Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Hubris of Jimmy Petronis; antithetical to the public interest

There’s a diseased perception in Florida today and it’s pervasive. It’s the idea that commerce and jobs are all that Florida needs to forever prosper and remain one of the most desired destinations in the world.  It’s diseased because it’s unhealthy for the future of the state and, if allowed to persist, it will undermine it’s very heart.
This unfortunate perception is fostered by the popular view that America is the home of competitive free enterprise which offers anyone, through hard work and a determined entrepreneurial spirit, the opportunity to rise, theoretically at least, from poverty to any level of prosperity possible in the world.  All Americans are proud of this idea, as they should be.  It is the bedrock of the American way of life – socially, philosophically, governmentally, economically and, in some minds, even spiritually.
We all consider opportunity to be the foundation of the American Ideal, the opportunity to work hard without unnecessary constraint by government .  We all believe in the opportunity to compete in an open market, to become singularly, according to our own devices and capacities, rich with “things” and to have the ability to enjoy the rewards of our success.  We all cherish at least the opportunity, if not always the reality, of being able to live what has globally become “The American Dream.”
Unfortunately, the insidious malady found in today’s Tallahassee machinations where this dream is touted in practically every spoken word is that absolutely nothing is of higher importance than the pursuit of free enterprise and that all government regulation is antithetical and destructive to that American Ideal.  The thought has become that any and all regulation is bad for America and its people because anything that constrains free enterprise is a constraint upon all Americans, and it is free enterprise that makes America what it is. 
Thus it is almost heresy to suggest that there may be some constraints and limitations which need to be placed upon the methods and activities of business to protect public interests and that doing so is consistent with the American Ideal.  In support of this heresy are endless horror stories where businesses have presumed their purposes were more important than the interests of the public and the results have been disastrous in terms of losses in human health, safety and welfare.  (The tragedy of the Commons, the BP oil disaster, The Exxon Valdes oil spill, the Levee failure of Lake Okeechobee in 1928, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, the 2007 Global Great Recession, Wall Street Crash of 1929, Plumbing of the Everglades, Destruction of the Kissimmee River, Destruction of Kissengen Springs, Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank, Adena Springs Ranch Slaughter House, Silver Springs, etc., etc.)
Yet, the notion that all regulation is heinous, no matter what the greater purpose, persists.  It is particularly bothersome that it continues to be held as gospel by many young otherwise seemingly bright legislators who refuse to appreciate that the idea is not pure. They refuse to accept the thought that there can never be a true and total Laissez Faire relationship between commerce and government particularly as populations grow and interaction among humans becomes more complex as it has in Florida.
What seems to be missing in the conversations out of Tallahassee is the understanding of the very real actuality that any pursuit of economic success that encroaches upon the interests of the public can and will erode the very underpinnings that make that success possible.  It cannot be sustained and any gain resulting from it, i.e. short term profits, will be equally short lived.
It is odd the way this notion has taken hold most prevalently in the youngest and most ambitious of Tallahassee’s brightest, who, paradoxically, were put there by the public whose interests they seem to have abandoned.  And, since it is primarily the young legislators who are holding all the extant political power, the older members of the legislature who should otherwise know better– at least, theoretically - find themselves bleating with feigned enthusiasm as they scramble for crumbs of relevance that might offer significance for them being there in the first place.
The young fiscal conservatives in the legislature have drifted so far to the right they have lost sight of all but the most basic concerns for the interests of the greater public.  Business and the right to market such things as electricity, phosphate, spring water, and sugar, for example, now, clearly outweigh the greater interests of the people in the minds of our Tallahassee leaders.  It has become a them vs. us scenario.  Anything that supports the interests of business is moral and right, while anything that suggests serving the greater public good is socialism. 
Even as you read this, I suspect you are saying that regulation IS antithetical to the idea that business and commerce must not be constrained if it is to flourish.  Free enterprise must remain just that, free to be creative and progressive in developing new ideas and economic synergies.  This concept, you say, is the very idea that has made America the greatest economic power the world has ever seen.  And if you are saying that, you would be right.
