Thursday, October 18, 2018

One year after Maria, Sierra Club joined Puerto Ricans at rally near Mar-a-Lago to honor lives lost and demand justice

On Saturday, September 22, 2018, more than 1,000 people descended on West Palm Beach, #1YearAfterMaria took the lives of almost 3,000 Puerto Ricans and left the island in devastation. Those present included members of the diaspora, displaced families from Puerto Rico (PR), and allies from all over Florida. The event was held as part of #BoricuasRemember week of action in remembrance of the 1 year anniversary since Category 4 Hurricane Maria crossed the center of the island. (Puerto Ricans also refer to themselves as Boricuas and to the island as Borinquen in honor of their indigenous ancestry). The events in Florida were led by Alianza for Progress and Power 4 Puerto Rico Coalition, with support from many allies, including Sierra Club.

Photo credit: Diana Umpierre

The day started with a caravan of dozens of vehicles that departed from Hollywood, FL, drove north along I-95, under police-escort, and eventually by Mar-a-Lago, President’s Trump so-called southern “White House”, where they loudly honked their horns and proudly waved Puerto Rican flags. Cars and trucks were also decorated with symbols of the coqui (a tiny frog native to Puerto Rico) and painted messages such as “Boricuas Vota!” to encourage their fellow US citizens from Puerto Rico to vote. Sierra Club organizing representative Diana Umpierre, of Puerto Rican descent, and her son were among those in the caravan. Her car, photographed while driving in front of Mar-a-Lago, was featured on the Sunday cover of Palm Beach Daily News. (Video of caravan starts at 3:18)

Caravan ("Caravana") ready to cross the bridge towards Mar-a-Lago
Photo credit: Diana Umpierre

The event was followed by a rally near Mar-a-Lago, at Meyer Amphitheatre, with brief statements from Maria survivors, members of the diaspora and elected officials that included US Congressman Darren Soto and FL House Representative Robert Asencio (both of Puerto Rican descent), as well as FL Senator José Javier Rodríguez, US Senator Bill Nelson and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.  The rally featured musical performances by Puerto Rican artists including Frankie Negrón, Lunna, and Danny Rivera Jr (son of the late and legendary singer, songwriter & activist Danny Rivera). The crowd also sang and danced to the sound of tambores, maracas, panderetas and güiros (typical instruments on the island).  Sierra Club handed out close to 50 mini Puerto Rican flags and signs that featured photos taken by Diana Umpierre during her recent trip to areas in PR that are still trying to recover.

As expected, there was also a small contingent of Trump supporters that showed up and were peacefully challenged by attendees (see video). Among those that challenged them was Sierra Club organizing representative Gonzalo Valdes, who went in front of a Trump banner with a Sierra Club-branded sign asking for clean, reliable, renewable energy for Puerto Rico.

Gonzalo Valdes holds a Sierra-branded sign in front of a Trump banner.
Photo credit: Democratic Veterans Caucus of Florida - Palm Beach County

Diana Umpierre also spoke to the crowd about Sierra’s mission and the need for Puerto Rico to have a future based on safe, reliable, clean renewable energy. She talked about her cousin in Caguas, where the eye of hurricane went through, who still has a blue tarp for a roof and the plight of a very low-income community in Naguabo that has received very little help from FEMA and is hoping for windows and doors for the many abandoned homes. She shared how the Trump administration, with its climate denial, hurts Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is still in shambles and has an unreliable, unsafe energy infrastructure they cannot depend on.  They are not ready for another tropical storm, and they were certainly not even ready when Maria came.

Photo credit: David McDougal

Baby Trump made its Florida debut at the West Palm Beach rally. Needless to say, he was a hit! Baby Trump is a 20-foot-high balloon, inspired by our friends in the UK, characterizing the petulant and juvenile nature of Donald Trump. It is one of six Baby Trumps that are on a tour organized by People’s Motorcade. Trump has been criticized for his condescending treatment of the Puerto Rican people. Just a few days before the 1-year anniversary, Trump went on to Twitter to claim that the nearly 3,000 lives lost was a made-up number to make him look bad for political reasons. To Puerto Ricans that lost loved ones and know of the suffering still going on due to the aftermath left by Maria, his remarks are adding insult to injury. That count of 2,975 deaths was officially adopted by the Puerto Rican government based on a detailed study by George Washington University.

Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group members with Baby Trump
Photo credit: Alyssa Cadwalader

The event ended with a vigil organized by Faith in Florida. Faith leaders led the audience in moments of reflection and prayers for the families of the lives lost and those that are still suffering.

Photo credit: Alianza for Progress

The event was covered by a multitude of news outlets worldwide, including spanish-speaking news media. These included:  teleSUR, Metro Puerto Rico, Global News (Canada), The Journal (Colorado), NewsTube/ Ruptly (Russia), WTHR Channel 13 (Indianapolis), El Nuevo Día, Sun-Sentinel, Palm Beach Daily News, Palm Beach Post, Miami-Herald, El Nuevo Herald, Associated Press (AP) News, Washington Post, Huffington Post, New York Times, US News & World Report, ABC 10, CBS 12 WPEC, WPBF 25 News, FOX 35 WOFL, WPTV Channel 5, NBC 6.

Note:  Story written by Diana Umpierre, Sierra Club Everglades Restoration organizer, with contributions from Gonzalo Valdes, Sierra Club Beyond Coal organizer. Both are of Puerto Rican descent.

Other Event Photos & Videos

Photo credit: Gonzalo Valdes

Members of the Haitian community (Family Action Network Movement, FANM)
Photo credit: David McDougal

Members of the Florida Immigration Coalition, FLIC
Photo credit: David McDougal

Vigil/ prayer service in remembrance of the thousands of lives lost.
Photo credit: Marcos Vilar

Diana Umpierre holds photos she took during her July visit to Puerto Rico, nearly #1YearAfterMaria.
Photo credit: Democratic Veterans Caucus of Florida - Palm Beach County

Photo credit: David McDougal

Photo credit: David McDougal
Photo credit: Gonzalo Valdes

Too Many "Se Vende" (For Sale) signs in Puerto Rico, signs of a struggling economy.
Photo credit: Gonzalo Valdes

Tallahassee Mayor Gillum (at microphone) and US Rep. Darren Soto (holding the PR flag) delivered words in support of the Puerto Rican community.
Photo credit: David McDougal

US Senator Bill Nelson and US Rep. Darren Soto
Photo credit: David McDougal

Photo credit: Gonzalo Valdes

Photo credit: Diana Umpierre

Photo credit: Gonzalo Valdes

Photo credit: Gonzalo Valdes

Photo credit: Gonzalo Valdes

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Sierra Club Blasts Rick Scott's Red Tide Plan

For Immediate Release: September 20, 2018

More Studies Won't Cure State's Catastrophic Red Tide and Green Slime

St. Petersburg, FL – Sierra Club Florida responded to Florida Governor Rick Scott's letter today to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission asking it to create a  Center for Red Tide Research.

Statement of Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director

“Rick Scott's call for the creation of a Center for Red Tide Research is nothing more than a self-serving publicity stunt. He is desperately diverting attention from his failure over his two terms as Governor to address the pollution problems which have fueled massive toxic red tide and green slime all across the State. 

"We're horrified that Scott is offering a half-baked, ineffective plan to Florida's ongoing water crisis at the end of his stint as Governor.  Where has he been for the last eight years as toxic algae blooms have repeatedly devastated the state's coastal waters, inland lakes, rivers and springs?  

"While 'Red Tide Rick' fiddled, Florida's waters burned with toxic algae. As a result, our coastal communities are plagued by the smell of millions of dead fish on their beaches and a devastated tourism industry.    

"Scott's proposal for more research won't cure red tide and green slime.  The only way to reduce the occurrence, size and severity of harmful algae blooms is to stop the pollution that is feeding it at its source.  We need  prevention, not more studies.

