This ECUA Board in February 2013 sided with some of Florida's largest industrial polluters in opposing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's more stringent numerical standards for protecting Florida's most valuable resource--its water. The Board did so by allowing the ECUA administration to make strategic policy decisions without oversight--a pattern of behavior stretching back to the 1990s. For this reason, the three incumbents running for re-election should be turned out of office.
In February 2013, the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority (ECUA), signed a letter along with 57 other "partners and stakeholders" opposing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's attempt to put in place a numerical nutrient measure regarding nitrogen and phosphorous to replace the vague narrative standard of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection. The EPA's nutrient standards would have brought Florida into compliance with the Clean Water Act. The ECUA had added its support to a letter signed by some of Florida's and the nation's largest industrial polluters. In the three months prior to the ECUA submitting its comments opposing the EPA's proposed numerical nutrient standard and signing the letter, the ECUA's board of directors, including three incumbents running for re-election--Elvin McCorvey, Vickie Campbell, and Larry Walker--apparently did not discuss ECUA's opposition to the EPA or ECUA signing the letter stocked with industrial polluters. Proof that no such discussions or questions were raised by the ECUA Board can be found in the official minutes of the November 2012, December 2012, and January 2013 minutes. That the ECUA administrators and subject matter staff experts did not brief the board and the board did not inquire as to what the ECUA was doing regarding a matter that was not only controversial, but enveloped in lawsuits, is reminiscent of how the ECUA board acted in the 2000s regarding widespread industrial pollution of the county's aquifer. The Grand Jury found (pdf page 3) that the ECUA administrators made policies on "health and safety issues without oversight from a majority of the members" and the Board "subsequently tacitly approved approved these decisions, relinquishing their responsibilities to their customers and the public." The culture of the ECUA, despite changing administrators, apparently remains the same, suggesting that only a wholesale replacement of the board with members committed to environmental protection, accessibility, accountability, and transparency is required.
Who were some of the largest industrial polluters that the ECUA sided with in opposing the EPA's more stringent numerical nutrient rules? They included: American Forest and Paper Association; Association of Florida Community Developers; Associated Industries of Florida; The Fertilizer Group Inc.; Florida Cattlemen's Association; Florida Farm Bureau; Florida Forestry Association; Florida Sugar Cane League; Gulf Citrus Growers Association; Gulf Power Company; Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association; National Cattlemen's Beef Association; National Pork Producers Council; National Turkey Federation; PotashCorp; Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida; United Egg Producers; U.S. Cattlemen's Association; U.S. Poultry & Egg Association; Virginia Poultry Association; and the Wyoming Ag Business Association.
The purpose of this blog post is to demonstrate that the ECUA's confidence and trust in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was misplaced. Environmental groups--the last line of defense against industrial environmental pollution--had no confidence in the FL DEP. This blog post will highlight their commentary. Governor Scott and the Republican dominated legislature had effectively gutted and neutralized the scientific expertise of the FL DEP. Moreover, the governor and the legislature had also effectively weakened local health departments.
Subsequently, with the massive discharge of Lake Okeechobee water heavily polluted with nitrogen and phosphorous it has become abundantly clear that political contributions from industrial polluters enables widespread environmental destruction.
THE GUTTING OF THE DEPARTMENTS OF ENVIRONMENT AND HEALTH
There is an official Florida website called keepfloridaworking.com that maintains data on departmental budgets. From that initial page, you can find Governor Scott's previous budgets. Thus, anyone can verify the figures below taken from the various yearly budget pages, going to a specific agency, and then specific departments.
Overall, the Department of Environmental Protection suffered significantly budget losses and losses of personnel. The baseline is Governor Crist's 2011-2012 budget. All subsequent budgets belong to Governor Scott.
In Governor Scott's first budget, "Let's Get to Work," the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) budget declined from $1.460 Billion to $1.313 Billion, a projected loss of $146 Million and 86 positions. Similarly, the Department of Health (DH) declined from $2.85 Billion to 2.78 Billion, a loss of $70 Million and 373 positions.
In the second budget, 2013-2014, "Florida Families First," the DEP went from $1.40 Billion to $1.20 Billion and a loss of 116 overall positions. The DH grew by $32 Million but lost 477 positions.
In the third budget, 2014-2015, "It's Your Money Tax Cut," the DEP gained $111 Million but lost 54 positions. Health lost $12.8 Million and lost another 327 positions.
