November 2016 Conservation Report

By Whitey Markle

Elusive Water Policy, Elusive Politicians
In the last few months, I’ve had a chance to see the state water policy managers in action. We’ve been pressing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to assure the implementation of our water law via the Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) policy-making process.  It is now becoming obvious that the state agencies are stalling the implementation as long as possible.

When pressed for more oversight over Agricultural nitrate pollution, FDEP officials were forced to question the Department of Agriculture  and Consumer Services (FDACS) about the effectiveness of their Best Management Practices program (BMP) since the “monitoring” required by the state law is left up to FDACS.  At the Florida Springs Summit in Ocala on October 1st, I asked Steve Dwinell, Director of Water Policy for FDACS to explain in a panel discussion how his agency is monitoring fertilizer use that is statutorily required in the BMAP process. Unfortunately his answer was identical to his predecessor, Rich Budell, 5 years ago in a water policy seminar in Gainesville: “The Florida Department of Agriculture is not going to monitor the farmers until the legislature orders us to do it. The BMPs are the monitoring mechanism.” So the FDACS policy of implementation assurance through the BMP program is apparently all we get from them in the form of monitoring. In the same presentation, Dwinell stated that only about half of Florida’s farmers are even signed up for the BMP program and ONLY ABOUT 20% OF FARMERS IN THE PRIORITY FOCUS AREAS (Springsheds surrounding critically impaired springs).

So what we have is a state agency ignoring the intent of the statute, obviously at the order of the rulers at the top, and the situation has built-in irresponsibility: The agencies (Agriculture and Environmental Protection, including the Water Management Districts) can parry the responsibility to the legislature as Steve Dwinell did regarding his department’s responsibility for water quality protection and monitoring. This leaves us out here to negotiate with the legislature on these issues. Unfortunately, the ruling majority of legislators, both in the House and Senate, is of the mindset that the state agencies know far better than their constituents about the proper expedition of the law, and what future laws should be enacted in that regard. For example on Oct. 30, 2014, 4 days before the election, I was interviewed by a local TV reporter regarding Amendment 1, the Land and Water Legacy Amendment. After giving a good 15 minutes of factual information on the issue, the reporter asked me if I could recommend a good opponent of Amendment 1 that she could interview. I sicked her on State Representative Keith Perry who had been bad-mouthing the Amendment from its inception. When the report hit the TV that evening, the first segment was about 10 seconds of yours truly: about half a sentence about the need to purchase more conservation land. Then came Representative Perry’s time……..about 2 minutes of pious lecture, stating that we citizens who pay the taxes have no right to be telling the legislature how to spend our  money, that the legislative procedure (lobbying) is the correct means of gathering public policy information, and that the voters should reject Amendment 1.  Perry won in his district by a large majority, but Amendment 1 passed by an even larger majority. No wonder the legislation that results from the Florida legislative process is so diluted and ineffective.  We saw what actually has happened after Amendment 1 passed in 2014: the actual financial dispersal was a far cry from the intent of the referendum.  Senator Hayes and Senator Dean absolutely refused to entertain input into their committees that would lead to additional conservation land acquisition. House Speaker Crisafulli absolutely refused to discuss additional land purchase (or more restrictive Water Quality policy) in the House, so the final “Water Bill” that passed unanimously in the House and the Senate was weak and out of date by the time it hit the floor for a vote. For reasons still unexplained, every legislator voted in favor of this weak legislation. That is why incumbent candidates like Keith Perry, Charlie Stone, Jimmy T. Smith, and Elizabeth Porter can say truthfully, “I voted for Clean Water”.  Just remember, they also all voted for fracking.

This brings up a point in our search for solutions: Just what is the right way to get Florida back on track environmentally, all things considered?  Is the structure of our state government soundly designed? Should there be a fairer way to finance political campaigns, including referenda? Should the agency chiefs and managers be appointed by the Governor as they are now? Should administrative law judges be appointed or elected?  Should state agencies be able to “slap sue” entities or individuals who file environmental lawsuits and/or administrative appeals?  Should more policy be left up to local government? The list is endless if one is allowed to ponder every foible in the system.  Hopefully some good and sincere brains will come forward to get involved in the upcoming Constitutional Revision Commission.  Unfortunately, the good Governor gets to appoint 15 of the 37 commission members and names the Chair,  Pam Bondi is automatically a member, the Senate President (Republican) and House Speaker (Republican) get to appoint 9 members, and the Supreme Court Chief Justice can pick 3. Judging by this selection process and the partisan makeup that probably will result, we are starting out with a stacked deck against the environment. I’m not optimistic.

Everything is Wrong with the Pipeline.
When it comes to environmental issues, everything is wrong with the Sabal Trail Pipeline: It simply AIN’T Eminent Domain. Not when the tons of fracked natural gas that it will transport daily will be sold to foreign markets. It is extremely destructive environmentally. North of Bronson in Levy County is the present Ground Zero. According to witnesses, the ”Clearing” contractors are simply burying the hundreds of Gopher Tortoises in the right-of-way, rather than displacing them to “mitigated” habitat. They are also clearcutting every square inch of the right-of-way plus some. My old friend, Brad Lingo who owns Brad’s Organic Blueberries was promised he would have time to take his fence down so it wouldn’t be destroyed when he discovered the clear cutters on his property. They left. When he returned from work the next day, the fence was destroyed and they had scraped another 25 feet inside his fence line. This is becoming quite typical behavior by the contractors who do the dirty work for the developers and industrialists; they just break the law and pay for the fines as “part of doing business”. The fact is the fines, if any actually are levied by the governmental agencies involved, are minimal. For example the well drillers who drilled 38 illegal (no permits whatsoever) in Union County to sample water levels in the proposed mining area, claimed they didn’t know anything about permitting requirements since they were simply hired hands. They could have been fined up to $10k for each illegal well, but ended up paying a total of  $450 total fine.

The Gopher protection program is the biggest farce of all. This is an endangered species like the Alligator.  Rather than actually protecting them, it looks like the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) turns its head where hundreds exist in the way of a construction or industrial project like the pipeline. Historic Live Oaks are burned on site and now we find that the right of way through that part of Levy County will destroy sacred Indian burial sites, ceremonial sites, and battleground sites. We are communicating with the Florida Division of Historic Preservation on that matter. We know from our experience in the Marion County Commission and with U.S. Congressman Ted Yoho, the fact that the Environmental Impact Assessments that the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (U.S.A.C.E.) usually conduct were actually devised by none other than Sabal Trail themselves. When pressed on this issue and asked for further in-depth study on the environmental impact assessment(s), both Marion County and Congressman Yoho relented, saying that they had both done all they could do to rectify the situation. From what I can conclude, this means the Army Corps and E.P.A  are pretty well neutered and way underfunded, the E.P.A. relegated to a position of “negotiation” with not much bite.

Hopefully Florida’s citizens will put responsible, thinking people into the legislature and the national scene will change politically toward more, not less, environmental protection.