The thing is, however, there must be limits when the greater public good is at risk. Otherwise, everything that makes Florida what it is will be consumed and lost in the interest of short term profits for a few.  Somehow, Tallahassee has got to return to the idea that regulation - wise, efficient and purposeful regulation - is needed in order to serve those public interests which are higher in priority than any short term profit for a privileged few.  This is not space math.  It is a fundamental axiom that speaks plainly to the future of our country and state.
Jimmy Petronis (right)
Feb. 14, 2013
Take, for example, Jimmy Petronis (won’t somebody, please, take him?).  He exemplifies the Nouveau Legislative  Lemming mentality of fiscal conservatism that says handouts are good but only when it’s business that gets them.  He arrived in Tallahassee a few years ago proud that he was only 35 or so when elected to the Florida House, the son of a wealthy seafood restaurateur, and bragging that he was sent there not to take naps – implying, not too subtlely, that all others were there to do just that.
This is the dude who in a tsunami of sophomoric immaturity declared in a Tampa Bay Times report that he also came to shake up regulators.  He compares it to defrosting a refrigerator and tossing out bad and old food, like at the Department of Environmental Protection, thereby clearly establishing that he is one who knows all about environmental protection and what it means to Florida’s future.
This is why he files so-called “train” bills, bills that have been labeled dangerous to the state’s economic future by practically every organization concerned about the importance of healthy, attractive and flourishing natural systems to Florida and its millions of residents, not to mention the 85 million-plus tourists who visit here annually from around the world.
As former Florida State Senator Lee Constantine is fond of saying, “These people don’t come to Florida to see malls.  They come to see and enjoy our lakes, rivers and beaches.  And, when they’re gone, so will be the tourists and their dollars that sustain the economy of this state.”
Petronis has introduced this session the ugliest of the ugliest bills floating through the T-Town process right now, House Bill 999.
“…the provisions are toxic. They would prevent local governments from regulating the destruction of wetlands by small, independent drainage districts that oversee more than 1 million acres across the state. They would give legal cover to a no-bid, 30-year sweetheart deal that Scott and the Cabinet gave to two farming operations to continue polluting the Everglades. The bill also would fast-track permitting for natural gas pipelines, and big water users would have every incentive to continue pumping groundwater even after new technologies offer a more sustainable water source.”
Petronis is the human personification of the spreading Tallahassee sickness gripping the state.  Almost as a game of chance being played by drunken gamblers cheerfully unaware of what they are about to lose, he plays with the hinges that hold the future of the state together, pulling at the stays of the tent that protects the very characteristics that give Florida the beauty and sustainability it needs to survive.  He plays a dangerous and arrogant game with the powers of the people who, inexplicably, seem to have sipped some of the same elixir.
The thing that makes Jimmy Petronis so dangerous is that he may also be smart.  If this is true, intelligence mixed with hubris, ignorance, and power makes him exponentially more dangerous than your average unthinking lemming-like legislator … and the Petronis portfolio is bloated with all three of these endearing characteristics. 
The Florida Conservation Coalition, most other Florida environmental organizations, and a host of editorials in responsible newspapers around the state are pleading for the public to weigh in on Petronis’ HB 999, as well its sorry companion bill in the Senate, SB 1684 (Sen. Thad Altman), by letting Tallahassee know how bad these bills smell and are rotten to the core.
Referring to two editorials published in the Tampa Bay Times and the Ocala Star Banner opposing these two bills, the FCC said today in a “Legislative Alert:
“Please read Assault on environment unabated and Special interests vs .  public interests, then send an email to your Senator (listed below) with links to these articles and your own comments.  Make sure your Senator knows that you, and thousands of other Floridians, are watching their vote on SB 1684.
HB 999 passed in the House last week.  SB 1684 is still awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
It is not comforting that one of Tallahassee’s most successful advocates for business activities antithetical to a healthy natural Florida and other greater public interests has commented that Petronis, coming from a family that runs a successful restaurant, believes “the customer is always right.” 
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Frank Mathews, lobbyist for developers, phosphate miners, boat manufacturers, sugar growers, power companies and garbage companies, said, “That’s (Petronis) everybody’s dream sponsor… He couldn’t be more accommodating.”
Such may be appealing to Mathews but not to others, it is all part of the growing sickness infecting Tallahassee … and Florida’s future is at risk like it’s not been in years. 
You will find the phone numbers and email addresses of every Senator in Tallahassee at the FCC’s website including Thad Altman's:  http://floridaconservationcoalition.org/emails/348782?s=284bf9f4.

