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“Polluters Win Again In Florida Legislature”: Plan Allows Big Ag Operators To Supervise Their Own Waste Releases

Touted as an environmental breakthrough, the water policy bill passed last week by the Florida Legislature is actually a major win for polluters and the politicians they own.

Enforcement of clean-water rules is basically being replaced by the honor system. Big Agriculture couldn’t be happier.

Same goes for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, whose dream of one day becoming state agriculture commissioner is closer to reality. The Brevard Republican has been an obedient little soldier for the special interests that divert and exploit the state’s fresh water supplies.

Current Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam was the political shepherd for the user-friendly new law. It was written by lobbyists for mega-farming and land corporations, and rammed through the GOP-controlled Legislature.

The Senate passed it with nary a single dissenting vote, reluctant Democrats saying this year’s version was better than last year’s awful bill, which didn’t pass. Even some environmental groups went along with the rewrite, asserting that it was the best they could hope for.

Which is just sad.

David Guest, the longtime managing attorney for Earthjustice in Florida, warned that the damaging effects of the new water bill will “come back to haunt us all.” From now on, farms that send polluted runoff into Lake Okeechobee will only need a permit to restrict the quantity being discharged — not the amount of fertilizer crud in it.

The plan allows Big Ag operators to supervise their own waste releases, which is a fantasy come true for those who pollute, including the sugar barons.

Theoretically, farm companies would work on deadlines to minimize the amount of phosphorus and other harmful substances in their outflow using so-called “best management practices.”

But the guidelines are mostly voluntary, and devised by the agriculture lobby, so you can guess how rigorous they are. Not very.

Sympathetic legislators went even farther, inserting in the law a “cost-share” provision that directs water-management districts to use tax dollars to subside Big Ag’s anti-pollution efforts.

In other words, the public will be paying farm corporations to do something they should pay for themselves — clean up their mess.

Supporters of the final water bill say significant enforcement powers were added to the plan, but that’s mainly on paper. The reality will be different.

At the urging of environmentalists, language was put in allowing the state to inspect farmlands to make sure proper clean-up practices are being followed. However, the law conveniently doesn’t state how or when these inspections would be conducted, or what would constitute a violation.

It doesn’t even say what the fines and penalties would be. And, of course, no money is being appropriated for hiring extra inspectors at the hilariously misnamed Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

So, in truth, the new water bill has no real enforcement mechanism. Another cynical move by GOP lawmakers was placing the Department of Environmental Protection in charge of periodically reviewing the water management practices, to see if pollution is actually being reduced.

It’s no secret that Gov. Rick Scott has made a priority of castrating the DEP. Only a sucker would believe the agency will be re-staffed and re-empowered to take on the task of monitoring corporate polluters.

There’s no denying the water bill is ambitious and far-reaching, and Big Agriculture isn’t the only winner. Developers seeking to tap into rivers and waterways, particularly in Central Florida, should send thank you notes along with their campaign checks to Tallahassee.

A water plan with pollution rules set by the polluters is exactly what you’d expect from the same gang that betrayed the 4 million Floridians who voted for Amendment One.

Some Democrats and environmentalists say they’ll strive to toughen the weak phosphorus rules and expedite cleanup actions. That won’t happen without an epic shift in political power.

Meanwhile the crap being pumped from Lake Okeechobee and surrounding farms continues to imperil the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, the Indian River Lagoon, Gulf Coast beaches and, most critically, the Everglades.

Under the new rules, some farmers and landowners will honestly try to improve the water they flush into Florida’s wetlands and drinking supply. Others won’t, because it’s cheaper and easier to dump unfiltered waste.

If voluntary compliance really worked, we wouldn’t need any pollution laws. Corporations would care as much about clean, safe water as ordinary families do. Unfortunately, that’s not the real world. It’s just a fantasy promoted by industry lobbyists and bought politicians.

And now, in Florida, it’s going to be the law.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, January 18, 2016

January 20, 2016 Posted by | Florida Legislature, Florida Water Policy, Rick Scott | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bought And Paid For With A Texas Hunting Trip”: How ‘I Can’t Be Bought’ Rick Scott Overcame His ‘Disgust’

Back when he first ran for governor of Florida as a self-styled outsider, Rick Scott lambasted his opponent in the Republican primary for taking campaign money from U.S. Sugar, one of the worst corporate polluters of the Everglades.

Scott indignantly squeaked that Bill McCollum had been “bought and paid for” by U.S. Sugar. He said the company’s support of McCollum was “disgusting.”

“I can’t be bought,” Scott declared.

Seriously, that’s what the man said. Stop gagging and read on.

Four years later, the governor’s re-election campaign is hungrily raking in money from U.S. Sugar, more than $534,000 so far.

Exactly when Scott overcame his disgust isn’t clear, but in February 2013 he and undisclosed others jetted to the King Ranch in Texas for a hog- and deer-hunting junket on U.S. Sugar’s 30,000-acre lease.

Apparently this has become a secret tribal rite for some top Florida Republicans. Exposed last week by reporters Craig Pittman and Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times, the politicians ran like jackrabbits for the hills.

All questions were redirected to the state Republican Party, which couldn’t get its story straight. “Fundraising” wound up as the official explanation for the free pig-shooting sorties.

Scott refused to field questions about the King Ranch shindig. A spokesman said the governor covered his own air flight and hunting license.

Days later, a bit more information: Scott shot a buck deer on the trip, his flack said, and paid the taxidermist out of his own pocket. What a guy!

A month after his secret safari, the governor appointed an executive of King Ranch’s Florida agricultural holdings to the board of the South Florida Water Management District, the agency supposedly supervising the Everglades cleanup.

The inner circle, you see, goes unbroken.

Florida Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam was so mortified to be asked about his King Ranch excursions that he slithered behind a door that was then shut in a reporter’s face. Slick move. Putnam is the same social butterfly who once criticized the state law forbidding elected officeholders from accepting gifts like free trips, booze and meals. Putnam lamented that the ban was “a disincentive for fellowship.”

Thwarting the statutory gift ban has been accomplished by letting the political parties operate as money launderers for special interests. U.S. Sugar, for example, gives tons of cash to the Republican Party of Florida, which then spreads it around to Scott, Putnam and other candidates for purported political expenses.

The King Ranch, which has its own sugar and cattle holdings in Florida, has also hosted GOP House Appropriations Chair Seth McKeel and Dean Cannon when he was House Speaker.

The current House Speaker, Will Weatherford, and the incoming speaker, Steve Crisafulli, have both received Texas hunting licenses, although they won’t say if they’ve been to the King spread.

Florida has an abundance of deer and wild hogs, but an out-of-state safari offers the appeal of seclusion and anonymity. Interestingly, no Republican senators or Democratic leaders appear to have participated in the King Ranch flyouts. Former Gov. Charlie Crist, Scott’s likely opponent in November, has taken contributions from Big Sugar, but said he’s never been to the ranch.

Buying off politicians with hunting and fishing trips is an old tradition in Tallahassee, interrupted by the occasional embarrassing headline followed by flaccid stabs at reform.

Nobody believes the absurd GOP party line saying that the King Ranch hunting jaunts are “fundraisers.” They’re just free (or heavily discounted) vacations.

You really can’t blame Big Sugar or its lobbyists. They know who and what they’re dealing with; the only issue is the price.

The company has given more than $2.2 million to Republican candidates in the 2014 election cycle, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t get its money’s worth.

Taxpayers, not the sugar tycoons, remain stuck with most of the cost of cleaning up the Everglades. Every time someone tries to make the polluters pay a larger share, the idea gets snuffed in Tallahassee.

Meanwhile the politicians who could make it happen are partying in Texas with the polluters — shootin’ at critters, smokin’ cigars, sippin’ bourbon around the fire. Hell, maybe there’s even a steam bath.

These are the people controlling the fate of the Everglades. They’ve been bought and paid for, just like Rick Scott said four years ago. Now he’s one of them. His staff won’t say why he changed his mind about taking Big Sugar’s money. It also won’t say where he put the stuffed head of that buck he killed at the King Ranch.

The bathroom wall would be a fitting place, hanging right over the toilet where he flushed his integrity.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist, The Miami Herald; Published in The National Memo, August 5, 2014

 

August 6, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Florida, Rick Scott | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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