Monday, November 25, 2019

MUCK CITY AFLAME: Stop the Burn protest highlights failure of FDACS to protect community

For Immediate Release
November 23, 2019
Contacts: Steve Messam,, 989-400-4225
Cris Costello,, 941-914-0421
 Stop the Burn protest highlights failure of FDACS to protect community

Belle Glade, FL – Sugar growers around Belle Glade provided a toxic but illustrative backdrop to a protest today in front of the Florida Forestry Division Work Center at 2842 FL-15, Belle Glade, with smoke and ash plumes along the horizon in every direction.  The scene underscored (1) the plague of air pollution, health threats, and economic depression that pre-harvest sugarcane field burning imposes on the Glades and (2) the failure of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to protect the health and safety of the residents in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Shanique Scott and Steve Messam, both local residents born and raised in the Glades and leaders in the Stop the Burn – Go Green Campaign to end pre-harvest sugarcane field burning, spoke to a crowd of over 30 activists in front of a large figure of Smokey the Bear sign ( wearing a Stop the Burn t-shirt.  View the protest (17 minutes) here. 

Two large posters of screen shots from the Florida Forest Service’s active burn tracking tool from November 1, 2019 ( and November 14, 2018 v showed huge swaths of the EAA shrouded in ash.  A screen shot taken the morning of the protest ( makes it clear that this is not a rare phenomenon.

Per the Florida Forest Service’s active burn tracking tool (, ash plumes often travel over 20 miles.  Messam said “We have found ash plumes as long as 26.21 miles long on the Forest Service website. You want to put our health and safety first?  Then give us at least a 27-30 mile buffer around our homes, schools, streets, and churches right now and make that the first phase of an eventual a complete ban in the near future.”

Messam added:  “In a press conference on October 1, Commissioner Fried said ‘keeping Florida’s residents, communities, and environment safe is my number one priority.’  She also announced a new 80-acre buffer zone to protect wildlands from pre-harvest burns, but our homes and schools are left unprotected.  In fact, the new announced measures do nothing to keep us safe and healthy. We are still choked by black snow while residents in Eastern Palm Beach County are protected by burn wind restrictions.  I refuse to accept that my people are less worthy of protection. The industry needs to stop pre-harvest sugar field burning and switch to green harvesting now.”

Scott remarked:  “Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the harvest with family, and the Glades is a true horn of plenty. The sugar industry reaps a profitable harvest from our rich soils but our communities have not shared in the profits.  In the Glades, harvest season means smoke and ash, exacerbated asthma symptoms, the high cost of cleaning off our cars and homes, keeping kids inside and fear.  This Thanksgiving needs to be the last one celebrated under this dark cloud!” 
Scott brought it all home with stories about how generations of her family and neighbors have been impacted by the burns. “The only smoke I want for Thanksgiving is a smoked turkey!  Until burning is completely phased out and is replaced by green harvesting, we are not safe, we are not healthy, and our lives are not respected.” 

Messam went on to say: “We are thankful for a number of things this year. The number of Stop the Burn Campaign activists is growing every month.  FDACS has started to talk about green harvesting.  Next year we want to be thankful for a FDACS-sponsored green harvesting economic opportunity workshop in Belle Glade; this is something Commissioner Nikki Fried can start to plan for right now.  And we will be thankful when Commissioner Fried comes to Belle Glade to meet with us and hear our stories; we have been asking her for months to come here and experience the burns first-hand.”

The crowd got their two cents in too by chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, toxic smoke has got to go!”

Photos taken on November 23, 2019 (morning before protest of the smoke/ash over Belle Glade:

Photo of Steve Messam:

Photo of Shanique Scott:

Photo of Smokey the Bear:

Link to protest video:


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Florida Conservation Icon Whitey Markle Has Died

By Kathryn Taubert 
Whitey Markle/Photo by Jim Tatum
(Gainesville, FL)  Sierra Club Florida officials have announced the passing, after a brief illness, on November 4 of Richard “Whitey” Markle, one of Florida’s staunchest and most successful environmental advocates.

Best known for his successful efforts to restore, protect and preserve Florida’s natural resources as a principle of the Florida Sierra Club at both state and local levels, Markle’s tenure as Chair of the Suwannee-St. John’s Group representing 16 counties in North Central Florida brought his substantial energies to the Sierra Club’s efforts to protect, preserve and enjoy Florida’s world-class environmental treasures.

Also serving on the Sierra Club’s state Executive Committee, Markle’s sometimes “in your face” style earned both the respect and dedication of a cadre of conservation advocates who saw him as both role model and bold spokesperson unafraid to confront the issues of overdevelopment and those who would encourage it.

