Wednesday, April 14, 2010


This is a repost / update ongoing troubles of restoration for the River of Grass: our Everglades.   Aggregated from PB Post: 3/29/10 - Paul Quinlan

Two of the nation's largest sugar growers, Florida Crystals Corp. and U.S. Sugar Corp., are fighting a new push from the federal government to regulate them under the Clean Water Act.The companies, which own 342,000 acres of land that was once part of the Everglades south of Lake Okeechobee, have filed federal suits that say the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suddenly and improperly began requiring wetland destruction permits to converted their lands to non-agricultural use.
The requirement would allow the Corps to either block new plans or force the companies to pay for "mitigation," the preservation of wetlands elsewhere in proportion to those being destroyed .
It's a sign that federal officials have taken new interest in the future of the farming region, whose lands are seen as critical to Everglades restoration. At the same time, so have rock mining companies and other industries feared to be counterproductive to environmental goals.
In the suits, Crystals argues that the requirement has impeded plans to create a 100-acre ash dump for its cane-burning power plant. The company now trucks the soot 60 miles away. U.S. Sugar complains of the delay in commencement of rock mining by Stuart Mining Industries, which is leasing land from U.S. Sugar and could be paying rent and royalties if work had started.
The lawsuits have profound implications for Florida's 700,000-acre Everglades Agricultural Area, land south of Lake Okeechobee that was flowing Everglades marsh before the government drained it half a century ago to create fertile farmland.
Crystals and U.S. Sugar argue that the implications extend far beyond South Florida's cane fields to the 53 million acres of U.S. farmland that was once wetlands. They call it a major policy shift that deserved public notice and comment.
"We have legislation here that's been promulgated by bureaucrats," said Dan Riesel, who represents Crystals. "They've done it in a way that is sort of clandestine."
Environmentalists counter that the move merely represents an interpretation of existing law. They say the wetland permit is necessary because the Everglades Agricultural Area, unlike other converted wetlands, requires the use of pumps, locks, levees and drainage canals to keep dry. Without active drainage, the land would revert to wetlands, the Corps argues in a 2009 memo cited by the U.S. Sugar suit.
"They're farming a riverbed that is pumped actively to remove the water from the land," said Eric Draper, lobbyist for Audubon of Florida.
The companies disagree and cite a 1993 Corps ruling that said farmland legally converted from wetlands in prior decades would not be subject to Clean Water Act requirements.
"It doesn't mean they can't have a mine and that they can't have a landfill," said Draper. "The real issue here is that there's going to be more mitigation. They don't want to have to mitigate."
In the suits, Crystals says the cost to offset destruction of one acre of wetlands in the region runs about $90,000. U.S. Sugar says the permits can cost, on average, $272,000 and take more than two years to obtain.
Corps and Department of Justice officials declined comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

UPDATE: by Eye On Miami author Gimleteye
While on Air Force One to Miami, President Obama should take fifteen minutes to read yesterday's decision by US District Judge Alan S. Gold. Then he should make a single phone call: to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. Heads should roll at EPA.

In a contempt ruling against the State of Florida and the EPA on failing to clean up the Everglades according to provisions of the Clean Water Act, there is only contempt, no accountability. Accountability is the one place where President Obama could actually do some good for the Everglades, right now, with that call from Air Force One. Order Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator, to clean house and remove regional officials who are responsible for the Everglades mess detailed by Judge Gold. Do it now. Do not delay. Fire the SOB's. Now.

I won't go into a lengthy diatribe about the EPA and its sham hearings around the state that will likely end up as more and more delay for numeric standards for nutrient pollution. The EPA problems and "politics" didn't start yesterday or even the day before: former EPA Administrator Carol Browner and former Senator Bob Graham bear their share of historical mistakes in the Everglades. What came later, under Bush appointees, was truly horrendous: the EPA surrendered wholesale to the State of Florida and the nonsense that industries self-regulate better than regulations. (For that, thank Jeb Bush.)

Today, under a president who had the full support of the nation's environmental community, the abuses of the EPA are still institutionalized. That's unforgiveable. Read Judge Gold's decision, Mr. President. Heads should roll at EPA. The White House can make that happen with a single phone call; and it would do more than any other single act to signal change we can believe in Florida.


Anonymous said...

Not only is the sugar industry destroying our environment, they're destroying the health of the population. Didn't I hear somewhere that we Americans are eating over ten+ times MORE sugar a year than 100 years ago? Yeah, I did. So with the surge of diabetes taxing the healthcare system, you'd think that TPTB would not bend over so easily.


Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

Thanks Trace, for the updating ... you're so right~!

Beach Bum said...

Money still reigns over everything else. Maybe we can use all that sugar to control the pythons crawling around the 'Glades.

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

Out at Loxahatchee, only gators still. Deeper in, though... LOL
Money still does Beach!