In the fourth budget, 2015-2016, "Keep Florida Working," the DEP lost $28 Million and 155 positions. Health lost $55 Million and lost another 758 positions.
In the fifth budget, 2016-2017, "Florida First," the DEP gained $80 million but lost another 152 positions. Health lost $36 Million and another 718 positions.
Thus, the overall trend in the Department of Environmental Protection is a loss of positions. Governor Crist's last budget staffed the DEP at 3,450 positions. The last budget of Governor Scott projected 2,822 positions, an overall loss of 628 positions, or a drop in 18% of personnel. Those are not "bureaucrats." They do not just push paper. This is a loss of expertise. This is a loss of institutional memory.
The interpretation of the budget cuts by environmental groups will be covered in the next section because there are lots of budget transfers and cuts in one program and increases in another program, and, then the program that was increased in terms of personnel is cut two years in a row.
Similarly, the personnel losses in the Department of Health have been no less dramatic. Health went from 17,107 positions under Governor Crist to a projected 13,640 positions under Governor Scott--a loss of 3,467 positions or 20% of personnel.
ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS' EVALUATION OF DEP BUDGET CUTS
The EarthJustice environmental group submitted a massive email supporting the EPA's numerical nutrient standard. Among the reasons for supporting the EPA and opposing the DEP was their observation that the "DEP is firing experienced staffers and replacing them with people who represent polluting industries." The Florida Native Plant Society's Landscape Committee supported the EPA standard in part because "Governor Rick Scott has methodically fired many FDEP and Water Management District scientists and employees who did their job, followed Florida Statutes and protected the environment. We need the EPA's backing in Florida now more than ever."
The Center for Biological Diversity, one of the country's leading environmental groups, supported the EPA's more stringent numerical nutrient rule in part because "Florida has already reduced the number of monitoring stations in the St. John’s lower basin by 2/3 due to staffing issues. Florida has delayed setting minimum flows and levels for Wakulla Springs. Florida rarely does anything to address MFL violations were they do exist. Florida's firing experienced staff from DEP. There’s nothing in Florida’s management of water resources that suggests it is capable of keeping with Congresses mandate that waters of the U.S. be swimmable, fishable, and free of pollutants" [emphasis added].
Dr. Raymond Bellamy, an orthopedic surgeon and former board member of the Florida Environmental Regulation Commission, told the Palm Beach Post, "'In those days [1980s], the Department was a committed defender of our natural treasures,' he wrote. 'Sadly, that does not seem to be the case in recent administrations. DEP employees, some of whom are my patients, now all fear for their jobs and are facilitating industry in most cases. Institutional knowledge has disappeared and aggressive enforcement of regulations is decried.'"
Alan Farago, who writes as gimleteye for the Eye On Miami blog, reported that "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."
POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS LEAD TO ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION
In the wake of repeated algae blooms, manatees dying, seagrass disappearing. coral reefs in their death throes, and Big Sugar pouring fertilizers out of Lake Okeechobee and fouling both coasts of Florida, Florida's mainstream newspapers and bloggers have highlighted that campaign contributions from the state's biggest polluters enabled lax standards, weakened regulations, and increased environmental destruction.
- HOW MUCH MONEY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
Miami Herald (June 29, 2016): "Since October, US Sugar has now given Scott $200,000 in donations for a political committee Scott runs called Let’s Get to Work. In hitting the $200,000 threshold, US Sugar became one of Scott’s five biggest donors since the start of 2015. By far the biggest donor to Scott since the start of 2015 remains the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which has donated $790,000 to Scott’s committee. Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts; Floridians for a Stronger Democracy (a political committee with ties to Associated Industries of Florida); and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik have also given $200,000 or more to Let’s Get to Work."
Gainesville Sun (July 6, 2016): "Since 1998, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, the sugar industry has given at least $21 million to Florida political candidates, political action committees and political parties. Big sugar gets what it wants, politicians’ palms are greased, Floridians get more pollution and Florida's reputation is damaged."
Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald (July 11, 2016): "Between 1994 and 2016, a review of state Division of Elections records by the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau shows, the sugar industry—led by United States Sugar and Florida Crystals—has steered a whopping $57.8 million in direct and in-kind contributions to state and local political campaigns. (The total does not include federal contributions.)"
GimletEye Miami (March 9, 2016): "Big Sugar’s pollution of national politics runs deep and strong through both political parties. One Fanjul brother, Pepe, takes the Republicans. The other, Alfie, takes the Democrats. It’s all about making billions and the maximum profit possible by spreading campaign cash like fertilizer across America’s political landscape."
