Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Florida Chamber's Directors - asleep at the switch?

Mark Wilson, Pres. and CEO of the Florida Chamber wrote a 742-word Op-ed piece for the Tampa Bay Times today.  In it, he states unequivocally that the Chamber is an “environmental advocate.” 

That’s absurd.  Here’s about 1400 words why.
For the last four years of Scotts reign, the Florida Chamber has supported and promoted an endless stream of laws and policies designed purely to weaken the state’s ability to protect Florida’s wilting, withering and wasting natural environment. To be effective, the Chamber has one of the most powerful lobbying contingents operating in Tallahassee, a virtual army of high paid influence peddlers fighting for its agenda which emphatically does not include protection of anything environmental. In 2009, the Chamber boasted having 29 lobbyists on its legislative “team.” 
Why is Wilson trying to make this case when everyone in Tallahassee knows it isn’t a fact?  Maybe the Chamber’s Board members got a little more than miffed when it was revealed that the Chamber had a role in the demise of the so-called Springs Protection Bill (SB 1576) even though the Board was told, and apparently continues to be told, the Chamber supported it.
The Chamber board, you’ll recall, consists of such companies as Florida Power and Light (Eric Silagy), Beall’s, Inc. ( Steve M. Knopik), Tampa Port Authority (Paul Anderson), Broward College (J. David Armstrong, Jr.), GAC Contractors (Allan G. Bense), Gulf Power Company (Stan W. Connally, Jr.), Walt Disney Parks and Resorts (Anthony J. Connelly), Waste Management of Florida (Charles Dees), Regions Bank (Don DeFosset), A Duda and Sons (Tracy Duda Chapman), Auto Nation (Jonathan P. Ferrando, Esq.), Duke Energy (Alex Glenn), Bank of America (Mike M. Fields), Shands Hospital (Timothy M. Goldfarb), Charter Schools USA (Jon Hage), Seaworld Parks and Entertainment (Dave Hammer), Ron Jon Surf Shop of Florida (Debra Harvey), TECO Energy (Charles O. Hinson III), Publix Super Markets, Inc. (John T. Hrabusa), CSX Transportation (Quintin C. Kendall), Florida Southern College (Anne B. Kerr Ph.D.), Suntrust Bank (Dan W. Mahurin), Darden Restaurants (Robert S. McAdam), State Farm Insurance (Allen McGlynn), General Electric (Trey H. Paris), Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce (Bob Rohrlack), and Allstate Insurance (Mike Sheely).
For the complete list of the members of the Florida Chamber Board of Directors, tap HERE.
These are all companies whose best interests demand them to be seen by the public as at least supportive of environmental values if not being actual advocates, such as Disney or Publix might wish to claim.  It is certainly not in any of their best business interests to be on the side of stark anti-environmentalism.  Green is in. Today’s public is smart and, generally speaking, have grown more fully appreciative of the true importance of healthy natural systems to their everyday lives and that of their children.  Who wants to breathe choking, polluted air, drink unhealthy contaminated water, visit filthy beaches, or swim in scum-filled springs which have become discharge sites for agricultural and urban wastes? 
Shands Hospital certainly wouldn’t want you to be doing this, one would think.  So how is it that this nationally respected teaching hospital is a dues-paying member of an organization that doesn’t seem to get it and continues to act with strategic disdain for natural systems, all under the flag of regulatory freedom for businesses?  The Chamber continues this despite warnings from virtually everyone that if it succeeds, the state’s economy will be sucked right down the economic toilet, and many of the chambers’ visitor-oriented businesses will be sucked right down with it?  Seems the Chamber’s board members are asleep at the switch, and while being so they are becoming complicit with the Chamber’s actions by association.  They need to wake up.
From behind-the-scenes manipulation of Scott’s transition teams, to relentlessly pushing and pulling legislators every session to do its bidding, the Florida Chamber has proven over and again that it does not care for Florida’s natural environment because protecting it constrains businesses from destroying it.
The Florida Chamber does not concern itself with sustaining Florida’s natural environment because its profit-minded members look only at the bottom line, which they endlessly declare government does not (which, of course, is true because government doesn’t have one).  The Chamber’s position is that regulations are an anathema to private enterprise.  It is the right of the private business sector in a country founded on the principles of free enterprise to be free of any governmental constraint on an opportunity to make a profit – protection for public interests be damned.
Wilson claims the Chamber understands the importance of a healthy and sustainable natural environment to Florida’s future but its actions historically decry this truism.  Its claims are a fraud upon the public and the public needs to let its board members know they are being duped by this same fraud.
The Chamber touts a “Six Pillars” strategic plan for taking Florida into the future.  These pillars are:
  • Talent Supply & Education
  • Innovation & Economic Development
  • Infrastructure & Growth Leadership
  • Business Climate & Competitiveness
  • Civic & Governance Systems
  • Quality of Life & Quality Places
Nowhere is there a reference to protecting Florida’s fragile environment from the expected monstrous growth the Chamber believes is coming.  (According to data from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the Florida Office of Economic and Data Research, Florida’s population of 19.5 million is expected to increase to approximately 24-26 million residents by 2030). 
The last pillar, Quality of life & Quality Places, only refers to
  • Vibrant & Sustainable Communities
  • Health & Wellness
  • Equality & Diversity
Admirable goals but totally devoid of concerns for natural systems even though they are indispensible to the state’s future quality of life.