"Rick Scott is the person most responsible for Florida's growing, catastrophic toxic algae problem.  Over his two terms as Governor, Scott has put state enforcement of pollution laws in reverse by eliminating mandatory inspections of septic tanks and slashing enforcement of clean water regulations.  His plan for reducing dirty water releases to Florida's Gulf and Atlantic coasts has been to spend billions of dollars over the next decade to store more polluted water in Lake Okeechobee and to build a 23 foot high reservoir in the Everglades over the next 10 years and fill it with more dirty water.  His new plan today asking the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the next Governor to do more research should make every Floridian mad as hell."   


Frank Jackalone:  727-804-1317
Cris Costello: 941-914-0421

About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters nationwide, including more than 230,000 in Florida. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. For more information, visit

Sierra Club Florida | 1990 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, FL 33712

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sierra Club, Miami Climate Alliance and 40+ Partner Organizations Host Miami Rising

Miami Rising Concert & Rally Draws 1,000+ for the People’s Climate Movement National Day of Action

On Saturday, September 8, Sierra Club Miami, Miami Climate Alliance and more than 40 partner
organizations hosted Miami Rising for Climate Jobs and Justice in solidarity with the People’s
Climate Movement National Day of Action.  Aimed at attracting new volunteers and advocates into the climate movement, the event drew over 1,000 attendees to Bayfront Park in downtown Miami.  The event marks the beginning of the Miami Climate Alliance Miami Rising campaign, which will promote climate advocacy actions in Miami-Dade County for the next six weeks, including events and petitions hosted by Sierra Club Miami.

Using art, music and poetry to create connections, Miami Rising focused on educating South Florida residents about people-centered solutions to climate change and extreme weather and on promoting a just transition to a new 100% clean and renewable energy future. At the event, Sierra Club volunteers organized a solar-powered cell phone charging station and a clean energy raffle wheel trivia game to educate attendees about 100% clean and renewable energy. Volunteers also collected 275 petition signatures asking the City of Miami to commit to a just transition to 100% renewable community-wide energy supply before 2050. Watch a video of the event here.  

Performers and creators helped tell the story of climate, jobs, and justice for our communities;
showing that to change everything, it takes everyone.  Performers included musical artists Soulpax, Remyz, Locos por Juana, and Ra Ra Roots Rasin, and spoken word artists included Dita Devi, Michealango 305, and Sebastian.  Visual artists created murals, paintings and works dedicated to the themes of climate, jobs and justice.  Interactive displays also helped participants connect to the issues, like a virtual reality Everglades canoe experience from Paradise Key Media. 

To generate excitement and drive attendance, partner organizations placed op-eds and hosted Miami Rising lead-up events, including four climate forums, a Battle of the Bands event, a live art competition and series of volunteer trainings.  Now until November 15, Miami Rising attendees and volunteers will be invited to participate in a series of actions and events, including Sierra Club gatherings and online petitions. Check out the campaign at

Speakers at the event focused on the urgency to act on climate, jobs and justice, illustrating the issues with personal stories. Among the 14 speakers were Sierra Club Organizer and Miami Climate Alliance Steering Committee Chair Emily Gorman, SEIU 1199 Vice-President Dequasia Canales, WeCount member Sergio Maldonado, Executive Director of FANM Haitian Women of Miami Marleine Bastien, Founder of Make the Homeless Smile Valencia Gunder, and Valholly Roff Frank, the 15-year-old plaintiff in Our Children’s Trust lawsuit against Governor Rick Scott and State of Florida.