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (April 3, 2015): "An analysis of campaign records by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting shows that the utility companies have sunk $12 million into the campaigns of state lawmakers since 2010.... Gov. Rick Scott’s 2014 re-election campaign took in more than $1.1 million from the state’s utility companies.... Half of the money, $6.68 million, went to the Republican Party of Florida. The second-largest recipient of electric company money, the Florida Democratic Party, took in $1.8 million."
Rolling Stone (February 11, 2016): "The utilities are top political donors in Florida. Since 2004, the state's four largest IOUs [Investor-Owned Utilities] contributed at least $18 million to state politicians and political committees–a preponderance to Republicans, who now control state government. In addition, since 2007, the companies spent at least $12 million on lobbying, employing an average of one lobbyist for every two legislators in Tallahassee."
Nancy Argenziano, former head of the Florida's Public Service Commission (in Rolling Stone): "'The legislature is owned by the utilities. To me, it's extremely corrupt. The legislature takes millions from utilities, who make billions from [the decisions of] the PSC. They get what they pay for.'"
- WHO TOOK THE CASH AND ENABLED ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION?
The Florida Times Union (March 8, 2016): "The main culprit for the pollution in Lake Ockeechobee is Big Sugar.... It’s not surprising that Scott is ignoring the role of Big Sugar since his political action committee—Let’s Get to Work—has enjoyed taking from the deep pockets of Big Sugar as he builds a bank account for a U.S. Senate run in 2018."
The Miami Herald (March 4, 2016): "Privately, the governor is busy muscling special interests to bankroll his Senate run in 2018. Some of his biggest donors are the worst polluters of Lake O and the Everglades....Scott’s pals in Big Sugar have been back-pumping dirty water from their cane fields into the lake, which through Friday was being emptied into the St. Lucie River at a rate exceeding 2 billion gallons a day."
GimletEye Miami (March 23, 2016): "Who is responsible for the tragedy of Florida waters? Voters who keep returning to office at the county, state and federal level, politicians who are paid to misrepresent the truth. Voters who elect politicians in the pocket of powerful industries and trade associations that routinely make a mockery of democratic processes: Associated Industries of Florida, run by former Jeb Bush ally Tom Feeney, spewing dark money into negative advertising like algae blooms. The Florida Chamber of Commerce. The Florida Farm Bureau."
Eye On Miami (April 4, 2016): "Billionaire sugar barons are OK with making South Florida into their sacrifice zone, shifting costs of making cheap sugar onto the backs of taxpayers. Who else is responsible? Gov. Rick Scott, Ag Secretary Adam Putnam, and legislators like incoming Florida Senate President Joe Negron and chief House mouthpiece for Big Sugar, Matt Caldwell."
Eye On Miami (April 22, 2016): "What the mainstream press is reluctant to also say: Big Sugar's campaign contributions are at the heart of the silence in Congress. Meanwhile in Florida, elected officials like Adam Putnam are warning that any legislators who talk to Bullsugar.org will be 'vaporized.'... We are many. Big Sugar is few."
Treasure Coast Palm (April 29, 2016): "Rubio has been a staunch supporter of a federal program that provides price supports for the sugar industry and imposes quotas and tariffs on imports.... Rubio has accepted sugar political donations and is close with the Fanjuls, owners of sugar giant Florida Crystals. The family raised funds and helped elect him to the U.S. Senate in 2010."
Eye On Miami (June 29, 2016): "In the interval, at each and every point in time that the EPA sought to bring Florida back into line on water quality problems, the agency has been attacked by the GOP. Let's name names: Gov. Rick Scott and his predecessors including Jeb Bush, Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam and his Republican predecessors, Senate president Joe Negron and his predecessors (Ken Pruitt, John Thrasher), Attorney General Pam Bondi and her predecessors, Representative Matt Caldwell and his predecessors (Jimmy Patronis, Gaston Cantens, Marco Rubio)--all worked overtime on behalf of Lake Okeechobee polluters like Big Sugar and Big Ag interests north of Lake Okeechobee."
Miami Herald (May 16, 2016): "Late last year, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi joined a lawsuit suing the EPA to stop the Clean Power Plan (CPP) from being enacted.... Bondi claims it’s what the people of Florida want, yet the numbers prove the contrary.... A poll conducted by Bloomberg Philanthropies and Forward Intelligence last week found that 73 percent of Florida voters support the CPP."
