Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tallahassee - Bought and Sold (business as usual)

If you don’t think the Florida Legislature is being bought and sold, you’re naïve.  If you think it’s okay how they take money in exchange for favors, you’re part of the problem (and probably a Republican).  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, heaven help us.  This state and country is in big trouble.
Here’s a graphic and nauseating example.
Small, so-called craft beer makers, microbreweries, are now allowed to sell their beer in half-gallon sized containers and in quart-sized or smaller containers.  Recently, they decided they needed to also sell beer in gallon-sized containers like the big boys do because of its popularity.  A reasonable business strategy - responding to the needs and wants of their market.
To do so, however, the law would have to be changed.  So they went to T-Town, of course expecting it to be a simple and positive thing to ask of their esteemed elected leaders.  It would help the small guys grow their businesses and the craft beer industry in general.
Enter some cagey, less than ethical, competition-hating, opportunists of the dark side of “free” capitalism, the beer distributors.  With fists full of green they ask their “friend” and president of the senate, Don Gaetz, to help.  The outrageousness of what he agreed to do is exceeded only by his actually doing it.  Simply put, it flies squarely in the face of acceptable ethics, honest free enterprise and the thoroughly American spirit of a competitive, open and free market place.
President of the senate, Gaetz, eager to help his friends, sponsored Senate Bill 1714, that would force the microbrewers to first sell their product to the distributors and, after they mark it up, buy it back from them regardless of whether they actually distribute the product, or not!
Sound crazy?  It’s a true.  Google it.  You’ll find the legislators supporting this idiocy are those who have received heavy political contributions from the distributors.  It is nothing short of bald-faced bribery and if you’re not outraged, you need to move to some other place where such activity is considered part of the culture, because it isn’t, here … yet.
Thank goodness there are some house members, like Representative Dana Young (R-Tampa, House Majority Whip) who are calling this what it is, “punitive” and “absurd.”  
She asks, “Why would the Senate want to do this? It goes against every free market, small business principle we have?” 
We’ll see what happens.
Meanwhile, it leaves you with a load of warm and fuzzies about the ethics of our elected reps in T-Town and those governing our lives, doesn’t it?
Now, here’s my point in telling you about this.  Carry the thought to the topic of water and the state’s dependence upon an adequate flow of unpolluted, salt-free, and affordable quantities for its future.  Without it, we are in very deep trouble.  People living here now and in the future; tourists who want to visit us; current and future businesses large and small and from every sector of our economy; and, fundamentally, a healthy and beautiful natural environment that makes Florida such a uniquely attractive place to live, work and have a bit of fun; all, must have and continue to have, adequate clean, fresh water to thrive.
I’m confident you cannot rationally disagree with that last statement.  Thus, I urge you place this base display of failed governance regarding microbreweries in context with what’s happening to the Senate’s Springs Protection bill, Senate Bill 1576, sponsored by Senators Simpson, Dean and others.  It is in serious trouble.  What began as a rational and thoughtful approach to an aggravated problem that is growing worse by the day, is being systematically pricked apart and weakened.  If we want to know by whom, the situation of the microbreweries is instructive.  Just follow the money.
It would be my guess that big agriculture, mining companies, power companies, oil companies and land developers of all descriptions are tossing big green at those who will openly or covertly oppose this bill, Senate Bill 1576.  Include, if you will, a review of House members who fit this wrap, especially House Speaker, Will Weatherford.
The fate of this much needed legislation is unfolding in Tallahassee even as I write this.  The Bill is scheduled to be considered for further amendments by the Senate Appropriations Committee sometime between 9 until 6 today, amendments that will render its purpose either meaningful to the future of the state or just another destroyed opportunity for the legislature to do something good for Florida and its people rather than the ever-writhing and slithering moneyed special interests.
If you care, do something.  Call and/or email your Tallahassee representatives and the Governor today … now.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Brian Armstrong - New SWFWMD Assistant ED

Sources who wish to stay anonymous are saying Brian Armstrong has been offered and has accepted the position of Assistant Executive Director at the Southwest Florida Water Management District.  Good luck Brian.  Hope you can return the organization to operating on the basis of science instead of the politics of Rick Scott and the sale of Florida to the highest bidders.

A note of concern.  Remember when the DEP Tampa Office minions of Herschel Vinyard and Jeff Littlejohn herded all employees of that office into a hastily called meeting and told them they were to remove all their personal belongings to their cars and take them home because the next day some of them would be fired?  Horrible way to treat a dedicated staff, yes?  Brian was a newly appointed assistant to the executioner, Mary Yeargan when that happened.  Question is, what role did he play  and what part of that experience will he bring back to his former employer and its already demoralized staff at SWFWMD?  Time will tell, Brian.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Good Luck Charlie

The media is reporting this morning that the upcoming legislative session could impact Florida CEO Scott’s interest in being reelected.  This is because if he doesn’t have a “successful” session, his already weak poll numbers will sink further and his much coveted reelection might just slip away into the tanned, unsweating palms of a smiling Charlie Crist. 

Everyone now knows how dumb it was for Scott to take all those highly regarded governmental programs and experienced people -  ensconced over the last 50 years to take Florida forward for a healthy future - and so callously and thoughtlessly kick them to the curb … some to the gutter.  People, even some republicans, are realizing that the state will suffer for years because of these really stupid actions and Scott is trying his political best to shift course without admitting he was wrong, bad wrong, disastrously wrong. 

Take for example the number of “For Immediate Release” releases that DEP was spewing out seemingly every day.  Each would bugle some amazing accomplishment by either the clearly inept secretary of DEP, Herschel Vinyard, or the clearly inept governor.  Most of these “noteworthy” accomplishments were actually nothing more than the department doing its job which neither Scott nor Vinyard actually had any part in, or adamant denials that the stupid things they were doing in the interest of politics were not in the interest of politics – so called, “setting the record straight,” as these denials were many times entitled. 

In any case, the number of these propagandistic missives has slowed dramatically and now the DEP spin mongers are careful how they mention anybody.  Take for example their latest little communiqué which suddenly announced that, out of an excess of wisdom, it was no longer going to try to sell environmentally valuable lands in order to raise money to buy environmentally valuable lands, a gambit Senator Jack Latvala has labeled disastrous and a charade.  No mention was made in the release of Scott, and Vinyard was quoted only as simply thanking his staff for its efforts.  They held a lot of public meetings and spent a lot of time and public money … and sold nothing. 

Seems Senator Hays must have had an epiphany.  Wasn’t he the guy who announced that the public owned way too much land and shouldn’t, because it should be owned by corporations and individuals for profit-making, public interests be damned?  Has he suddenly realized that environmentally valuable land held for and by the public of this state is a key factor in securing the state’s economic future?  

This latest release doesn’t mention Scott but wouldn’t you like to have been a fly on the wall when Vinyard, Scott and Hays, the brilliant ones who put this idea into law, decided it was a political liability, a really crappy thing, and needed to be flushed?   

Environmentalists are happy but they should be wary about this sudden-found apparent wisdom.  Those responsible for the craziness of the idea in the first place, haven’t yet left the building.  The heat they felt on their political backsides that made this reversal of misfortune happen should be stoked even hotter. For example, I doubt if Hays has had any such revelation.  He is still full of ill-advised bad ideas and even more misunderstood good ones.  Thinking he has now left the side of the special interests he has served so religiously would be foolish.  In terms of natural Florida’s best interests, the man is still very dangerous and will remain so as long as he is a legislator.  A smile and thanks for those who truly saw the light is appropriate but as for the rest, no rest. 

It’s noteworthy that senate president Gaetz and house speaker Weatherford are being insensitive to the governor’s reelection plight and have identified several legislative objectives that are making Scott squirm.  Their dilemma is that they find themselves between a rock - the fact that Scott could be headed for a lost reelection bid - and a hard place - the fact that if he loses, republican imperatives will likely get lost in the dust from a resurgence of Tallahassee democrat power.  In other words, they’re figuring they might best strike now while the governor is still a republican to achieve what they know will be difficult victories, because that circumstance could change in November. 

Pardon, I should probably to stay focused on other issues but one of their more brilliant proposals, for example, would further erode the right of a woman to manage her own body by “tightening” the laws that define when abortions will be legal and not.  The republican concept is that women are not capable of deciding if and when they should end a pregnancy they do not want, and only government can and should make that decision.  Weatherford must have some expansive background or understanding and knowledge of this matter because as speaker he’s spinning it up for consideration by the house.  Scott’s handlers understandably would rather the legislature not stir the hearts of the state’s childbearing women against this indefensible republican tenet. 

Another bothersome proposal is this.  Remember when Scott and his legislative lemmings said the state’s oversight of comprehensive growth management should be removed from Tallahassee and left to the wisdom of its 67 individual and disparate county commissions, because there is no need to pursue a long-term state plan that would only serve to provide some level of desirable direction for its future in the decades ahead?  Remember when they were saying state-level planning was a useless pursuit that only served to slow the approval of sprawl, and since sprawl is where the jobs are we needed to have more of it and get rid of state planning?  

Well, the special interests were not satisfied.  They have directed the legislature to go further.  Now that control of large projects has been returned to 67 individual county commissions and any number of cities with no functional way for them to coordinate among themselves the review of projects that affect more than one jurisdiction, they are demanding local governments be even more limited in what they control.  Locals should be prohibited by law, for example, from requiring developers to insure roads will be ready for those who will live in a development by the time they actually move in.  Inexplicably, the idea that the availability of roads should be concurrent with the need for them seems too elusive for Tallahassee legislative logic to grasp.  

In addition, there are legislators ready to give greater control of water over to private interests until the lines between control and ownership become blurred to the extent there is no legal difference.  The more scarce water becomes, the more the legislature wants to take control away from the public and hand it to the private sector to sell.  There’s huge money to be made if this happens and Tallahassee is all about money.  Doesn’t matter that those who will need water the most will pay the most, and those who own it will also control it and become very powerful, indeed. 

Yes, “when the legislature is in session there isn’t a man women or child safe on the streets of Florida.” 

But here is something that makes me smile anyway.  A hugely apparent dilemma for the republicans who are trying to find something negative to say about Charlie Crist is that there is nothing negative they can say that hasn’t already been said and profusely written about.  He was a republican, then an independent, and now a democrat.  There have been rumors as to why he was never married, but now he is and, it seems, happily so.  He’s known as supporting an issue yesterday but not today, and vice versa. (Haven’t we all?) Talk about transparent!  And, we have absolutely no doubts about how he’ll perform as governor, do we?  He can answer questions extemporaneously without robotically having to stick to his handlers talking points like some automaton, and he always knows, recognizes and says hello to everybody in the room.  How can he be disparaged for that? 

It is actually refreshing that the man, literally, doesn’t have anything to hide.  What can the republicans possibly bring forward that we don’t already know and which would amount to such a shocking revelation about him that he would lose support to Scott?  Everybody knows about Charlie and the conclusion is, so what, it’s still a whole lot better than what we know about Scott. 

You need to take a long hard look at the alternative to Charlie.  I’m a republican and I have, and I’m sticking with the man I know and who will be so much less dangerous than the guy we’ve had for the last 3.5 years.  Good luck Charlie.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Former SWFWMD Director Kuhl - Not So Fast My Friend

Gary Kuhl is a  former executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District and County Administrator for both Citrus and Hernando counties. He is also the former Water Team Leader for Hillsborough County and is currently an active member of the Florida Conservation Coalition.  His letter is published here with his permission.  It rings with validity and carries significance because of his professional background – he’s an engineer – and his considerable experience in Florida water resource management.                     - Sandspur
Not So Fast My Friend
Just when it was starting to feel like the Governor and the Florida Legislature might be trying to head in the right direction and “get the water right”, things sure look like they are going south AGAIN. The Governor recently suggested putting money in the State’s budget to assist with Everglades management and improvement in water routing to minimize the disastrous impacts seen this past summer in the Indian River Lagoon---putridly polluted runoff waters released into the Lagoon from Lake Okeechobee apparently killed hundreds of dolphin, pelicans and manatees over this past year. Granted the Governor’s proposed budget amount for the Eveglades is a pittance compared to what is needed, yet it seemed like a positive start. State monies were recently spent with great fanfare to cleanup some of the State’s springheads including the Chassahowitzka spring in southwest Citrus County. It is well known that it is going to take serious action upstream of these springheads to stop the nutrient and water consumption problems, but again these springhead cleanup projects seemed to be a good start. And Southwest Florida Water Management District employees have tried hard to keep local citizens informed of progress on these spring projects. There SEEMED to be a few other good signs of recognition by elected State officials of our water problems and hence potential problems for Florida’s future.
Rainbow River
Photo by Gary Kuhl
But not so fast my friend---enter Pam Bondi, Florida’s Attorney General, who surely receives direction and supervision from our own Governor Scott, to join some twenty other state attorneys general with formal letters supporting a lawsuit by the American Farm Bureau Federation filed against the feds and the State of Maryland for (GASP!) cleaning up Chesapeake Bay! She, Bondi, claims her only desire here is to stop federal overreach, i.e., to stop a cooperative environmental cleanup program between six states, the District of Columbia and yes, the federal government. How does her action make any sense? It’s embarrassing for our State. When’s the last time you ate an oyster or crab harvested from Chesapeake Bay?? That Bay is a mess--kind of like Indian River Lagoon.
Right behind Bondi comes Florida Panhandle Representative Jimmy Patronis with proposed legislation (HB 703) to eliminate or severely limit Florida counties and municipalities from managing and regulating their own local development and projects impacting our environment. Remember the Florida Legislature two years ago dismantled Florida’s growth management laws and the State department responsible thereof. The reason given was, gosh, the local county and city governments could handle all that stuff. Is there a pattern here?
Is there a decided approach to dismantle the substance of forty some years of environmental consciousness promulgated by bipartisan Florida governors and legislators? Looks like no one will be overseeing development or long term planning or “you name it” in Florida, a state that has now has almost 19 million residents and millions more annual visitors. Guess who supports this bill, HB 703? Is it the same folks who are suing Maryland because they are trying to clean up their own Chesapeake Bay through planning and, yes, regulation of farming and development practices? On the long haul, fair and well thought-out regulations are job savers, not job killers.
And finally along comes our Speaker of the House, Will Weatherford, who proclaims that he is “punting the water stuff” to next year’s legislative session. He acknowledges that Florida’s water issues are real and have been a long time in the making and will take a long time to solve. It is very hard to understand how a responsible leader in our State government could make such an ill-considered statement for non-action. It is a problem, it will take a long time to solve it.  So let’s put it off another year!??   
Kudos to Senator Charlie Dean along with four other Florida Senators who have drafted a proposed bill aimed at protecting and enhancing Florida’s dying springs, and really, our fresh groundwater resources for drinking, irrigation and industry use. Senator Dean in a recent presentation at the annual meeting of the Friends of the Crystal River Wildlife Management Refuge Complex, explained the bill he was instrumental in drafting. He cited the proposed bill as long overdue and the “right thing to do” for our State.  These five Senators and their proposed bill need our strong support through citizen letters and phone calls to elected officials, such as our Governor and other senators and representatives. Senator Dean along with getting his proposed bill passed, will need to fight to quash HB 703.  Patronis’ bill opens the door to the old days in Florida----totally unmanaged growth along with an apparent path to privatization of our water resources. Guess who is already strongly lobbying against Senator Dean’s bill? You got it---lobbyists for agricultural and development interests.
Don’t get me wrong, I personally like agricultural, chamber of commerce, industry and home builder folks----many of us have relatives and good friends in these groups. I like Representative Patronis; several of us met with him this past summer to express our concerns about his bill that passed last year, further weakening water management districts in Florida. I like jobs being created here in Florida and good pay for employees. Positive cash flow into our state is probably good. BUT, if we mess up what brings people and businesses to our beautiful and unique State, its water and its environment, we can kiss it all good-bye. Selling or polluting our natural resources for the highest bidder, to get re-elected as governor or attorney general or legislator; or to bring big bucks to a few folks to the detriment of a long term healthy Florida is dead wrong.  Maybe many have never seen a Florida spring in the wild and maybe some could care less about “the environment” but we taxpayers will pay the bill to try to fix the mess if our water is not properly managed NOW.  We have got to help Senator Dean get his bill passed and kill House Bill 703.

Respectfully submitted, 
Gary W. Kuhl
February 20, 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Bondi’s anti-cleanup message stirs pointed responses

Last week, representing you, the residents of Florida, and using your tax dollars, Florida attorney general, Pamela Jo Bondi, unbelievably, took legal action opposing local efforts to clean up Chesapeake Bay.  (See http://swfwmdmatters.blogspot.com/2014/02/florida-sues-to-stop-clean-up-of.html) The action, with the apparent blessing of Florida governor Rick Scott, has triggered reactions both here and there.  Here are two letters, one from Manley Fuller, President of the Florida Wildlife
AG Pam Bondi
filed legal action to stop
cleanup of Chesapeake Bay
Federation, and Jennifer Hecker, Director of Resource Policy, Conservancy of Southwest Florida.                             - Sandspur


Re: “Florida joins states in brief challenging water ruling” (news, Feb. 4). 

We were stunned that Florida would attempt to derail the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint. As we continue our own fight to improve waterway conditions in Florida and in neighboring states like Georgia and Alabama, we should be looking for ways to reduce our own pollution and clean our own water, not attacking other states’ solutions. 

After years of failed proposals, the landmark Chesapeake plan was approved with support from all six watershed states and is recognized as “cooperative federalism” in a recent ruling by a federal judge. Those living in the Chesapeake region recognize, as do Floridians, that a healthy economy is intrinsically linked to a healthy environment. Like Florida, Chesapeake states know that a healthy watershed is vital to its multibillion-dollar tourism, recreation and commercial seafood industry. 

Chesapeake Bay, ACF River Basin, St. Johns River and the Everglades are recognized as America’s Great Waters for their national significance. It is imperative that we cooperate across the country on efforts to restore our Great Waters for our critical natural resources and nature-based economy. 


President, Florida Wildlife Federation

Florida Needs to Stop Its Dirty Water Lawsuit
Last week, the State of Florida used your tax dollars to take legal action to try to stop the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S.  While dirty water abounds here at home, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a brief against the Bay clean-up plan.
Bondi, and other state attorneys generals, joined polluters including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Pork Council, The Fertilizer Institute, National Beef Cattleman’s Association and others, to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from carrying out its plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. These are the same types of polluting industries we’ve been trying to get to stop pollution at its source here in Florida. They are also the same polluting interests that joined Bondi in suing the EPA to fight protective enforceable water quality standards for controlling fertilizer, sewage and agricultural runoff into waters used for drinking, swimming and fishing.
Florida’s waters and the Chesapeake Bay are being polluted by the same nutrient pollution. Therefore, the implementation of an effective nutrient pollution clean-up plan for the Chesapeake would also mean that Florida’s polluters would be forced to treat their own pollution on-site, rather than disposing of it in our waterways. This would save us from continuing to pay the price in lost tourism, lower real estate values and the expense of publicly funded clean-up projects. We understand why the polluters would fight the clean-up of the Chesapeake, but are confounded and outraged as to why our state would join their fight.
This cannot be credibly portrayed as a state’s rights issue, as the Chesapeake Bay states signed and supported the clean-up plan. This also cannot be portrayed as protecting Floridian’s interests, as this is not in Florida and would set a negative precedent for establishing effective clean-up plans for Florida’s waters.
Contact Florida’s Governor Rick Scott at 850-488-7146 and Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi at 850-414-3990, to tell them they need to stop and withdraw this dirty water lawsuit immediately and to use our tax dollars to clean up Florida’s polluted waters instead.
And to the people of the Chesapeake Bay region, we apologize that Florida’s leadership would try to prevent you from having a clean bay for you to safely enjoy. Please know that we want you to have clean water, just as much as we want it for ourselves.
For more information on protecting Florida’s waterways, visit www.conservancy.org or call 239-262-0304.

Jennifer Hecker

Director of Natural Resource Policy
Conservancy of Southwest Florida


Quote - Ron Littlepage, ( ron.littlepage@jacksonville.com (904) 359-4280) Florida Times Union, Via Florida Conservation Coalition News Brief:
“Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and her buddy Governor Rick Scott have lost their minds. Last week, Bondi joined in a lawsuit to undermine an agreement that would clean up one of the nation’s most valued bodies of water, the Chesapeake Bay… That puts Bondi and by extension all Floridians on the side of the American Farm Bureau Federation in being pro-pollution and anti-clean water.” Littlepage continues, “You can forget about those environmental clothes Scott has been masquerading in of late while making a big deal about handing out dollars for restoring the Everglades and our iconic springs. Scott and Bondi are all about protecting Big Ag’s ability to pollute for profits.” Read Why are Florida leaders involved with Chesapeake Bay? Find the legal brief challenging the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Plan here.