Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Governor DeSantis: Stop the Greenwash!


August 3, 2021 

Contact:  Cris Costello, 941-914-0421, cris.costello@sierraclub.org 


Governor DeSantis:  Stop the Greenwash!

Hold Polluters Accountable 

TAMPA—Today Sierra Club Florida responded to Governor DeSantis’ actions regarding the recent Red Tide outbreak and the state’s wider water quality crisis in the following letter:

August 3, 2021

The Honorable Ron DeSantis

Plaza Level, The Capitol

400 S. Monroe St.

Tallahassee, FL 32399

RE:  Stop the Greenwash and Hold Polluters Accountable

Dear Governor DeSantis:

Sierra Club, the oldest, largest environmental advocacy organization in the nation with more than 240,000 members and supporters in Florida wants to set the record straight.  Yet another summer of slime has unfolded in Florida and we all have been horrified by the devastation to our environment, coastal economy, and quality of life.  Our current reality is of course no surprise to anyone – your administration’s failure to implement or even encourage or promote stopping pollution at its source makes our repeatedly toxic waterways inevitable. 

All hands are not on deck.  Since your election, there has been little to show for all of your “all hands on deck” rhetoric.  Photo ops, heralded appointments, and multiple task forces have been all greenwash, an insidious greenwash that makes your inaction even more dangerous to the taxpayers of this state.  The most glaring example is your failure to champion legislation that would have implemented the recommendations of your Harmful Algae Bloom/Red Tide and Blue Green Algae Task Forces.

Control and mitigation research and technologies and states of emergencies keep taxpayers on the “clean-up” treadmill but do nothing to stop pollution at its source.  “After-the-fact” attention to harmful algal outbreaks is not what Florida needs.

The system is rigged.  How many times have environmentalists brought in experts, submitted comments, attended meetings, and served on technical advisory committees or task forces just to have their input ignored in order to make way for whatever the “regulated industry” (the polluter) desired?  The public participation process has become yet another way to give your administration a toxic coat of greenwash.

Your dismissal of Piney Point's role in fueling red tide in Tampa Bay is reckless. There is no question that Piney Point has both fueled and intensified this red tide bloom. When you make public statements claiming that red tide blooms are “naturally occurring” and dismiss Piney Point you spread a dangerous false narrative that works to protect polluters from meaningful accountability.  Rats are naturally occurring, but we know not to dump household garbage in the streets so as to avoid feeding a rat population explosion.  Likewise, the science community has made it clear that dumping nutrient pollution (agricultural and urban fertilizer, animal manure, and sewage) into receiving water bodies, especially ones warmed by climate change, fuels harmful algae and increases the intensity and duration of toxic outbreaks.  Your use of “naturally occurring” is a big red flag that the phosphate industry has you in its pocket.

Until pollution is stopped at its source, polluters will go on setting taxpayers up for a never-ending series of costly clean-ups.  If we want to get off of the expensive clean-up treadmill, you and your Administration need to champion the strict regulation of the state’s major polluters. The status quo is to give polluters everything they want where water quality legislation and agency action are concerned.  That needs to end if we are to fix Florida’s water quality crises. 

If you truly believe in “protecting Florida together,” you will end your greenwash campaign.  It is time for you to direct your agencies and the legislature to exchange the greenwash for direct, enforced, restorative regulatory action.


Michael McGrath

Sierra Club Organizing Representative

Red Tide-Wildlands Campaign

2022 Hendry Street, Suite 250

Fort Myers, FL 33901





Monday, August 2, 2021

Stop The Burn-Go Green Harvest Campaign Statement on Pending NASA Sugar Field Burning Study


The announcement of the upcoming NASA-funded study highlights the growing public awareness of the injustice posed by the toxic, outdated, and unnecessary practice of pre-harvest sugar field burning. It is a testament to how impacted community leaders in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area, persisting in speaking truth to power for six years, have elevated this issue to a national level, and we are grateful for the attention.

However, although we are not against science or the collection of new data, and are not opposed to the new NASA-funded study, we are wary of it when it may be used against our call for an immediate remedy.  Waiting for data before action is taken is kicking the can down the road.  

Florida and the nation have a long history of data and research on environmental hazards not translating into meaningful environmental laws or regulations. Cancer Alley in Louisiana, an 85-mile stretch of petrochemical manufacturing facilities along the Mississippi River, serves as an unfortunate example of how increased air quality monitoring alone is no guarantee that environmental justice will be achieved.  A 2015 EPA report confirmed that census blocks within the heart of the chemical industry in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley have a cancer risk rate 50-times the national average, and in response, the EPA set up air quality monitoring stations at six separate locations in St. John’s Parish.  Despite the EPA monitors consistently recording cancer-causing chloroprene emissions dozens of times higher than EPA recommendations, including one instance in 2017 when chloroprene levels were measured at 755 times the EPA recommended guidelines, true protective regulations on regional polluters have not been implemented.  