Markle was also an accomplished writer and musician with Whitey Markle and the Swamprooters, performing at festivals all over North Central Florida and featuring a dozen of his original recorded songs written in the “Florida Cracker” genre. His book, Whitey Markle’s Recipes with Tales and Tunes, is an example of folksy intelligence and downhome humor equivalent to the Foxfire series of life in Appalachia.

What many didn’t know is that with his Masters Degree in Urban Planning from the University of Florida, Markle also taught Building Trades, Structures and Soils Labs and Woodshop for the McPherson School in Ocala; a State of Florida Correctional Institution; and the Dept. of Architecture at UF. Markle’s work on his Masters thesis ultimately resulted in the establishment, by ballot initiative, of a noise curfew on airboat noise in Alachua County in 2010. Markle’s efforts to restore the Oklawaha River to its natural state was among his most ardent efforts, even inspiring an original recorded song written by Markle himself.

The recipient of a host of awards by a various conservation organizations, Markle was recently honored in San Francisco by the National Sierra Club for Special Service for his conservation work.

Florida Sierra Club Chapter Director Frank Jackalone said, when learning of Markle’s death:

“Nobody loved Florida's wildlife, rivers, springs, forests and coastal islands more than Whitey Markle, and no Floridian was a stronger environmental advocate than he. His fellow hikers, paddlers and conservation activists in Florida are in deep mourning with his passing, but we are also dedicated to carry on his work.  I can think of no better way for all of us who were inspired by Whitey to complete his mission than to secure removal of the Rodman Dam and restore the natural flow of the Ocklawaha River.”

Markle is survived his daughter Carrie Markle Thomas, three grandchildren, brother Conrad Markle of Jacksonville, and long-time, devoted companion Harriett Jones of Williston and many, many friends. Plans are underway for a Celebration of Life for Whitey Markle on the Oklawaha River in the near future. Details will be posted on the Sierra Club, Suwannee-St. John’s Group website and Facebook pages in the near future.

In lieu of flowers, send contributions in Whitey Markle’s name to The Sierra Club Suwannee-St. John’s Group at SSJ Sierra Club, PO Box 13951, Gainesville FL  32604 or the Florida Springs Council, PO Box 268, High Springs, FL 32655.

Friday, October 18, 2019

BE THERE: Resources for Roads to Ruin (M-CORES) task force meetings on 10/22, 23, and 30

Once again, we are mobilizing for the M-CORES (roads to ruin) Task Force meetings.  This time there are three separate meetings on three separate days:

October 22, 2019
College of Central Florida Citrus Learning and Conference Center
3800 S Lecanto Hwy, Lecanto, FL 34461 (Citrus County)
Begins at 10 a.m. 
Public comment starts at 4:30 pm
College of Central Florida Citrus Learning and Conference Center
3800 S Lecanto Highway, Lecanto, FL 34461
Begins at 10 a.m. 
Public comment starts at 4:30 pm
Polk State College - Lakeland Campus
3425 Winter Lake Road, Lakeland, FL 33803
Begins at 10 a.m. 
Public comment starts at 4:30 pm
1.    New talking points:  M-CORES = Big Sham, Big Bucks, Big Questions
2.    Fact sheet from August 27
3.    To make a visual statement, we will have red “sham” and green “no roads to ruin” cards for you to hold up during the meeting.  When a speaker opposes the plan we will raise the green cards and when a speaker promotes the plan we will raise the red cards.  In this way we can be “heard” throughout the day.
4.    No roads to ruin stickers.
Please find a coalition partner at the meeting to get your cards, talking points, stickers and fact sheets.

Earlier this year, the state passed legislation to fast-track three major new toll roads that will destroy large swaths of Florida’s last remaining rural lands, pollute waterways, and threaten endangered wildlife, including the iconic Florida panther.

Now we fight back.  Because once we pave over these wild places, there are no do overs.


Finally, you may have noticed we didn’t mention the open houses that are also scheduled after each task force meeting.  We didn’t mention them because they don’t serve our purposes.  Our opposition needs to be seen and heard by the task force members and we need to see and hear them.  The open houses may give FDOT the ability to claim more "stakeholder involvement" but open house attendees will be all but invisible to the task force members.  If you are going to come out to one M-CORES event this month, please make it a task force meeting and not an open house.