Let them hear your voice loud, clear and often, now.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Gary Kuhl: I Hope I'm Wrong !!!

The following letter was provided by Gary Kuhl and is posted with his permission.  It’s an important message.  You’ve heard similar sentiments from me but now you hear it from someone else who brings it with authority and conviction.   -Sandspur
I hope I'm wrong !!!
I find myself at that age where my dear wife has to repeat things occasionally to make sure I heard the key words, like “empty” and “the garbage”. I also sometimes need to read news articles a couple of times to make sure I got the entire scope and meaning of the article. So I hope someone can correct any misunderstanding of what I believe I am reading and hearing about our 2013 Florida Legislative session.
There are two proposed bills that are sliding through this session with minimal discussion or opposition. They are HB 999 and SB 1684 which have been deemed “trains” because they are loaded to the hilt with various lobbyists “needs” for their clients. Such as further weakening of water management districts, eliminating or weakening some water use permitting requirements and air quality standards, preventing local governments from questioning developers as to potential impacts of proposed development projects, relaxation of septic tank inspections and on and on and on.
These types of bills are not new to this group of legislators and our current State leadership. They have found the need to introduce all kinds of legislation the past two years and now this year to reverse fifty years of progress in protecting Florida’s fragile and life giving environment. And the “life giving” here is not just for frogs, birds and alligators---it is our economic life blood, it is our drinking water, it is the source of many of our livelihoods. People come to Citrus County by the thousands to swim in our springs, swim with the manatees and catch the tarpon on our gin clear saltwater flats.  
As one long-time observer said recently, “People don’t come to Florida to see another strip mall with asphalt parking spaces. They come to enjoy Florida’s unmatched beauty including her springs, rivers, lakes, beaches and wild areas.” What happened to the extra ordinary foresight of our past Governors and Legislators of BOTH political parties over the last fifty years who TOGETHER implemented strong protection for our most important natural assets? I hate to tell you but those days seem to be gone.
It appears now that many of our State leaders are of the mind that anything that might bring short term economic gain is worth reversing 50 years of thoughtful progress in protecting the State’s natural resources including our drinking water.   There seems to be total disregard for the fact that our major springs are seeing significant declines in flows and water quality. Silver Springs experienced its lowest flow in its 80 year record this past year. Its level of pollutants (nitrates) is 20 times the historic natural background. Its natural stock of game-fish is almost gone. The spring is clouded by growth of noxious algae and undesirable vegetation.
Sound familiar? Our own Crystal River and her springs are experiencing similar water quality problems and growth of undesirable elements like lyngbya. Ask the folks that live on our local spring fed rivers if they have seen negative change in their rivers in recent years. Talk to folks who live in Cedar Key----their freshwater drinking water source has become salty----they are now drinking very expensive reverse osmosis water due apparently to salt water intrusion. Our springs are but a reflection of what is going on in our aquifers---the drinking water source for most of our citizens in Florida.   
Even more disturbing is that it appears our local legislators are voting in favor of these bills to continue to dismantle the dwindling protections our State still has in place. I hope I am wrong here----but check on this for your-self as to the voting record of our State Senator Charlie Dean and State Representative Jimmy Smith on these particular bills. It is very hard to understand how Citrus County with three spring-fed rivers, several Outstanding Florida Waters, some of the most beautiful lakes in the State, and a well-documented healthy aquifer system could have local elected legislators who would vote for less protection of these important resources. Say it ain’t true!!!   
Gary Kuhl, April 20, 2013
Gary is now retired but during his 40 “plus” year career, he was Executive Director at the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Citrus County Administrator, Hillsborough County Water Resources Team Administrator, Sumter County Public Works Director and a Florida registered professional engineer. He is a native Floridian and a resident of Citrus County.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Florida Conservation Coalition Alert; Read and heed, lest frustration and anger bring darkness to your heart

Please read this carefully and let your outrage move you to action.  Go ahead.  It’ll be healthy for your psyche and for the future of Florida.  But you must make the calls and send the emails quickly, lest frustration and anger bring darkness to your heart.
Here’s the “alert” in full:
Dear FCC Members,

This alert is for all who care about Florida's environment and believe we elect our Representatives and Senators who to go to Tallahassee should fight for our interests, not sell out to the highest bidder. If you are insulted by legislation that panders to special interests, such as Senate Bill 1684 and its twin, House Bill 999, read on, for these are the worst examples of legislation that you will see.
These bills do not represent the public interest; they are for the fortunate few who can afford lobbyists to do their bidding.  Line by line, and dollar for dollar, these bills were written for those who wish to exploit our environment for personal gain.
Consider the section of the bill that nullifies a lawsuit by a conservation organization that rightfully argues that 30 year (more than a generation), no-bid leases of public land in the Everglades to the sugar industry is not in the interest of restoring the Everglades. What kind of message does this send to those who care about restoring the Glades? And what message does it send to those who believe they can tarnish our natural wonders with impunity?
Consider the section that prohibits local governments from enforcing wetland regulations in water control districts. There are scores of these districts scattered across Florida - comprising over a hundred thousand acres – which were initially permitted as long as fifty years ago and now believe they should be exempt from any further regulations. Should the legislature keep on stomping our local governments for trying to protect the environment, exercise their authority to govern and speak for their local constituents? Should companies with powerful lobbyists be able to degrade wetlands and waters from South Florida to the Panhandle?   Maybe some of our legislators should attend city and county commission meetings more often, and listen to people’s concerns about the environment that surrounds them and their quality of life.
Now, there is a 6 page amendment ready for the House floor vote on Tuesday that would preempt local governments from enacting restrictions on fertilizers; as our springs, rivers, lakes, and all the plants and wildlife that depend on them, choke on algae. Do you want this legislature taking over our local governments so fertilizer companies can protect their profits at the expense of our waters?
This is not all. These bills have many more parts, all of which are part of the special interest Christmas tree/train/smorgasbord bills that fail even the most basic tests for decent legislation in the public interest.
If you have higher principles call or email Senator Altman (850-487-5016)and Representative Patronis (850-717-5006) and write an email to the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee ...........................tell them that "we the people count too,”

Please act now.  Make those calls and emails.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Legislature returning Florida to the pre-1970's:Unconstrained growth and no vision for the future

Florida legacy at risk
My general impression of this legislative session is that there has never been such blatant servitude to moneyed interests and self interests.  Despite a growing discomfort by Joe and Jane Public, Tallahassee seems driven to dismantle all the carefully and thoughtfully constructed protections that were generated on behalf of this state's natural wellbeing by a lot of very bright people.  It seems to be their mission, their instructions, if you will, to return us to the pre-1970's when we first began to understand that rampant, visionless economic growth had an ugly, self-destructive downside.  While we need and want economic growth, if left to its own devices, it will destroy the very things that make it possible.  This and recent legislatures have lost all the painful lessons that were learned over the years and it is my sense that we are doomed to learn those lessons all over again - only this time desirable outcomes will be exponentially more difficult and costly to achieve.  In some cases it may already be too late and Florida’s unique natural character, as we have known it, may already be headed for extinction.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Tallahassee "Train" Will Wreck Florida

We all regret how the business of government gets transacted in Tallahassee.  It’s not just ugly.  It’s dangerous, and throws into question such simple things that most of us strive for in this great country of ours as fairness, truth, honesty, and just doing the right thing.  Well, it’s happening again, right now, and you need to know about it, be disgusted and outraged about it, and be juiced up enough to do something you might not otherwise do, like call your legislators and let them know how you feel.  It’s time. 

There’s a Tallahassee phenomenon that has seemingly become legislative protocol, i.e., culturally imbedded. It’s a terrible thing called a “train.”

A train is when

“ … a compendium of every lobbyist's dream amendments, all strung together as if they were one real piece of solid legislation, comes barreling into Tallahassee as an “environmental train” bill. Pressure builds for passage as each lobbyist gets their special little amendment onboard the train….and it gathers steam. The problem with these runaway bills is that each of the components represents a serious issue, and should be heard as separate bills in their proper committees. By combining these issues into a single train it is nearly impossible for public interest groups to be experts on and properly address the wide array of concerns. This years' train, sponsored by Representative Patronis and Senator Altman, is leaving the station …” (FCC publication) 

This year’s “train bills” are SB 1684 and HB 999 and, if passed, they will have a devastating impact on this state’s ability to effectively manage and protect what’s left of its natural environment and related water resources. 

This is not internet hyperbole.  It is happening and only you can do something about it. Here was the situation as of April 1st as described by the FCC: 

Senate Bill 1684 by Senator Thad Altman is a smorgasbord of proposed legislation that would weaken current environmental law in many ways and diminish environmental protections.  The House companion bill, HB 999 by Representative Jimmy Patronis was recently amended and is even worse than SB 1684.  

SB 1684 is very long with over 18 sections, all bad.  Here is a brief summary of the bill: 

·        This is an environmentally insensitive bill that creates, amends, and deletes environmental permitting regulations across a wide spectrum of areas.

·        Contains sections which
o   restrict County and City requests for additional information for development permits,
o   eliminates the requirement that public marinas attain Clean Program Marina status in order to be exempt from review as developments of regional impact,
o   instructs water management district (WMD) governing boards on how to rule in cases of competing Consumptive Use Permits (CUP),
o   prohibits WMD from reducing an existing CUP because of the availability of water from a desalination plant,
o   eliminates the ability of counties to regulate water wells,
o   restricts sampling and testing for water quality standards,
o   rescinds the ability of DEP and WMD to require that applications and other technical work be produced under the seal of a licensed professional, and
o   provides for expedited permitting for projects to construct natural gas pipelines. 
o   both HB 999 and SB 1684 are inconsistent with the outcome of stakeholder negotiations on Senate Bill 948, the agricultural water supply planning bill.

On April 2, SB 1684, was heard and passed unanimously out of the Senate’s Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee.  Please note that Charlie Dean from Citrus County is the committee chair and Jack Latvala, a prominent senate leader from Pinellas County, voted for the bill (See a list of all Senators on the committee HERE).  For a while, I thought these two guys just might be on the side of natural Florida.  That notion appears to have been premature.  True colors are bleeding through.

On April 5, the FCC issued an alert summarizing the bills and asking for people concerned about Florida and its future to take action: 

We need your help. The terrible “environmental train” we wrote you about earlier this week has gotten even worse. These Bills, moving quickly through the House and Senate, seek to change over 25 environmental regulations affecting water management, air quality, environmental resource permitting, development permitting and more.

·        This week, not only was Senate Bill 1684 amended to incorporate many of the worst parts of House Bill 999, including a new amendment that strikes a major blow against sound resource management and water conservation.  

This new amendment to the Senate Bill, eliminates the existing authority of water management districts and the Department of Environmental Protection to reduce groundwater allocations because of the availability of water from a drought resistance source (such as desalination, reclaimed water, aquifer storage and recovery, etc.) ; unwisely restricting their ability to review and modify permits to assure that water continues to be used in the public interest. The result would allow those wealthier counties and landowners who can afford to build desalination plants or reservoirs to "bank" natural sources of water and become the major suppliers in their areas.  Conservation of precious groundwater continues to be ignored. The FCC will continue to vigorously protest these blatant attempts at privatization. These changes go against the result of months of work by stakeholder groups on related subjects during the Department of Environmental Protections Consumptive Use rulemaking. We have heard that the Department is trying to "negotiate" this one.  We must also let them know that this will not do, they should hold their ground. 

·        Another of the most harmful of the many special interest giveaways in these bills is a section restricting the ability of the Department of Environmental Protection to regulate waters courses and wetlands as part of environmental resource permitting.

By defining “mean annual flood line” in a way that excludes currently regulated areas this section, being pushed by a major phosphate mining company, would reduce the area covered under environmental resource permits, leading to unmitigated habitat damage in and around our precious wetlands. 

This action is nothing more than a continuation of the mindless servitude the legislature and governor gleefully pay to the monied special interests who are shamelessly and arrogantly pouring tens of millions into re-election coffers even as these bills are being considered.  If this isn’t blatant political graft by our elected leaders to proffer their votes, nothing is. 

Now, please get on the phone and email (both) and let your legislators and governor know how much you abhor what they are doing and how they are doing it.

You can find how to reach your Senator HERE and your Representative HERE.