Denka Performance Elastomer, one of the main corporate polluters in the region responsible for the dangerous levels of chloroprene in the region, has used tactics straight out of Big Sugar’s playbook to cast doubt on scientific research, leverage their resources to obtain lenient state and federal regulators, and drum up support from local politicians representing fence line communities who have ties to the industry.

It is not lost on us that communities of color and lower-wealth neighborhoods, like those in Cancer Alley and in the Glades, are constantly being told to wait, wait until it is politically expedient, wait until the next election, wait until the study is done.  

Cancer Alley and the Everglades Agricultural Area highlight the reality that there are two standards of environmental protection in the United States: those afforded to predominantly White higher-wealth communities and those afforded to communities of color and lower-wealth communities.  In 1991, public outcry from residents in Eastern Palm Beach County brought about new wind direction-based sugar field burning regulations to protect them without the need of any expensive studies to prove their communities were being harmed by the toxic smoke and ash.  Studying, which takes time and money that could be instead spent on the transition toward burn-free green harvesting, rather than phasing out the toxic practice immediately, is a form of environmental racism.

Why are we expected to wait for more data?  Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried and her administration have ignored an existing mountain of data on the negative impacts of sugar cane burning. 

Commissioner Fried has full authority to add meaningful protections for the communities impacted by toxic sugarcane burning.  Commissioner Fried has ignored a long line of public demands for her administration to act.  We are not less deserving of quick action than the residents of Wellington, and after 30 years, this disparate treatment is clearly an example of environmental racism. 

Even if new data from the NASA study leads to strong regulatory action to end pre-harvest sugar field burning, residents in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area will continue to have their health, quality of life, local economy, and natural environment polluted by pre-harvest sugar field burning for at least 18 more months, when the study is to conclude.  We are once again threatened by the next burn season that begins on October 1.  We are done waiting.  

No new data will make it more necessary to stop pre-harvest sugar field burning.  Who doesn't already know that breathing toxic smoke is bad for you?  Why else would the Center for Disease Control (CDC) encourage the cessation of agricultural fires during the Covid pandemic?  It isn't rocket science.  Sugar growers around the world have already modernized and transitioned toward burn-free green harvesting.  The phase-out of burning in Florida should begin immediately.

Stop The Burn-Go Green Harvest Leadership Team

Fred Brockman 

Sister Laura Cavanaugh 

June Downs 

Anne Haskell 

Brittany Ingram 

Elaine Lavallee 

Catherine Martinez 

Steve Messam 

Elena Michel 

Robert Mitchell 

Kina Phillips 

Shanique Scott 

Kathey Sullivan 

Richard Sullivan 

Colin Walkes

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Sierra Club Florida Hires First Communications Director

Sara Henneberger has joined Sierra Club Florida as its new communications director. She previously served as the marketing communications manager at The University of Tampa, where she led the institution’s communications strategies designed to meet enrollment goals and support academic programming. Prior to her time at UT, she worked as the editor of a weekly newspaper. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University and master’s degrees in mass communication and public health from the University of Florida. Sara lives in Tampa, and in her spare time, she enjoys canoeing and kayaking, biking, and hiking. She can be reached at sara.henneberger@sierraclub.org.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

PB Post/ProPublica takes aim at Big Sugar’s smokescreen

On July 8, 2021, the Palm Beach Post, in partnership with ProPublica, published a powerful data-driven investigative report highlighting the environmental injustice of pre-harvest sugar field burning. This coverage is the latest addition to a growing mountain of research and reporting on the threats from sugarcane field burning. The truth uncovered in the report is nothing new to Glades residents who have had to endure the toxic impacts from sugarcane burning on their health, quality of life, and pocketbooks for decades, but this reporting by the Palm Beach Post/ProPublica spells it out for the rest of us:

Since the community leaders of the Stop, The Burn Campaign Go Green Campaign first began speaking truth to power about the toxic, outdated, and racist practice in 2015, the Big Sugar propaganda machine has been churning out lies and misinformation in response, some of which would be comical but for the damage, it does to community unity and understanding

When science lines up against the sugar industry’s air quality claims, US Sugar has always fallen back on claiming the information is biased or wrong because the science is linked to the “big bad Sierra Club” and the many imagined conspiracy theories they have concocted against us.  This time, the Palm Beach Post and ProPublica beat US Sugar to the punchline. 