Many regards on behalf of the whole NRTR Steering Committee,

Cris Costello
Organizing Manager
Sierra Club
2127 S. Tamiami Trail
Osprey, FL 34229

Lindsay Cross
Government Relations Director
Florida Conservation Voters (FCV)

Mark Ferrulo
Executive Director
Progress Florida
727-289-2612 office

Sarah Gledhill
Senior Florida Field Campaigner
Center for Biological Diversity (CBD)

Anne Michelle Harvey
Staff Attorney
Save the Manatee Club
500 N. Maitland Ave.
Maitland, FL 32751
Office: 407-539-0990

Ryan Smart
Florida Springs Council
P.O. Box 268
High Springs, FL 32655

Julianne Thomas
Conservancy of Southwest Florida
1495 Smith Preserve Way
Naples, FL  34102

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Miami-Dade County Accelerates Climate Progress with Largest Electric Bus Order on the East Coast

Last week, Miami-Dade County Commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of 33 battery-electric, zero emission buses from the manufacturer Proterra, the largest purchase of zero emission buses in the the East Coast.This is the first substantial step made towards achieving the County’s commitment to a 50% battery-electric, zero emission fleet by 2035 since the commitment was made exactly one year prior and is the result of tireless advocacy from environmental and transit advocates.

“Florida is one of the most vulnerable areas in the country to climate change, and Miami is working tirelessly to lower its greenhouse gas emissions,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez. “Deploying battery-electric buses is one of the best actions we can take to improve our environment and our community’s public health. We are looking forward to working with Proterra to deliver clean, quiet transportation to Miami-Dade.” Special thanks to Mayor Giménez, Commissioner Levine-Cava, and Commissioner Suarez for their work over the last several years to make this purchase a reality, and thank you to all the County Commissioners for their unanimous vote.
Advocates at Miami-Dade County Commission 10/3/19. 

Sierra Club volunteers joined with Transit Alliance Miami, Miami Climate Alliance, and CATALYST Miami members in calling for the approval of the purchase and a critical shift to an all electric fleet. Sierra Club advocates have been asking Miami-Dade County Commissioners to transition to an all electric fleets for years and were thrilled that Commissioners allocated more than 70 million dollars to fund up to 75 battery-electric buses should the Transit Department choose to order more.

“This is a technology that over the last several years seems to have evolved...We want to get our feet wet with zero emission,” said Transit Director Alice Bravo.  Over the lifetime of a zero emission bus, transit agencies in Florida save between 70 and 79% in maintenance and repair costs compared to a bus fueled by Compressed Natural Gas, known as “CNG” or fracked gas. The total cost of ownership of a zero emission bus is also $700,000 less than the total cost of a diesel-hybrid bus. Miami-Dade County’s fleet is over 800 buses, primarily made up of CNG and diesel-hybrid buses.  Each of the zero emission buses will save Miami-Dade County between $150,000 and $200,000 over their lifetime in fuel, maintenance and repair costs.

As the 13th largest fleet in the nation, Miami-Dade County’s transition to an electric fleet has been part of a broader shift in the industry. “The technology is here, countless U.S. cities have moved to electric fleets, the cost savings and health benefits are significant, and these are absolutely critical as we move to position our County and region as a global leader within the emerging multi-billion dollar resilience economy. Now’s the time," said David McDougal of the Miami Climate Alliance. Although more than five transit agencies in Florida have made commitments to purchase over 400 zero emission buses collectively, only six zero emission buses currently operate in the Sunshine State. Directly to the north of Miami-Dade, Broward County committed last December to achieve a 100% electric fleet by 2030 and has ordered 15 buses to arrive immediately.

The replacement of diesel buses on the road has massive climate and public health benefits, eliminating 1,690 tons of carbon dioxide, 10 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 350 pounds of diesel particulate matter from being emitted. Cleaning up public transportation is an environmental justice issue. Zelalem Adefris, Resilience Director at CATALYST Miami urged Commissioners to take into account which communities and demographics are most vulnerable to air pollution when deploying the buses. “I want to emphasize that when we do get these buses hopefully the locations of the routes will be determined by the disproportionate asthma risk among youth throughout the county who really need cleaner air first in their neighborhoods, because we do have disproportionate access to clean air throughout the County,” she said to County Commissioners.

In addition to reducing air pollution, zero emission buses also reduce the emission of climate-disrupting greenhouse gases. The source of the electricity used to charge zero emission buses is the most important factor in determining their carbon footprint as there are no greenhouse gases or pollutants emitted from driving battery-electric buses, hence the term “zero emission.”
Advocates demand a 50% electric fleet on 10/3/18.

Even with a dirty fuel mix generating Florida’s electricity, choosing battery-electric buses reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Compared to a bus fueled by fracked gas, a battery-electric bus that draws electricity from the grid will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65% over its lifetime. And going all electric matters; compared to a diesel-electric hybrid bus, a battery-electric bus will reduce emissions by 50% over the lifetime of the bus, a percentage that will increase over the service life of the bus as Florida Power & Light increases the percentage of solar power in its portfolio.

