which the state pledged to reduce phosphorous levels in the 'Glades.
Hopefully, this deal will not look nearly so sweet to the judge.
# # #
OPINION - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
STALL FOR BIG SUGAR'S SAKE REFLECTS BUSH MIND-SET
16 April 2003
The Palm Beach Post FINAL
About the article "20-year delay sought for Everglades cleanup law": That would be in the best interests of sugar growers. After all, how can U.S. Sugar Corp. maintain a production schedule of harvesting three-fourths of a million tons of raw sugar if limiting phosphorus to 10 parts per billion in runoff would have an adverse effect on the company's balance sheet? To play the devil's advocate for the growers, soil management is of vital importance. As this crop is not rotated, the soil has to be rejuvenated, and phosphorus is a necessary ingredient. A minimum of 15 ppb is required.
If that percentage makes the "River of Grass" into a tepid bathtub of cattails, it's in keeping with what the nation seems to be all about: "What's good for Halliburton is good for the country." Want to see what the Everglades looked like? I'm sure that pictures are available.
The legal squabbling now, to stall the cleanup for several decades, will drown out the hiss of the alligator, the cry of wading birds and environmentalists. With nature lovers like Dubya in Washington and Environmental Protection Secretary David Struhs in Florida, the ecosystem is in deep doo-doo.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Copyright (c) 2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.
# # #
Letter to the editor
Governor certainly hasn't threatened the Everglades
April 16, 2003
Contrary to allegations by the April 6 editorial in the News, "Save the Trust Funds," the Everglades and the environment are not under attack in Tallahassee.
Gov. Jeb Bush has done more in the last four years than in the preceding decade to ensure restoration of America's Everglades.
Not only has Florida fully funded its share of Everglades restoration, Gov. Bush just this year requested an historic, one-time cash infusion of $300 million into the Save Our Everglades Trust Fund to ensure restoration remains fully funded for the next three budget cycles.
The very laws that launched restoration a little more than two years ago are the direct result of Gov. Bush's leadership. Since then Florida entered into a legally binding agreement with the federal government that guarantees water is reserved to protect the environment.
More than 75 percent of the land needed for the initial congressionally authorized projects has been acquired. By 2006, final construction and optimization of 44,000 acres of man-made treatment marshes will reduce phosphorus by a total of 93 percent from the pre-project levels.
Just for the record, Gov. Jeb Bush supports legislation that strengthens our commitment to clean up pollution in the Everglades, but will not support any effort, legislative or other, that undermines the integrity of stringent pollution standards proposed by the Department of Environmental Protection.
David B. Struhs
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
# # #
Bush's Move Muddies Waters
South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board
April 17, 2003
Gov. Jeb Bush has thrown his support behind the Florida Legislature's efforts to rewrite a key environmental law that has curbed farm pollution in the Everglades. An explanation is in order, and fast.
Bush's rationale for changing the state's 1994 Everglades Forever Act had better be crystal clear.
At least six members of Congress have written Bush, warning him that the proposed amendment could jeopardize the $4 billion in federal funding the state is expecting, and needs, to carry out the bulk of the restoration work in the famed River of Grass.
Officials at the federal Environmental Protection Agency also will scrutinize any changes to the state law to make sure they are consistent with long-established laws and policies, like the federal Clean Water Act. Finally, there's U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler who is supervising the settlement agreement that led to the Everglades Forever Act, the law that set up the state's efforts to clean up the pollution. He won't tolerate any slippage from the state either.
The bill working its way through the Legislature would roll the cleanup deadline back 20 years to 2026. Proponents say the change is needed to ensure that the state meets its 10 parts-per-billion phosphorous-water quality standard.
It would also prohibit water managers from seizing privately owned lands by eminent domain during the next 13 years. The land could be used as marshes to filter phosphorous and other contaminants out of the slow-moving waters of the Everglades.
The language in the bill scares many. Wording that says the required cleanup will be done "at the earliest practicable date," rather than a specific date doesn't signal confidence that Florida is earnest in its efforts to restore a national ecological treasure.
It also didn't help that the legislation, backed by Florida's sugar industry, caught many environmentalists and several key state officials by surprise, including David Struhs, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and a point man in the efforts to restore the Everglades.
Florida, the federal government, agricultural interests and environmentalists entered a political détente in 1994 when a legal settlement and a sensible law ended an era of litigation and set up a series of procedures to improve the Everglades' water quality. Until recently, all the interests had been fairly unified in working toward a worthwhile goal.
All that has changed. The waters are now roiled.
It's up to Bush to lay out a clear and convincing case to ease the mounting concerns that the Florida Legislature may be undermining past efforts to improve conditions in the 'Glades, and he hasn't done so yet.
# # #
Special interest threats to Everglades continue
Apr 18, 6:00 PM
No one expected overnight improvements from the 30-year, $8 billion plan to restore the Everglades when it was adopted in 2000, but no one envisioned its untimely demise after only two years, either.
Environmental groups and some state legislators think that might happen if the delicate coalition of stakeholders in the effort to clean up the River of Grass falls apart due to special interest tinkering.
In particular, they fear that lobbying by the sugar industry and developers will result in Legislature-mandated changes that undermine state and federal funding agreements.
A House bill backed by sugar interests would raise permissible phosphorous levels for water discharged into the Everglades from 10 parts per billion to 15 parts per billion, and push back the 2006 deadline for lowering those levels 20 years.
When phosphorous levels exceed 10 parts per billion, microorganisms necessary to the survival of Everglades grasses and plant algaes are harmed. The bill also delays access to land needed for stormwater treatment until 2026, slowing the restoration push.
"The effort by the sugar industry to undermine the 1984 Everglades Act threatens to wreck the consensus for Everglades restoration," says Charles Lee of the conservation group Audubon of Florida.
Another bill under consideration would limit the state's ability to reserve water for fish and wildlife, which could delay the opening of stormwater treatment facilities and imperil federal funding, says Shannon Estonez, director of the World Wildlife Fund's Everglades program.
These are hardly the first threats from the Legislature to restorations plans, which call for a return to natural water flow patterns destroyed by decades of environmental abuse of the vast South Florida wetlands.
For instance, in 2001 legislators raided $75 million from Everglades trust funds. This year the House is proposing to sever the tax link between growth and conservation of natural resources that feeds those trusts. Federal funds for the Everglades are currently blocked by disagreement in the U.S. Senate as well.
Overcoming this combination of threats requires that all stake holders -- municipal, state and federal governments, utilities and environmental groups -- work together in dead earnest and good faith.
That's why Republican Congressmen Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale and Porter Goss of Sanibel are to be praised for warning other lawmakers that proposed changes to Everglades law could be a "fatal error" resulting in a loss of federal support.
The congressmen are correct. Legislative leaders must show they take the Everglades' fate seriously by resisting any proposals that jeopardize the vital restoration process.
# # #
EDITORIAL - OPINION
A MARRIAGE IN TROUBLE; OUR POSITION: THE EVERGLADES IS THREATENED BY TALLAHASSEE'S LOVE AFFAIR WITH SUGAR.
18 April 2003
Like a good marriage, a successful government partnership depends on communication, respect and a willingness to embrace evolving circumstances.
When it comes to restoring the Everglades, however, Florida seems obsessed with a tempestuous mistress, caving to the will of deep-pocketed sugar interests without so much as a glance in the direction of its dutiful spouse, in this case the federal government.
Weeks into the legislative session, with little debate and no prior notice, the sugar industry popped up with a bill that would postpone for up to 20 years a 1994 agreement to reduce pollutants from farming operations that flow into the River of Grass. The measure, in all its various machinations, sailed through legislative committees in both houses -- with the backing of Gov. Jeb Bush and his environmental chief, David Struhs.
The proposal not only is an overt attempt by farming interests to escape culpability for polluting the Everglades, it has drawn the considerable ire of federal officials who have committed to share with the state the $8.4 billion cost of restoring the Everglades. Even Interior Secretary Gale Norton said Wednesday that she was "concerned" about the changes, as have Florida's two U.S. senators and several influential members of the U.S. House.
At least Senate President Jim King seems to be listening. He's threatened to block the legislation if it jeopardizes federal funding. Truth is, there's no valid reason to change the 1994 accord now. If future changes are needed, they can and should be considered in consultation with the state's federal partners. The marriage -- and the Everglades -- depends on as much.
Copyright 2003, Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.
# # #
Washington sees clearly; Everglades change risky
Palm Beach Post
Sunday, April 20, 2003
The scene was a Florida Senate committee room. As The St. Petersburg Times reported, "dark-suited lobbyists lined the walls, and hastily scrawled amendments got passed unanimously before the public got a chance to see them." Some of the lobbyists, according to another published report, were submitting scribbles of their own.
This was last week, as the Legislature was considering sugar industry-written changes to the 1994 Everglades Forever Act. The changes would allow more pollution into the Everglades and delay enforcement of water-quality standards for at least 10 years and possibly as long as 20 years. Gov. Bush, Department of Environmental Regulation Secretary David Struhs and sugar growers say the changes actually will help the Everglades, but they aren't convincing anyone.
The day after lobbyists flooded the Senate, Gov. Bush sent Mr. Struhs to Washington to soothe members of the state's congressional delegation who worry that weakening the Everglades Forever Act will jeopardize the federal government's commitment to pay for half of the $8.4 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. The Everglades Forever Act is supposed to fix the water-quality problem. If that doesn't happen, it will make little sense to carry out the restoration plan, which is supposed to fix the water-quantity problem.
An earlier letter from Mr. Struhs had failed to convince eight bipartisan lawmakers of Florida's good intentions in rewriting the cleanup law without their input. In person, Mr. Struhs failed again to convince Reps. E. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Porter Goss, R-Sanibel. After listening to an hour of Mr. Struhs' technobabble on the subject, they issued a joint statement urging Florida lawmakers to change the cleanup law.
They are not alone. Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson wrote Gov. Bush to warn that the House Interior Appropriations subcommittee is threatening to cut off money for restoration. Interior Secretary Gale Norton added that Congress wants to be heard if the state changes Everglades rules.
Once the November election had passed, the sugar industry--which reportedly gave more than $800,000 to state candidates and parties in the 2001-2002 cycle -- began working to weaken the water standards. To get its way, the industry has distorted key parts of the Everglades Forever Act and capitalized on the fact that term limits have swept out so many legislators who were around when the law passed.
Gov. Bush's response has been to lash out at environmental groups. "The governor has been badly briefed and badly misled," said Nathaniel Reed of Jupiter Island. He knows the subject. In the late 1960s, Mr. Reed was Florida's first environmental regulator and went on to become an assistant secretary of the Interior Department.
If the Legislature caves in to the sugar industry, Everglades restoration may become just a fantasy, and the state may lose more than $4 billion toward the most important public-works project in South Florida history. Mr. Struhs and those "dark-suited lobbyists" claim they are right and everyone else is wrong. No sale.
# # #
A Times Editorial
Bush's sugar-coated bill
St. Petersburg Times
Gov. Jeb Bush is trying to sell this line to people who practice politics for a living: Sure, we are extending a deadline that is written into law, replacing the date 2006 with 2026, but we have no intention of delaying anything.
This was the message Bush's Department of Environmental Protection secretary, David Struhs, brought to Washington on Wednesday. Struhs tried to persuade angry members of Congress that Florida is not planning to delay cleanup of the Everglades, but his main achievement was to provide comic relief.
Just hours after their meeting with Struhs, two Republican U.S. representatives from Florida, Porter Goss and Clay Shaw, issued another stern warning: "It is . . . our continued recommendation that the Florida Legislature table this flawed bill at this time. We cannot overemphasize the fact that to do otherwise would seriously jeopardize the federal dollars that are ultimately needed to ensure our mutual goal." U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton also got into the act, telling a National Press Club luncheon that: "We are concerned by the efforts to slow down implementation of water quality programs."
Bush's response reveals a disquieting level of contempt for those in Washington who have gone to bat for Florida. "Environmental politics is like, so politically correct, so focused on perception rather than reality," he said Thursday.
No matter how Bush and Struhs wish to dress things up, though, the bill they are supporting this year in the Legislature is a delay. The House version delays a key cleanup deadline by 20 years, and Congress would be foolish to ignore that.
The federal government is investing $8.4-billion into the cleanup based, in large part, on the commitment the state made in 1994 to adhere to a strict schedule of pollution reductions. That schedule was designed to force all the responsible Everglades polluters to pay up, and to remove their chronic excuses.
Struhs may well be right that the next threshold of pollution reduction, to reduce phosphorous content in all runoff water to 10 parts per billion, is formidable. But similar claims were made about the reductions that already have been achieved, and those improvements would not have been possible without enforcement of strict regulatory deadlines. Gentle persuasion has never meant much to the sugar industry.
Bush can't really believe that deadlines get in the way of environmental progress, and he has categorically rejected deadline extensions for 12,000 high school seniors who may not get diplomas. No, this is about the political muscle of the sugar industry, and it gets Florida nowhere to pretend otherwise.
# # #
Breaking An Everglades Promise
Published: Apr 20, 2003
State lawmakers and members of Gov. Jeb Bush's administration who are pushing a measure to weaken Everglades water standards argue their efforts won't undermine the ambitious effort to clean up the River of Grass.
So far, those arguments seem to be carrying the day in Tallahassee. The Senate's Natural Resources Committee unanimously passed the measure the other day.
The legislation, pushed by a posse of sugar industry lobbyists, would manipulate water quality standards to allow a phosphorus level of 15 parts per billion instead of the 10 ppb to which federal and state officials agreed.
This is significant. Tainted runoff now causes up to nine acres a day of the Everglades' saw grass marshes to be overtaken by cattails, which thrive on nutrients but are inferior habitat and undermine the Everglades' ecology.
The legislation would give polluters an extra 20 years--until 2026--to meet the 10 ppb standard.
Lawmakers and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David Struhs act as if this were a mere technicality instead of a major retreat in the state's commitment to the Everglades.
State and federal scientists had agreed the 10 ppb standard is necessary to revive the Everglades. The governments are partners in an $8 billion Everglades restoration project.
Moreover, the legislation violates a federal court order that prompted the cleanup effort.
A federal judge issued a consent decree that set a December 2006 deadline for compliance with the 10 ppb standard. The state signed the agreement. Now lawmakers and the administration would simply ignore that commitment.
This is likely to result in judicial consequence. It could also cause Congress to revisit its commitment to the project.
Dexter Lehtinen is the former federal attorney who successfully filed suit against the state in 1988 for allowing the pollution of the Everglades in violation of its own laws. Unlike Struhs, he has been involved in the cleanup effort from the start.
He says the original cleanup deadline was 2002, and the judge allowed the extension with the promise the state would meet the water quality standards. If this legislation is adopted, Lehtinen says, "there are no state water quality standards."
Scientists acknowledge growers will not be able to meet the 10 ppb phosphorus standard everywhere by the 2006 deadline. The goal here is not to punish the industry. The current agreement does not mandate enforcement action where runoff exceeds the standard. It requires that a plan be developed for meeting that water quality standard.
Instead of requiring such accountability, this legislation would give the industry decades to respond.
The bill serves no purpose other than to allow the continued pollution of the Everglades and to jeopardize the state and federal cleanup work. If the state doesn't abandon this slippery effort, then Gov. Bush and lawmakers should not be surprised if neither Congress nor the courts put much faith in the state's Everglades promises.
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Sugar growers' sticky fingers spoil cleanup
Columnist Mike Thomas
Published April 20, 2003
The Everglades sugar growers are like the big gators that roam the world's best-known swamp.
Both are opportunistic feeders that dump their waste on public land and are protected by government overlords. The only difference is that there is some nobility in an alligator.
Let me explain what is going on with the latest ruse by Big Sugar to gut Everglades restoration.
First, some background: The sugar industry has, at most, maybe 25 more years in the Everglades.
The biggest reason is simple:Its farms make no economic sense.
The only way Big Sugar survives is generous government subsidies.
The South Florida Water Management District taxes urban areas to help pay for the irrigation and drainage of sugar farms. Your taxes also pay to clean up pollution that flows from them.
Lastly, the federal government sets price controls that artificially inflate what you pay for sugar.
This cannot continue forever with trade barriers falling and Fidel Castro hitting his twilight years. Cuba is one of the world's great sugar producers, and it's fair to say the communist country will become one of America's big trading partners once he's gone.
It also is becoming painfully obvious that the Everglades cannot survive while accommodating sugar farms and an expanding urban population. Something has to give.
On top of all that, erosion caused by farming strips away the rich soil that the growers need.
Big Sugar knows all this. Its best strategy is to plunder as much as possible during its remaining years, then to dump the land off on taxpayers for an inflated price.
To do this, it needs the state to back off tough pollution guidelines, and it needs to keep every last acre cultivated in sugar.
That's why Big Sugar has enlisted its henchmen in the Florida Legislature to push a bill that delays implementation of pollution standards until 2026. It also stops the state from condemning sugar property needed to build filtering marshes for dirty farm water.
You have to admire the gall. Big Sugar not only is raping the resource; it expects breakfast in the morning.
To get it, the industry has hired a bevy of hotshot lobbyists, in addition to its usual largess when it comes to feeding campaign troughs.
Big Sugar knows how to play the game, which is why those of you in Orange and Osceola counties who live in the jurisdiction of the South Florida Water Management District pay a special assessment on your property-tax bill for cleaning up farm runoff.
Republicans only oppose welfare to those who don't regularly cut them huge checks.
This brings us to Jeb Bush.
Remember during his re-election campaign when he touted his role in the Everglades cleanup? Remember that picture of him with his brother, the president, both smiling as they signed an Everglades cleanup bill?
Well, now that he's set for another term, he seems to be abandoning that commitment.
Technically, Jeb hasn't taken a position on the legislation, but David Struhs, his secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, is backing it. Struhs wouldn't do that without a wink from his boss.
Well, the trial balloon is being shot down. It's time to back off.
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Everglades in Peril
New York Times
The most ambitious environmental rescue operation ever tried in this country - a $7.8 billion plan to restore the Everglades - is suddenly at risk. The reason is that one of the major players in the enterprise, Florida's politically connected sugar cane industry, wants to postpone into the distant future the deadline for cleaning up the polluted water flowing into the Everglades. And the Florida Legislature is poised to let the industry do it. This could mean serious trouble for an already fragile ecosystem. It would also violate the spirit of the federal-state partnership underlying the project and threaten the revenue stream on which it depends.
The project is the result of 15 years of bipartisan negotiation, with costs to be shared equally by the state and federal governments. In essence, it's a vast replumbing scheme aimed at rerouting one trillion gallons of Florida's copious rainwater to the Everglades, which desperately needs it.
But fancy engineering will mean nothing unless the water itself is clean. The main culprit is phosphorous, which flows from the farms and sugar cane fields north of the Everglades, and which 15 years ago topped out at more than 300 parts per billion - 30 times the maximum amount that scientists said the Everglades could handle.
After much debate, the growers and other parties agreed to reduce that level to 10 parts per billion by 2006. Great strides have been made. But with the goal in sight, Big Sugar now wants to weaken the standard to a biologically unacceptable 15 parts per billion and delay the compliance deadline 20 years. A bill written by a sugar loyalist named Joe Spratt codifying these wishes is now sailing through Florida's House.
The person who can stop this bill is Jeb Bush, Florida's governor. Mr. Bush has often professed his devotion to restoration and on several key issues - financing and land acquisition, for instance - he has been a faithful partner. But on this issue he and his chief environmental adviser, David Struhs, have been disturbingly ambiguous. They insist (as do the sugar companies) that all they really want is flexibility in order to avoid endless lawsuits if they miss the 2006 deadline. But 20 years of "flexibility" is absurd. And even if modest variations on the original plan are found to be necessary, they should be transparently negotiated by all the stakeholders.
One hopes Governor Bush appreciates the seriousness of the moment. Mr. Spratt's unilateral effort to rewrite a complex federal-state compact is more than just another bump on the road to restoration. It betrays the premise of the project, which is that nature has as much right to clean water as the developers and farmers. And the change would infuriate Congress, which is unlikely to provide further money if Florida is seen to violate its part of the deal. Indeed, Mr. Bush's office has been flooded over the last few days with angry warnings from members of the Florida Congressional delegation, Republicans and Democrats alike, none clearer than this one from Representative Peter Deutsch: "The U.S. Congress will not appropriate funds [for the Everglades] if this legislation is enacted."
It would be useful, of course, if senior figures in George Bush's administration spoke out with equal vigor, notably Gale Norton, who as interior secretary is chiefly responsible for protecting the federal interest in this project. Karl Rove, the president's political adviser, might also take note. Most Florida voters favor Everglades restoration. The president clearly will not want to campaign in Florida in 2004 with the project in shambles.
But even without these voices the message to the president's brother is already unmistakably clear: kill this bill and get on with the cleanup.
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Editorial: Cleanup imperiled
Don't let legislators halt progress on Everglades restoration
April 23, 2003
The long struggle to clean up the Everglades by restoring water quality is about to be derailed by a measure speeding through the Florida Legislature. It has, of course, the blessings of the state's sugar barons.
Written by Rep. Joseph Spratt, R-Sebring, the bill relaxes phosphorus standards through 2026, allowing the sugar industry to continue polluting the Everglades.
At present the sugar industry and others must work to lower the phosphorous content of water flowing into the 'Glades to 10 parts per billion by 2006. Many people, especially lobbyists for the sugar industry, say it's impossible to meet the requirement in the next three years. Thus, Spratt's bill will allow 15 parts per billion through 2026. Scientists across the board say the increase in phosphorus is unacceptable and biologically damaging.
The plan to clean up of the Everglades has been 15 years in the making and has involved all sides in the debate--environmentalists, the sugar industry and other farmers, and state and federal governments. The result is a $7.8 billion plan funded by state and federal money, and funds from the private sector.
Members of Florida's congressional delegation, both House and Senate, Republican and Democrat, have warned Gov. Jeb Bush that Spratt's proposal could result in the loss of federal funding for the cleanup--something no one wants. Gov. Bush and David Struhs, the newly appointed secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, contend that the Spratt plan, which has not been debated publicly, will not harm the famed "river of grass," and will protect the state from a barrage of lawsuits if it fails to meet the 2006 deadline.
Gov. Bush and Struhs, who aired his views in an Opinion-page column in the News on Tuesday, do not say who would be filing the lawsuits, but claim that changing the law is just "common sense." They maintain that opposition to the Spratt plan is based on myths and misinformation. But facts seem to show otherwise, as environmentalists throughout the nation are now saying loud and clear.
The bill does one other thing: It thwarts the will of the people, expressed in a 1996 statewide referendum, requiring the major polluters to pay the full cost of the cleanup, and seeks to shift that to property owners and taxpayers from Orlando to Key West.
If the changes are made, Treasure Coast residents will lose out, because funds for the cleanup of the St. Lucie River and Indian River lagoon will dry up, with terrible effects on our local economy. The Spratt plan, which is to be voted on in the House, and then the Senate, makes "common sense" only to the sugar industry and the politicians feeding on that industry's campaign largesse.
Voters should waste no time letting their state senators and representatives know that this is a bitter pill which cannot be sweetened no matter what sugar lobbyists say.
A failure to keep the protections of the current Everglades clean-up plan could be reflected at the polls, when once again Gov. Bush will try to keep the state in his brother's political camp.
Here's how to contact this area's state legislators:
* Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Port St. Lucie, 214 House Office Building, 402 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee 32399, phone 850-488-8749; or 772-873-6500, fax 772-873-6502. E-mail: email@example.com
* Rep. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, 221 Capitol, 402 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee 32399, phone 850-488-8832; or 772-221-4904, fax 772-221-4906. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, 214 Senate Office Building, 404 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee 32399, phone 850-487-5088; or 772-335-8000, fax 772-398-2873. E-mail: email@example.com
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Letter to the Editor
Island Issues: 'Glades plan won't change with pending legislation
Florida Keys Keynoter
Publication Date: Wednesday, April 23, 2003
A recent article in the Keynoter described the opposition of a number of environmental organizations, led by Islamorada environmentalist Mary Barley, to a proposed Everglades bill. The opposition is certainly real. The reasons and justifications for that opposition are not.
The original Everglades Forever Act mandated the South Florida Water Management District to design and construct a series of cleanup marshes by 2006, and meet a 10-parts-per-billion standard for phosphorous, or whatever standard the Environmental Regulatory Commission sets. It also orders the district to produce a conceptual plan by this Dec. 31.
The proposed legislation captures that plan in statute. It calls for the continuation of the one-tenth of a mill tax that funds the cleanup effort. It also captures in law the peer-reviewed recommendation of the scientists and engineers working on the project that eight to 10 years be spent improving and maximizing the benefits of the 44,000 acres of stormwater treatment areas we are building. Twenty-thousand acres are constructed; the rest are under construction.
Those stormwater treatment areas were predicted to reach 50 parts per billion for phosphorous. They have been achieving more than that, with the ones that are operational reaching an average of 40 ppb. Two of them are achieving 15 to 20ppb. Currently, 80 percent of the phosphorous reduction takes place in the first 20 percent of the marsh.