Sponsors and partner organizations included: Sierra Club, The Miami Climate Alliance, The CLEO Institute, FANM Haitian Women of Miami, 350 South Florida, New Florida Majority, 1199 SEIU, Peoples Climate Movement, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Demos, Life Is Art, and the Center for Climate Integrity, AFSCME, Blackbird Communications, Catalyst Miami, Engage Miami, Florida Student Power Network, Life Is Art, Miami Workers Center,, National Latina Institute, NextGen America, Progressive Caucus of Miami Dade, Progressive Jewish Action, Rethink Energy, Sachamama, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, South Florida AFL-CIO, South Florida Resilience System, Unitarian Universalist Justice Florida, United Teachers of Dade, Unite Here, We Count!, Women's March Miami, and the  South Florida Workers Rise for Climate Justice Coalition

Friday, September 14, 2018

Dissecting Ron DeSantis’ Environmental Plan and Abysmal Voting Record

Sierra Club Dissects Ron DeSantis’ Environmental Plan and Abysmal Voting Record in Congress

Earlier this week, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis released his environmental plan for Florida. Below is a brief overview of DeSantis’ plan and votes he’s taken that are in stark contrast to what he now proposes.

Sierra Club Florida Director Frank Jackalone released the following response:

“Ron DeSantis’ environmental plan for Florida is filled with empty promises, few facts, and fewer details, and he omits any reference to climate change, clean energy, or the State’s desperate need to manage growth again.  DeSantis’ plan attempts to greenwash his abysmal record voting against the environment 98% of the time in his three terms as a Member of Congress.  Floridians won’t support someone with DeSantis’ record for governor, which is why he’s so desperately trying to change his tune.”

A Close Look at Ron DeSantis’ Environmental Plan for Florida:

NOT ADDRESSED:  Climate Change, Clean Energy, and Growth Management - Missing from Ron DeSantis’ “plan to protect Florida’s environment” is a goal to combat climate change and transition Florida from dirty coal, oil and gas to clean renewable energy, especially our unlimited supply of solar energy in the sunshine state.   Also missing is a goal to restore State growth management in Florida and to put an end to Rick Scott’s deadly plan to create several new growth corridors in Florida that would double Florida’s population, eliminate wildlife habitat, and threaten our water supply.   Those omissions tells us that DeSantis would continue Rick Scott’s policies over the last 8 years that ignored climate change, failed to tap the State’s solar energy potential, and set the stage for rampant development in the remaining rural areas of the State.

Southern Storage and Everglades Restoration – DeSantis embraces The EAA “Southern Storage” Reservoir plan as the centerpiece of Everglades Restoration and stopping the discharges of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee to the Indian River Lagoon and the Gulf of Mexico.  Yet DeSantis fails to point out that the Reservoir is poorly designed and, according to the South Water Management District, will take 10 years to build. That won’t provide quick relief to coastal communities like Fort Myers and Stuart!   He’s embracing the watered-down, expensive, and problematic version of the EAA Reservoir that Governor Scott and the Water Management District designed.  At 23 feet high, the Reservoir would be deeper than Lake Okeechobee and a potential engineering nightmare.  Also, the Reservoir won’t provide clean water to the Everglades unless the State commits to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on something needed but not in Rick Scott’s plan:  the purchase of tens of thousands of acres of sugar land to create additional wetlands to clean the dirty water stored in the reservoir before it is released to the Everglades.

Additional Bridging for Tamiami Trail -   DeSantis pays homage to Everglades restoration by endorsing additional bridging of Tamiami Trail.  However, he’s Johnny Come Lately on this one.  Every decision maker of importance in Florida supports additional bridging for Tamiami Trail.   DeSantis is making a campaign promise out of something that is already a done deal.

Enforcement of Water Quality Standards – DeSantis creates a bogus issue by saying that the limited powers on clean water standard regulation controlled by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) needs to be shifted to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  That diverts discussion away from the main problem:  Florida DEP isn’t doing enough to enforce the Clean Water Act in Florida.  DEP has the job of setting limits for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution of Florida’s waters, not DACS.  Why isn’t DeSantis talking about the need to restore DEP’s enforcement funds and powers that Rick Scott took away?

Oil Drilling Off Florida’s Coast – DeSantis says that he will use his “unique” relationship with President Trump to ensure that oil drilling never occurs off Florida’s coast.   We are troubled that DeSantis is being vague here. Where does “off Florida’s coast” begin?  5 miles out from the beach?  10 miles out? 100 miles out?  Right now, drilling is prohibited 225 miles from Florida’s Gulf beaches and the oil industry is seeking to move drilling 100 miles closer to them.   That would still be 125 miles away from Florida’s coast and it would put Florida’s beaches and tourism industry at grave risk from being covered with globs of oil and tar mats after another spill like the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster. Would DeSantis oppose any new drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico even if it’s not right “off Florida’s coast?”  He doesn’t say.

Red Tide – DeSantis says he’ll put together a blue ribbon panel and ask them to study the causes of red tide.   We think this is a waste of time and money because red Tide and other harmful algae blooms have been studied to death.  Scientists, government officials, and the public know that the best way to reduce the severity and size of red tide and other algae blooms is to end discharges from Lake Okeechobee, and stop the fertilizer, sewage, septic tank, and manure pollution that gets dumped into Florida’s waters all over the state.  Florida’s crippled coastal tourism industry can’t wait several years for more studies to be completed.

Beach Restoration – DeSantis says he will find innovative technologies and funding opportunities to combat beach erosion.  This is nonsense.   You can’t stop beach erosion without reversing the climate change which is causing sea level rise and more frequent and stronger hurricanes.  Of course, he could borrow a page from Donald Trump’s playbook and build a massive seawall around the whole state of Florida at an unspeakable cost; but nobody would want to live or visit here if DeSantis did that.  If he’s talking about beach renourishment, that’s a losing strategy. As seas rise and stronger hurricanes strike, the new sand will quickly wash away each year until rising seas overtake Florida’s barrier islands and coastal cities.

Rising Seas – Curiously, DeSantis promises to single out South Florida as the place he wants to make resilient from rising seas.   What about the rest of the state?  Rising Seas affect all of Florida, not just South Florida.  DeSantis would prioritize flood mitigation efforts, and stays silent in his new plan about taking State action to address the climate change that produces the sea level rise, increased heat, ocean acidification, and stronger hurricanes that threaten to make Florida unlivable.  However, just last month on a campaign stop in Englewood, “DeSantis argued climate change is not a problem state government can help mitigate…and seemed to question whether climate change and rising seas are caused by human activity,” according to the Sarasota Herald Tribune (  DeSantis sounds exactly like Rick Scott and Donald Trump, and that means continued inaction to save our coasts from rising seas.

Water Supply – DeSantis wants to protect Florida’s water supply from over-pumping, contamination, and salt water intrusion.  The goals are important, but his solutions don’t do enough to address those problems.  While using reclaimed water is a necessity, the bigger problem is increasing water withdrawals from urban sprawl.   We won’t stop over-pumping of our water resources unless the State restores growth management and limits new consumptive use water permits.  The main contamination problem is nutrient pollution and DeSantis fails to discuss what he would do to stop pollution at its source.  Finally, saltwater intrusion is caused by rising sea levels; it’s a losing battle in a few decades if we don’t convert to clean energy and combat climate change now.

Fracking Ban – We’re happy to see that DeSantis has joined Mayor Gillum and a majority of the Florida State Senate in supporting a ban of fracking in Florida.  We will note that he neglects to use the words “oil” and “gas” in his statement and we hope that his intention is to ban fracking for both.

Florida’s Springs – DeSantis wants to “continue the legacy of restoring and protecting Florida’s springs.”  We have to ask, what legacy?  Florida’s springs have been in continuous decline due to over-pumping, development, and nutrient pollution.  The “legacy” has been one of abuse and destruction of our springs.  He says he will work with all stakeholders to develop a comprehensive program to reduce nitrogen pollution of Florida’s Springs.   That’s great, but we would like to know what he would do beyond convening a few conference calls.

Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment (Amendment 1) - DeSantis says that he would use Amendment 1 dollars not just for purchasing and managing new conservation lands, but also for various existing projects including “…water quality, beach restoration, and conservation of state parks.”  It sounds like he’s siding with the Legislature in its appeal of the Florida Circuit Court ruling that said voters intent was to use Amendment 1 funds exclusively for new land conservation purchases and management of those lands.  If DeSantis sides with the Legislature in its attempt to overturn the Court decision, it would be bad news for future land conservation efforts in Florida.

Clean Air – DeSantis claims that Florida has some of the cleanest air in the country and he would work to keep it that way.   He neglects to mention that Florida has several trouble spots that need help from the State.  EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee reports that several Florida communities such as Tampa Bay, Orlando, and Pensacola have many days a year of unhealthy air.  Hillsborough County this year got an “F” from the American Lung Association for dangerous ozone levels.  Additionally, for six months each year many communities in central and south Florida get blasted by smoke and ash that winds blow in following the massive daily burning of sugar cane fields.

Sierra Club’s Analysis of Ron DeSantis’ Environmental Record in Congress:

Environmental Record:
       LCV Score (Link):
      Lifetime: 2%
      2017: 3%

Key Votes and Issues:

       Protecting Beaches/Oceans:
      Voted Yes on H.R. 200: Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act (Link)
      Undermines successful fisheries management and the science-based conservation tools that prevent overfishing
       Attacks on EPA
      Voted Yes on H.R. 1431, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017
      This bill would undermine the ability of the Science Advisory Board to provide independent, objective, and credible scientific advice to the EPA. All industries to prolong the scientific review process.
      Voted Yes on amendment to H.R. 3354, Dept. of Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2018
      This amendment would reduce the EPA’s budget by approximately $1.9 billion, weakening the agency’s ability to enforce clean air, clean water, and public health safeguards.
       Clean Water/Supply of Water:
      Voted Yes on H.R. 953, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2017.
      This bill would eliminate Clean Water Act safeguards that protect communities from toxic pesticide exposure that occurs when pesticides are discharged directly into bodies of water without any meaningful oversight or public transparency. While this legislation has been framed as a response to the Zika and West Nile viruses, it is simply a handout to pesticide manufacturers and other corporate interests, and it is unnecessary in addressing the Zika virus or other mosquito-borne health threats.
      Voted Yes on H.R. 1654: The Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act
      This bill would undercut the process to conduct and environmental review and public input on water projects in the West. This bill additionally undermines NEPA, and allows the fast-tracking of project proposals without extensive environmental impact assessments.
      Voted Yes on amendment to H.R. 4923: The Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015
      This amendment would repeal provisions in the Clean Water Act that establish limited exemptions for discharge from farming practices.
       Clean Air:
      Voted Yes H.R. 1119: Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment
      This bill would exempt waste coal burning power plants from meeting certain clean air standards, including undoing limits on hydrogen chloride and sulfur dioxide, causes of respiratory issues.
       Protecting State Lands, Parks, Springs, and Air:
      Voted No on amendment to H.R. 3354, Dept. of Interior, Environment, and other Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2018.
      This amendment would prevent  federal public lands from being transferred to private owners  in violation of existing laws
       Banning Fracking in the State of Florida:
      Voted Yes on H.R. 2728, the Protecting States' Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act.
      This bill would prohibit the federal government from setting baseline protections from fracking if a state has even minimal, unenforceable guidelines in place. The bill would place fracking oversight under a patchwork of inadequate state regulations and also delay the Environmental Protection Agency’s congressionally mandated study on the impacts of fracking on drinking water, keeping important information on contamination away from families living near oil and gas drilling operations.
      Voted Yes 2231 Offshore Energy and Jobs Act
      This bill would expand offshore drilling production off the coasts of South Carolina, Virginia, California, and Alaska’s Bristol Bay
      Voted No on amendment to H.R. 2231: Offshore Energy and Jobs Act.
      This amendment would have permitted states (including Florida) to prohibit  drilling within its boundaries. (Link)
       Climate Change:
      Voted Yes on H.Con.Res.119 which expresses a resolution stating Congress believes a carbon tax would be harmful to U.S. economy

Paid electioneering communication paid for by Sierra Club Florida Political Action Committee, 1990 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, FL 33712