Miami Herald (June 2, 2016): "According to calculations by FollowTheMoney,org, the report says Bondi collected $26,350 from the energy industries in the 2010 and 2014 election cycles. A closer look by the Herald/Times however, shows the figure is much higher - at least $75,000 just for the 2014 cycle.... Bondi's political committee, Justice for All, shows that in her 2014 election alone, she received $50,000 from Florida Power & Light and $25,000 from Sunshine Gas Distributors.... The Florida Chamber of Commerce, for example, for which FPL is a member, gave Bondi $110,000 in her last election and gave another $20,000 this year. Associated Industries of Florida, which also includes FPL as its member, gave her $10,000. Then there is the Washington-based Republican State Legislative Committee, a political committee formed to collect donations from corporations but shield them from disclosure. According to OpenSecrets.org, the 527 RSLC gave Bondi a whopping $550,000 in 2014."
Eye On Miami (May 27, 2016): "In the meantime, newspapers and television news have been largely captured by polluters' advertising budgets and promotion of false equivalencies.... Behind the scenes, US Sugar (owned by the charitable Charles Stuart Mott Foundation) and its Big Sugar twin--Flo-Sun and Florida Crystals (owned by the Billionaire Fanjuls of Coral Gables and Palm Beach)--furiously work to delineate terms of Florida's water policy through mouthpieces like Ag Secretary Adam Putnam."
- GOVERNOR SCOTT'S OVERALL ANTI-ENVIRONMENTAL STRATEGY
Florida Politics, Diane Roberts (April 19, 2016): "Instead, the filthy rich industries helping to bankroll Scott’s 2018 U.S. Senate bid are allowed to continue back-pumping 72 billion gallons of toxic water from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie, the Indian River and out into the Atlantic Ocean as if a giant septic tank had exploded on Florida’s east coast.... Under the Scott regime, DEP has ditched that quaint notion of “protection,” becoming the Department of Environmental Prostitution—or maybe the Department of Environmental Profit. The water management districts, denuded of their scientists, packed with Scott’s venal appointees, do nothing to upset Big Ag, Big Builder or Big Phosphate."
The Florida Squeeze (April 26, 2016): "Considering Florida is facing a ticking-time bomb, Scott’s attitude might be more than negligence—it very well could be a concerted effort to destroy the land we have in this state and our fragile ecosystem in the little time we have left.... But now we have to begin to wonder if Scott and his legislative allies are in fact sabotaging the land, looking to reward campaign contributors and political cronies in the little time left before Florida’s ecosystem falls into final disrepair?"
Florida Times Union (July 5, 2016): "We elected representatives who were in the pockets of the profiteers and put them in charge of the government. And we let them erase the strides that had been taken several decades ago to better protect the state’s natural resources. And then we re-elected them, and when they moved on, we elected their clones.... We have a governor who fights clean water rules, who did away with growth management laws, who wants to free businesses from all regulations and who pals around with Big Sugar and happily accepts their cash."
South Florida Sun-Sentinel (July 5, 2016): "Scott has stacked the five water management district boards with unquestioning allies and told board members to pick directors Scott prefers.... Scott also opposed the Environmental Protection Agency's attempt to issue stronger water-quality rules.... On June 10, U.S. Sugar Corp., made the latest of the company's four $100,000 donations in the last two years to Scott's political action committee, which continues to operate long after the governor's re-election."
Palm Beach Post (May 27, 2016): "Smart and other critics of the state’s new pro-growth era say that with the state abandoning much of its oversight of major planning, developers have been able to exert powerful influence on local governments, particularly city and county commissions.... At the same time, freshwater springs, concentrated mostly in Central and North Florida, have proved particularly vulnerable to pollutants from nearby development. Such landmark sites as Silver Springs, Wakulla Springs and Fanning Springs are choked by nutrients and algae."
Florida Times Union (May 31, 2016): "The water management districts have become a developer’s best friend, and the Department of Environmental Protection has turned that agency’s name into a laughable misnomer. For proof of the latter, look no further than the DEP’s attempt to lower the restrictions on the amount of some cancer-causing chemicals that can go into our waterways.... Developers are happy. Major land owners are happy. Scott is happy. And the long, long years of Scott’s reign of terror can’t end soon enough."
Orlando Sentinel (July 6, 2016): "Scott reversed the positive trend of his predecessors. He reduced regulations and permitting, abolished the Department of Community Affairs, stripped the Department of Environmental Protection of long-term science-based staff, and decimated the budgets and staff of the water management districts. Oh, and he took lots of money from U.S. Sugar."