In a nutshell, every bus in the Miami-Dade County fleet that is replaced by an electric bus reduces transit emissions by 50% or more, and transit costs by $150,000 or more, compared to the vehicle it is replacing. If the County chooses to add off-grid solar to charge their buses, a full fleet of electric buses could completely eliminate Miami-Dade County government’s transportation emissions.
Nora Viñas speaks to Commissioners 10/3/19.

In addition to a cleaner transit system, the shift towards electric buses also marks an important milestone in the development of a more effective system.“As we embark on the first comprehensive bus redesign in the past 30 years, it is important that we continually invest in the renewal of our fleet and meet the highest standard...electric buses,” said Nora Viñas on behalf of Transit Alliance Miami. “Frequent and reliable transportation has the potential to unlock opportunities for our residents all over the county. The purchase of the electric bus fleet has the potential to build ridership on buses that are efficient for our environment. The Better Bus project is part of the Resilient 305 initiative and as part of that strategy our goal is to advocate for a bus redesign that supports our County’s commitment to a 50% zero emission, battery-electric fleet.”

The Better Bus Project is a grassroots initiative to redesign the Miami-Dade bus system for greater efficiency, access and equity. Born from a massive data collection and research effort, the Better Bus Project has brought together world-class transit system designers, county officials and thousands of residents to create a better bus system. You can support electric transit for all of Miami-Dade County by joining Sierra Club, Transit Alliance Miami, Miami Climate Alliance and others on the Better Bus Project. Residents and stakeholders; please take the concept survey here before November 1st and follow Transit Alliance Miami, Miami Climate Alliance and Sierra Club Miami Group social media handles to stay up to date!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Public Safety Comes First? Changes to Pre-Harvest Sugar Field Burning Fall Short

For Immediate Release:
October 1, 2019
Contacts:  Patrick Ferguson, 954-288-4234, 
Cris Costello, 941-914-0421, 


Public Safety Comes First?
Changes to Pre-Harvest Sugar Field Burning Fall Short

Belle Glade – In response to Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried’s announcement of changes to the pre-harvest sugar field burning protocols, Patrick Ferguson, Organizing Representative for the Sierra Club Stop Pre-harvest Sugar Field Burning Campaign provides the following statement:

“While we are pleased that Commissioner Fried stated that these changes are a first and not the last step, the announced modifications to the sugar field burning regulations will not stop the smoke and ash the residents in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area have been forced to endure. However, the announcements are a sign that the Stop the Burn activists who have been leading the fight since 2015 are on the right track. When FDACS announces a plan to phase out sugar field burning once and for all, and the switch to modern, sustainable green harvesting, we will celebrate. 

There are five main takeaways:

  1. It is disingenuous to conflate pre-harvest burning with “prescribed burning.”  Agricultural burning used by sugar growers to decrease their harvesting costs cannot and must not be likened to the prescribed burning that keeps Florida wildlands healthy.  To label pre-harvest sugar field burning as “prescribed burning” and a “sustainability tool “is to unapologetically proclaim that it is good for us and the environment.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

  1. The announced “two field rule” which will provide an 80-acre buffer between burned sugar fields and wild lands makes it clear that FDACS understands that nearby flames are a danger to the wild environment.  What is the disconnect that keeps the Department from seeing that nearby flames are also a danger to the human environment?  Prohibiting pre-harvest burning around schools and homes should be the first phase of the transition toward green harvesting and a complete ban on pre-harvest sugar field burning. 

  1. The discriminatory nature of the wind restrictions has not been eliminated.  Neither the new weather/smoke modeling systems nor dispersion-related permitting will change the fact that Florida citizens in Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay, Indiantown, Clewiston, and Ortona will continue to suffer the ash and smoke while those living in eastern Palm Beach County remain protected by wind direction-based permitting.  The wind direction-based rules are inherently unjust, protecting the wealthier and whiter communities while literally choking the less affluent, more diverse neighborhoods with smoke, ash, and the concomitant health impacts. 

  1. It is easy to say “public safety comes first” but until the people of Western Palm Beach, Martin, Hendry, and Glades counties are protected from smoke and ash it is not and cannot be a true statement.

  1. What is most noteworthy to our campaign, and most important for the sugar industry to hear and accept, is that FDACS is encouraging the move to green harvesting and is directing attention to the biomass industry.  Green harvesting is the only way forward. It is the win-win-win solution that has already been proven sustainable, successful, and profitable elsewhere. What is Florida waiting for?

Pre-harvest sugar field burning is an outdated, toxic, inherently unjust, and entirely unneeded practice that the Florida sugar industry keeps and defends because no one in power has been willing to say no to them.  Commissioner Fried has made a move in the right direction but it is nowhere close to being enough.”

Campaign materials:

       Stop the Burn Campaign Primer: 
       Sugarcane burn zone map and wind restriction definitions: 
       Stop the Burn fact sheet:
       Health impact study summaries: