Sunday, July 17, 2016

"And so it has come to this" - John Moran

I'm ever thankful there is someone who so accurately sees how natural Florida is under siege and who is willing to step up and, with the clarity of a cloudless spring day in Florida, say what must be said with such precision and plain truth that we cannot look away.  That person is John Moran and this is what he said in newspapers around the state just now. It is well that you consider what he has to say.      - Sandspur 
 
And so it has come to this. What was once Florida’s family secret is now in full view for all the world to see.
 
The word is out: We’ve been terrible stewards of our waters, and we have the international news headlines to show for it.

John Moran
“Guacamole-thick algae” washes ashore on the beaches of the state the governor ironically promotes as “the world’s top tourist destination.” And a huge swath of Lake Okeechobee is covered in lurid green slime, visible from space.
 
Florida’s water woes isn’t a new story, of course. This is just an old tale reaching a wider audience.
 
The details may differ but our springs and rivers and lakes and coastal waters have been heading south for many years.
 
If a lie can destroy a reputation, so too can the truth. And the pictures don’t lie. If a state could declare environmental bankruptcy, Florida today would be in Chapter 11.
 
The sliming of our waters is a growing public health threat, a deepening environmental crisis, a looming economic disaster and a public relations nightmare.
 
And we can’t blame the Army Corps of Engineers, or the EPA or an Act of God. Look in the mirror, Florida. We did this.  In crisis there is opportunity, but it’s instructive to first consider the back story.
 
A long time ago our political leaders saw clearly that Florida was headed down an unsustainable path. “Ecological destruction in Florida is nothing less than economic suicide,” declared Gov. Reubin Askew in 1971.
 
A year later the Legislature passed landmark water management reforms, widely hailed as a national model of wise governance.
 
The decades passed, the pendulum swung and a new message – casting Florida’s environmental protection and growth management laws as irksome impediments – was packaged and propelled with a megaphone only deep pockets can buy.
 
And the guiding ethos in Tallahassee shifted from a view of natural Florida as a special place to be tended with stewardship, to a view of natural Florida as a commodity to be exploited for profit.
 
Upholding our social contract with the future gave way to magical thinking. Blinded by the myth of endless water abundance, we ignored the truth that choices have consequences and the table was set for the mess we face today.
 
And now we have the 2016 Water Bill, widely seen as a give-away to Big Ag and Big Business: So many words, so little protection.
 
Nature is resilient but only to a degree. Florida is a place where 20 million people make daily choices around water which seem entirely “reasonable” to them. We have seen the net result of all that reasonableness and it is not a pretty picture.
 
Our waters are a mess and we know how we got here:
• Groundwater overpumping;
• Pollution from fertilizer, and human and animal waste;
• A failure of responsible government oversight;
• Businesses that value their private profits over our public waters; and
• Lack of civic engagement.
 
We are running out of fresh water. By the state’s own estimates, Central Florida will tap out legacy water supplies within 15 years.
 
Yet, astonishingly, we continue to pour half our household water budget on the ground for lawns and landscaping.
 
The pollutants we spread on our farms and lawns, or flush down our drains, don’t just go away. Some portion of that stuff ends up in our drinking water or fuels the slime fouling our springs and beaches.
 
With a changing climate, warmer waters will make these problems worse, as evidenced by the toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie that left half a million Ohio residents without drinking water two summers ago.
 
And scientists are studying a link between cyanobacteria found in polluted Florida waters and neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and ALS.
 
We Floridians are a curious lot. We tend to change our behavior only in times of crisis, and we tend to elect politicians whose brains are wired to perceive a chance encounter with a mosquito carrying the Zika virus as a greater threat than the colossal disruption posed by the collapse of our waters.
 
We are missing the big picture, in part because no Florida political leader has the honesty and courage to tell us that our lifestyle choices and business practices are destroying our springs and rivers and lakes and coastal waters.
 
When it comes to inspiring the embrace of a new water ethic – in which we use less and pollute less – the silence in Tallahassee is deafening.
 
My message to our political leadership is clear: It is the earth that lies at the very center of our existence and makes possible life itself, to say nothing of
human endeavors like the economy.
 
That line about “the business of government is business” is shallow and shortsighted. We must aim higher: The business of government is well-being.
 
And to our business leaders, I say there can be no long term well-being in Florida if we continue to use and abuse our waters like there’s no tomorrow.
 
Will this be our watershed moment? We get to decide, Florida. May wisdom be our guide.
_____________________________________________
 
John Moran is a renown, award-winning  Florida nature photographer and clean water advocate.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

"How Florida Republicans (and we) Became Losers"


This Huffington Post article by Alan Farago lays bare the crude facts and dangerous failures of Republican Leadership fostered by Rick Scott, Joe Negron, Pam Bondi, and Adam Putnam since 2010.  With the upcoming elections, it would be our foolishness to let that failure continue in any form.  Whether you're Democrat or Republican, leadership that will return the state to an educated respect and countenanced balance between the need for protection of property rights while effectively and scientifically protecting and preserving what remains of Florida's natural systems is existentially important for Florida if the way of life it now provides us is to be sustained. - Sandspur

 Some Quotes from the article:

"Massive toxic algae blooming around the southern half of the Florida peninsula, coating public health, tourism, business and real estate on both Florida coasts with dangerous scum, is the real consequence to taxpayers and voters of losing their bet on Republican leadership: Gov. Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam, state representative Matt Caldwell, US Senator Marco Rubio, and all the insiders and cronies they corralled to serve on boards like the water management districts and Public Service Commission. This isn’t hyperbole. A real bet was made by voters. A real bet was lost."

"One of Gov. Rick Scott’s first acts as governor was to axe the science budget and staff at the state agency charged with protecting fresh water resources in Florida. By eliminating scientists at the South Florida Water Management District, Scott erased the institutional memory of an agency nominally charged with balancing the needs of people and the environment with the needs of industry. Specifically, Big Sugar."

"Scott appointed members of the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District with no experience or compassion for the environment. The Scott way distilled to a simple formula: cede regulatory control to special interests who had the most to earn by limiting the impact of regulation on their profit models."

(Scott was systematic through out the state doing the same thing at all five of its water management districts and its Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Community Affairs - Sandspur)

"Florida’s shadow government, exemplified by Big Sugar, could not have been more pleased. Scott, as a newbie, needed training. He came to Tallahassee without a game plan or qualified staff. He would need to be brought up-to-speed and who better to bring him up-to-speed than the shadow government comprised of lobbyists and insiders who populate the state capitol, Tallahassee, and report back to employers in Palm Beach, Tampa, Jacksonville, Naples and Miami. Scott was, fortuitously, exactly what the shadow government had been looking for all along: a smart guy perfectly in sync to streamline their profits by eliminating government regulatory functions to the maximum practical extent."

(The writer must have been in audiences I've been speaking to for the last 5 years.  This is almost verbatim what I've been saying. See my presentation notes - https://www.dropbox.com/s/zk53mipiiunc03h/2015-12-11%20FlSpgsInst-New%202.docx?dl=0 - from a talk I gave to the Florida Springs Institute on 12-11-2015- Pages 5-14                          - Sandspur)

"Today’s ecological collapse in the St. Lucie River, connected estuaries, in the Caloosahatchee River, along both Florida coasts and stretching down through the Everglades to Florida Bay is a neon sign flashing in front of taxpayers and voters. When Gov. Rick Scott, Marco Rubio and Adam Putnam killed the US Sugar deal, they ignored the history and science of Lake Okeechobee, the massive fresh-water lake in the middle of Florida. Scott had already eliminated the science capacity of the state water district. By allowing political science to trump fact and the imperative for government intervention, Florida’s GOP created political conditions for deadly cyanobacteria to destroy the treasures of South Florida, including public health and personal real estate"

"If Democratic voters are furious, what is the word to describe Republican voters in Florida? Losers. Losers, because over a long period of time, they elected Republicans who turned their back on history, on bipartisan consensus and the lessons of the past. They did so with the confidence that insiders and special interests could protect the public better than regulations and enforcement because they get paid when customers are happy.

See the full article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-farago/how-florida-republicans-b_b_10715792.html

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Oddly immune to the fire, Brian Armstrong, new ED at SWFWMD

Brian Armstrong has just been named the next Executive Director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.  That declaration will be followed in all the media releases that will now gush forth from DEP and SWFWMD with, "by the Governing Board." 

Brian should be congratulated, I suppose, because anyone who thinks the ED's job at a water management district these days under Rick Scott and his back channel manipulators can still do environmental good should be.  However anyone who thinks it was the Governing Board of the District that made the decision to place him there has not been paying attention.  These jobs are not left to any chance that someone not locked and chained to CEO Scott's anti-environmental mantra, or said another way, hasn't drunk the kool aid, might make the wrong decision. So it isn't likely a group of head bobbing political wannabees are going to be left for the task. 

No.  Street rumor has it that Brian's appointment is the handy work of none other than Scott's transition team sub-committee chairman on regulation and the guy who oversaw development of the committee's plan to take down Florida's nationally respected environmental regulatory protection mechanisms, Tampa lawyer and current general counsel of the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, Doug Manson.

Rumor also has it that Brian, oddly immune from all the fire that was swirling around SWFWMD at the time, was under consideration for the job years ago when the first raids on district funding and staff were getting underway, but the thought was that his executive management experience was too thin.  So, he was spirited away to get that experience as assistant executive director at the DEP Tampa office when that organization was being put through a sausage grinder, and then later brought back to SWFWMD as the assistant ED in waiting.   Now that SWFWMD's most recent Scott-appointed political fodder for an ED, Robert Beltran, has been cast to the winds of rejection, for who knows why, Brian is there to take charge just as planned.  Problem is, all this has nothing to do with the fact that it's the governing board's responsibility to fill the position, not political operatives from Tallahassee who couldn't give a wit less about Florida's natural systems.  Just another reason why "locally appointed" governing boards have become a joke and are there only to protect the substantial ad valorem taxing authority of the districts without which such political plums like a water supply for central Florida could not be funded.

Now, is all this just more methane in a windstorm?  I really don't know.  It will all be denied, certainly.  But the rumor mill is churning and for the poor souls still working at SWFWMD, and by emotional extension for the other WMD's, it's just more stink to add to what will be Scott's ruthless anti- environmental legacy, like that stench rising from the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.  Brian will hopefully be able to operate as he might, with the professional freedom to base his decisions on good science and not Doug Manson's political objectives, but I'm not holding my breath ... my nose, yes, but not my breath.

Sandspur

Oddly immune to the fire, Brian Armstrong, new ED at SWFWMD

Brian Armstrong has just been named the next Executive Director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.  That declaration will be followed in all the media releases that will now gush forth from DEP and SWFWMD with, "by the Governing Board." 

Brian should be congratulated, I suppose, because anyone who thinks the ED's job at a water management district these days under Rick Scott and his back channel manipulators can still do environmental good should be.  However anyone who thinks it was the Governing Board of the District that made the decision to place him there has not been paying attention.  These jobs are not left to any chance that someone not locked and chained to CEO Scott's anti-environmental mantra, or said another way, hasn't drunk the kool aid, might make the wrong decision. So it isn't likely a group of head bobbing political wannabees are going to be left for the task. 

No.  Street rumor has it that Brian's appointment is the handy work of none other than Scott's transition team sub-committee chairman on regulation and the guy who oversaw development of the committee's plan to take down Florida's nationally respected environmental regulatory protection mechanisms, Tampa lawyer and current general counsel of the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, Doug Manson.

Rumor also has it that Brian, oddly immune from all the fire that was swirling around SWFWMD at the time, was under consideration for the job years ago when the first raids on district funding and staff were getting underway, but the thought was that his executive management experience was too thin.  So, he was spirited away to get that experience as assistant executive director at the DEP Tampa office when that organization was being put through a sausage grinder, and then later brought back to SWFWMD as the assistant ED in waiting.   Now that SWFWMD's most recent Scott-appointed political fodder for an ED, Robert Beltran, has been cast to the winds of rejection, for who knows why, Brian is there to take charge just as planned.  Problem is, all this has nothing to do with the fact that it's the governing board's responsibility to fill the position, not political operatives from Tallahassee who couldn't give a wit less about Florida's natural systems.  Just another reason why "locally appointed" governing boards have become a joke and are there only to protect the substantial ad valorem taxing authority of the districts without which such political plums like a water supply for central Florida could not be funded.

Now, is all this just more methane in a windstorm?  I really don't know.  It will all be denied, certainly.  But the rumor mill is churning and for the poor souls still working at SWFWMD, and by emotional extension for the other WMD's, it's just more stink to add to what will be Scott's ruthless anti- environmental legacy, like that stench rising from the Indian River lagoon.  Brian will hopefully be able to operate as he might, with the professional freedom to base his decisions on good science and not Doug Manson's political objectives, but I'm not holding my breath ... my nose, yes, but not my breath.

Sandspur

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ready to say adios to the Republican Party



A friend of mine emailed me some cartoons recently.  Here are a few words by two of the cartoon characters that reflect the humor they were supposed to elicit:
Character 1: "There's a super PAC called 'Ready for Hillary'.  What exactly does it mean to be Ready for Hillary"?
Character 2: "It's like being ready for prostate exam ... that will last for eight years."

____________________________________________________

This was my radically measured response:
I’m getting ready to leave the Republican Party, my friend.  The GOP is lost. It has endorsed a racist, sexist, egomaniacal, hate-baiter as its candidate for president and yet it continues to demonize and ridicule Hillary Clinton and our twice-elected President, Barack Obama, which suggests it would rather have a nut-case as president and risk whatever catastrophe he will surely cause as a result of his buffoonery and ignorance than another choice who would not.
Your party, apparently the Tea Party, is so doctrinally rigid it is ready to destroy the country rather than admit it has nothing to offer, absolutely nothing, by way of positive, constructive solutions for some of the most complex and dangerous problems this country has ever faced.  Tell me one tenet the Tea Party espouses that will benefit a majority of the people in this country.  Carpet bombing?  Isolationism? Nuclear war? Economic inequality? The Tea Party holds up the Constitution as if only it knows how to read it.  It has run the GOP and the ability of this country to govern itself into a ditch and given our country the worst recession in its history.  GOP propaganda falsely blames the Democrats for what clearly was caused by the Bush’s - two wars that cost trillions that were never properly financed, which were initiated under false pretenses (WMD’s) and which ultimately resulted in disastrous middle eastern governmental vacuums, religious genocide, the birth of ISIS and a lethal religion-based terrorism from which we can neither extricate nor protect ourselves. The Party is in denial and because it will not face the truth that its failure to find common ground, a fundamental prerequisite for a democracy, is the singular most obvious cause for the deadly paralysis and failure now infecting the highest levels of our government. What used to be moderate Republican principles are now socialism and liberalism.  Nothing short of the irrational alarms spewed from the radical right is acceptable.  You’re right I don’t like the cartoons.  I think they’re foolish and dangerous when Trump is the apparent alternative.  What is your purpose for sending them around? Are you supporting Trump?