If it doesn’t concern you that the Florida Chamber is planning Florida’s future for you with a 20-year plan instead of the state’s elected officials, it should.  Again, ask yourself whose interests the Chamber serves.  It isn’t the general public’s and it’s not your grand kids. 
There was a time when the governor’s office was involved in Florida’s long term planning as it should be.  No longer.  The legislature dismantled the state’s planning arm and relegated what’s left of it to meaningless obscurity somewhere in the Department of Transportation.  The state has no effective long term plan and no working strategic plan to get it there.  It has abandoned the task, leaving it to the disparate decisional chaos of 67 county commissions and innumerable city councils.
This is the work of those who will profit from not having to conform their private business plans to the public’s plans for the future.  And, who leads the pack in Tallahassee?  The Florida Chamber.
There was a time when water management districts could identify the problems within their jurisdictions and raise enough money to pay for fixing them.  There was a time when the districts had the regulatory authority to manage water and natural systems based upon local familiarity with what was needed and objective science provided by a competent technical staff.  No more. Now district governing boards meet to carry out the political whims and will of Tallahassee operatives, unable to make a decision without authorization from Herschel Vinyard or some other Rick Scott minion like Jeff Littlejohn. Now they meet to muse ineffectively over how they’re going to pay for critical water programs and how to further weaken the districts’ regulatory authority over private sector projects that affect the state’s fragile natural resources.
This is the work of those who will profit from less regulation without regard for the impact on the future of Florida.  The likes of the Florida Chamber.
Mark Wilson writes a carefully worded defense of the Chamber’s views toward the role of Florida’s natural systems in the state’s future.  But carefully read, it’s clear the Chamber’s only concern is that which serves the interests of its members, not the environment or the public's concern for the environment.  After all, that is not its purpose, is it?  So, why should it be concerned?  Because it is destructively myopic not to be.

Only the Chambers board members who risk suffering the wrath of a public that rues the loss of their state’s unique natural character can bring about the cultural shift needed within the Florida Chamber.  The Chamber must rethink its view of the environment and truly embrace its fundamental importance to the state’s economic future, the very values the Chamber holds so dear. 
We all want sustained economic viability for our State and understand that a degree of sustained growth will be necessary to achieve it.  But we must never think that included in that formula is an inevitable and unavoidable necessity to exploit Florida’s natural resources to the point of total ruination or loss.  Should we be foolish enough to do so, we will destroy the very foundation for any successful economic condition we and our progeny might be fortunate enough to enjoy.  Wilson’s letter seems to support this but the Chamber’s continued covert disdain for natural Florida simply does not.


  1. Sonny; Well done and again on point. One of Mr. Wilson's statements in his letter promoting the Chambers support of the environment was their participation in the Annual Permitting shortcourse. I have attended that course for over 20+ years and have presented at it numerous times. I no longer attend. It has become diluted with law firms using the forum to promote themselves and no benefit to the attendee who is seeking more than a "I can help youwith your permitting problem". What problem? Scott has removed all obsticles. The panals are made up of WMD Executive Directors that present how they reduced their operating budgets over any meaningful insight into the state of the water resource and how they are approaching its management. I listened to the SWFWMD ED expound upon creating real-time monitoring stations at springs, to measure flow and temperature as one of his major accomplishments, thinking that he should have been talking about what he was going to do about the pollutants in the springshed that were destroying them. The value of having individuals with decades of actual experience providing insight on how they addressed water problems seems no longer. The Chamber only wants its name associated with the program because it makes them look like supporters of the environment. Their mission first and formost is to promote the business environment and make the ability of businesses to make money easier. Protecting the environment of our natural resources is way down on there list.