Tampa Bay Times (July 15, 2016): " 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 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."
- THE EFFECTS OF GOVERNOR SCOTT'S STRATEGY
Broward-Palm Beach New Times (July 7, 2015): "According to the data released by PEER—culled from public records requests—in 2014, 234 enforcement cases were opened by DEP.... But in 2010, before Scott settled into the governor's mansion, DEP logged 1,587 new enforcement cases. That means between 2010 and 2014—the governor’s first term in office—there’s been an 85 percent drop-off in the number of environmental enforcement cases."
GimletEye Miami (March 7, 2016) : "The secret handshakes between the state GOP and Big Sugar concern water policy.... Today in Florida, the GOP’s mismanagement of Florida’s water resources is a silent version of Flint, Michigan. No issue more clearly connects voter anger at the GOP hierarchy than Big Sugar’s lockdown of politics in Florida."
Florida Politics (May 11, 2016): "The [environmental] commission 'sets standards and rules that protect Floridians and the environment,' according to its website. 'Most issues … relate to air pollution, water quality and waste management.'... A review of the commission’s meeting schedule for this year shows all of its monthly meetings from January to June have been cancelled.... The former commissioner wasn’t so sure. That person recalls two meetings being called in one two-year stretch."
Orlando Sentinel (August 2, 2016): "While the state is still reeling from one water crisis, Gov. Rick Scott's ‘environmental’ commission voted to allow higher levels of things like benzene (which can lead to leukemia) and tetrachloroethylene (which has been linked to bladder cancer) into ground water supplies elsewhere.... But Gov. Scott had intentionally left the position empty. This allowed his Environmental Regulations Commission—which hadn't even met in nearly two years—to vote without any pesky environmentalists."
Clean Energy (May 12, 2016): "Environmental regulators in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama have so far failed to strengthen state policies to at least match EPA’s federal minimum standards for coal ash handling and storage."
Eye On Miami (May 12, 2016): "Since historic January rainfalls deluged and overwhelmed South Florida, the South Florida Water Management District has launched an unprecedented public relations effort, including direct attacks on critics.... Instead of admitting failure, Florida under Gov. Rick Scott is doubling down; launching unprecedented, coordinated attacks through the South Florida Water Management District at the same time that Big Sugar is flooding the airwaves and newspapers with full page ads.... The District has turned into the propaganda arm of state government."
Tallahassee Democrat (May 19, 2016): "The Department of Environmental Protection is revising limits on toxic chemicals allowed in surface waters.... Allowable levels of chloroform would rise significantly, though still comparable to EPA guidelines. Arsenic levels would be unchanged—but still 1,000 times higher than the EPA recommends for drinking water. Dozens of toxins on the EPA’s recommended criteria list would remain unregulated.... And the carcinogenic compound benzene would have its limit tripled under the DEP proposal.... 'All this is about is that somebody wants to pollute,' Dr. Lonnie Draper, president of the Florida chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said of the new limits. 'And in this case, it’s probably the fracking industry.'"
Flamingo Magazine (May 27, 2016): "When Jeb Bush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, he launched an initiative to save the [Wakulla] springs.... But Governor Rick Scott, determined to cut budgets and taxes, pulled the plug on the initiative shortly after he took office in 2011.... The new policy, passed at last in 2016 and signed by Governor Scott, delighted industry and agriculture. Springs advocates were less than thrilled."
Creative Loafing Tampa Bay (June 29, 2016): "While cities and counties in Florida have for years tried to limit fertilizer pollution by banning residential use during the summer rainy season, the state Department of Agriculture seems poised to do something much to the contrary: eliminate a requirement that fertilizer companies report to the state Department of Agriculture on how many tons fertilizer they are selling. So, to put it simply, if this passes, there may soon be no public record of how much fertilizer, an existential threat to the health of the state's waterways, is being sold in the state. Therefore, fertilizer sales could not be limited—nor could their detriment be quantified."
Florida Politics (July 6, 2016): "Why is this water so foul? Because Scott’s political clients have been allowed to pollute all they please, pumping untreated wastewater into the second-largest freshwater lake in the contiguous 48 states—a lake which also supplies drinking water for millions of Floridians. Big Sugar—one of the biggest polluters—is a top contributor to Scott’s political committee ‘Let’s Get to Work.’ Cleaning up the water would hit profits."