All the above suggests we redesign and optimize the extremely successful effort we have started.
I predict that the state Senate will produce a version of the bill out of committee that clarifies and improves on the House version, and I believe that version will prevail
Nothing in the legislation changes the oversight of the original federal lawsuit settlement that started all this. The state will still have to convince U.S. District Court Judge William Hoeveler that we are doing everything possible to clean up the Everglades. Nothing in the legislation changes the ability of the Environmental Regulatory Commission to set the 10-parts-per-billion standard supported by the Bush administration.
The accusation that an agency that has been more efficient than mandated – that has spent $500,000,000 on the effort, that has dedicated an additional $450,000,000 to the next phase, that has produced a specific plan to get the rest of the way needs to be under an artificially created deadline--is just not true.
So why the uproar? A month and a half ago, at a meeting to discuss district issues, Mrs. Barley demanded that I support an effort to force the district to condemn 40,000 more acres of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area. When I replied that I would be willing to look at science to justify the need, she replied that she needed no justification, the taxpayers she represented demanded it.
Sorry Mrs. Barley, that's not how it works in America. There are only two places in American jurisprudence where you are guaranteed a jury trial. One is a capital case that could result in the death penalty. The other is when the government tries to take your land.
The farmers are adamant that the nearly 100,000 acres the state has acquired from them for cleanup and storage is all they are willing to sell until we finish all construction, and someone can prove it is not enough. That means science, not demands.
The accusation that the sugar industry developed and supports the legislation is true. It was also true of the original Everglades Forever Act and all state and federal legislation in support of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
The Agriculture Privilege Tax in the Everglades Forever Act has collected about $120 million from the farmers, less than originally predicted, only because the on-farm cleanup mandated at 25 percent reduction is achieving 50 percent reduction. The original legislation provides a tax break for overachieving.
With regard to the prediction that Congress will pull the funding for Everglades restoration, this is a curious attempt at self-fulfilling prophecy. The only people requesting that Congress do this are the people opposing this bill ... a group of people who, collectively opposed the original Everglades Forever Act.... I predict they will fail.
Islamorada resident Mike Collins, a flats fishing guide by trade, has been a member of the 16-county South Florida Water Management District's board of governors since 1999.
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Senate a co-conspirator against the Everglades
Palm Beach Post
Thursday, April 24, 2003
The attempt to kill Everglades restoration but cover up the crime gathered force Tuesday, even as more evidence emerged that shows the deception behind the scheme.
In the Senate, the misnamed Natural Resources Committee voted 15-0 for a bill that would weaken the 1994 Everglades Forever Act, designed to clean up water flowing into the state's "river of grass." The bill is set for a full Senate vote Friday. In the meantime, South Florida Water Management Director Henry Dean, whose agency is in charge of the cleanup, told The Post that he hadn't asked for any legislation, nor was he asked for his advice.
Of course he wasn't. The sugar industry, working through nearly four dozen lobbyist/perpetrators, has greased this legislation through other sources -- the water district board members to whom Mr. Dean reports and legislators. Since the Legislature and the equally misnamed Florida Department of Environmental Protection are portraying themselves as saviors of the Everglades because they support the legislation, the only hopes may be a veto from Gov. Bush or failure of the House and Senate to reconcile their differing bills.
DEP Secretary David Struhs praised the Senate version, which at first glance might seem better. The debate is over Phase 2 of the Everglades Forever Act. Due to begin in December 2006, it is supposed to implement a final, tough water-pollution rule that will allow what remains of the Everglades to recover. While the House would delay enforcement for 20 years, the Senate refers to a 10-year plan. But under the Senate bill, the Legislature would have to approve every project and how to pay for it. With that language, the Legislature could postpone indefinitely any cleanup -- and the accompanying costs and/or loss of sugar-cane land.
While the Legislature and DEP scramble to placate the industry that gave $800,000 in state political contributions during the last election cycle, the Florida congressional delegation stays focused on what is stake -- $4.2 billion. That's how much the federal government has pledged to pay toward the $8.4 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project, designed to relieve the Everglades' water quantity problems and provide water for new subdivisions over the next 50 years.
Congress made that pledge based on the state doing its part. Weakening the Everglades Forever Act would give Congress reason to break the pledge, leaving the Everglades too dirty and too dry to fully recover. In environmental terms, it would be the crime of the century.
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