  2. Mr. Wilson, may I please have a puff...

  3. Gotta love you man. If it's a spade, it's a spade, if it's a wolf in a sheep's clothes, you don't hesitate to point it out. Just wish there were more educated, informed, and concerned among us. My fear is the average Joe, in his average life, cares more about his next paycheck than our environmental future. The message is clear, yet the ignorance is pervasive. Godspeed amigo!

  4. Sonny, this is an excellent piece of writing and you hit the nail on the head. Thanks.

  5. Sonny,

    I am still a reader and occasionally I agree with you! This is one of those times. I left the Florida Chamber years ago when I realized that it was not supportive of my business interests, which are aligned as best I can make them with the public interest in maintaining natural areas. The Chamber is either blind to the value of natural areas, or more likely, gives it lip service until a conflict arises between this public interest and the individual interest of any of its major members.

    The Chamber’s opposition to Amendment 1 is a case in point. Who can oppose citizen direction on the use of funds for such a broad category of purposes as is encompassed in Amendment 1? Only the members of the Florida Legislature (and the ones who can influence them). Amendment 1 will erode their discretionary spending. Not a lot, since money is fungible, but the principle of it must still be galling.

    Anyway, glad to see you are back in the lapidary saddle.

  6. With reference to your statement, "The Chamber must rethink its view of the environment and truly embrace its fundamental importance to the state’s economic future, the very values the Chamber holds so dear."

    Sonny, I think you ask an excellent question: Why the heck do Chamber members support so many bad Chamber policies? Like you, I don't understand it. I suppose one reason is that you get on the Board only if you "fit in" with the mentality of current members. This means it is a self-perpetuating system.
    Also, took a look at your photos (which I haven't done for a while) and am very impressed. Your skills are continuing to strengthen. Congratulations and thanks for posting them.

  7. Hi Sonny:
    Yesterday’s op-ed piece made me so livid that I forwarded it to the folks that are doing the Florida Water and Land Legacy Campaign (Proposed Amendment 1). I will probably be writing a piece ... I may also post it on Facebook.

    Perfect example of Green scamming.

    Thank you.

  8. Sonny,

    You definitely nailed it.

  9. Sonny,

    The Chamber has 29 lobbyists filed with the legislature -

    In regards to the springs bill, the Chamber checked (their speaker cards) that they were speaking in support of the springs bill when it came up in committees, but the comments by their lobbyists, usually Leticia Adams, did not leave ... the impression that they supported the bill.

    Chamber lobbyists, particularly David Childs, were very involved in the process of weakening the bill in the Senate. (Still unclear how the bill was killed in the House.)

    As for the Chamber's environmental credentials, I would argue they have been on the wrong side of the most of the major environmental bills to be considered by the legislature recently. Just as a few examples, in 2011 they supported the Growth Management Reform Bill which stripped state control of development. In 2013, they supported Patronis' bad environmental deregulation bill. The Chamber's legislative report cards/scored votes are here

    In general, the "green-washing" of the Florida Chamber is a sham. Looking beyond their nice words, what has the Chamber done, or even attempted to do, to protect Florida's environment? They have expended resources lobbying for environmentally damaging bills while weakening/killing the one good bill that has surfaced in the past few years. They point to the push for state Numeric Nutrient Criteria as a victory for the environment, when most environmental groups opposed it as a giveaway to business.

    I could write forever on this issue, but those are my quick thoughts.

  10. Sonny, as is usual, your observations, well founded in data and experience, are very worthwhile for any thoughtful participant in the realities of the community Florida.

  11. Here here Governor Vergara. Well done. Do more, quick!

  12. The Chamber's pillars are self-explanatory when it comes to environmental and growth management regulation. It's probably not amazing that so many of these initiatives are included in local planning efforts.