The investigative report underscores the Stop the Burn-Go Green Harvest campaign demand for a burn-free buffer zone within a 27-mile radius of surrounding communities.  Considering the many benefits of green harvesting and the win-win-win situation it is for all parties involved, including the sugar industry itself, how long will the sugar industry persist in its malevolent defense of the known toxic practice of sugarcane burning? How long will Commissioner Fried remain complicit in the environmental racism of this practice by refusing to provide real protection for the impacted communities within and around the Glades? 

Tell commissioner Fried to act now. 

Sugar field burn in South Bay, FL (April 2021)

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

DeSantis Unleashes Monstrous Serpent to Strangle Everglades Restoration Efforts

Sierra Club Statement on Florida Cabinet's Decision to Uphold Miami-Dade Plan Amendment to Extend SR-836

"One thing is undebatable: Governor DeSantis and his friends in the Florida Cabinet care more about political favors than about America's Everglades. Today, instead of cutting off the head of the Everglades Snakeway, they fed it by ignoring the irrefutable evidence presented by plaintiffs, the urgent pleas of Everglades advocates, and Judge Wyk's conclusion from careful review of records and expert testimonies. The fix was in. It did not matter that Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park, and innumerable endangered species would be imperiled in the name of cutting 6 minutes from a commute. DeSantis showed his true colors; this should have been an easy victory for our state but the Governor failed us. We thank Commissioner Nikki Fried as the only Cabinet member that voted to uphold Judge Wyk's decision and put an end to this invasive serpent that will strangle Everglades restoration efforts for decades to come." 

Diana Umpierre, Organizing Representative, Sierra Club Everglades Restoration Campaign

See also the 6/11/21 letter sent to the Cabinet regarding SR-836.




For Immediate Release                                         

June 15, 2021


Deborah Foote, 850-727-4039, deborah.foote@sierraclub.org

David Cullen, 941-323-2404, cullensea@gmail.com






TALLAHASSEE, FL.– Today Sierra Club Florida released its Florida Legislator Scorecard for 2021. Designed to give a snapshot of legislators’ votes on priority bills for which Sierra Club Florida dedicated considerable time and resources, it also includes “thumbs up and thumbs down” award winners noting those legislators who either championed or actively worked against the environment and democracy.


Republicans almost unanimously voted against Sierra Club’s priorities by:


·        Egregiously attacking voter participation and first amendment rights via the Florida Voter Suppression Bill (SB 90) and the Anti-Public Protest bill (HB 1);

·        Continuing their assault on the citizen initiative process (SB 1890) by hamstringing efforts to gather a huge number of petitions without being able to raise adequate money to pay workers to collect them;

·        Prohibiting mandatory beneficial electrification requirements by hamstringing local governments’ ability to implement and achieve clean energy transition targets (HB 919) and prohibiting gas station bans thus making the transition to electric vehicles more difficult (HB 839);

·        Greenwashing methane-rich bio-gas by rebranding it as a “renewable energy” so that corporate utilities can build out natural gas infrastructure while making even more money from ratepayers through cost recovery (SB 896);

·        Removing local input and control over industrial solar power plant siting by allowing placement of these potentially massive power plants on any land classified as “agriculture” (SB 896);

·        Inserting subsurface rights and mineral estates into the definition of “real property” which gives an oil or gas developer a legal wedge to force a locality or DEP to refrain from actions that would “inordinately burden” the property by preventing fracking or other oil or gas exploration and production; and

·        Continuing to use preemption as a way to invalidate local regulations seeking to protect the environment (SB 1194)


Legislators from both chambers and parties hid behind the need to “protect farmers” by approving unprecedented protections for “farm operations” against any party who may be injured by them and seeks justice through the courts. This potentially guts the class action suit (and any future action) against Big Sugar for injury to western Palm Beach County residents caused by smoke and ash from the outdated, toxic and inherently racist practice of pre-harvest sugar field burning (SB 88).


“We are concerned that the public buys in to the majority party’s rhetoric about their so-called environmental achievements,” said Deborah Foote, Acting Chapter Director, “we now have state-recognized Springs Protection Awareness Month and Oceans Day, yet the legislature failed to pass even one recommendation from Governor DeSantis’s own Blue Green Algae Task Force, the entity created to work on harmful algal bloom crisis.”


“Passing a trio of bills aimed at funding some aspects of sea level rise adaptation fails to address the causes of sea level rise or protect those most vulnerable to its impacts. There aren’t enough taxpayer dollars to hurricane-proof Florida. We cannot adapt our way out of climate change. We must mitigate the causes by reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses,” said Cris Costello, Senior Organizing Manager.


The Scorecard applauds eight Representatives who sided with the Sierra Club’s positions 100% of the time: Ben Diamond, Fentrice Driskell, Anna Eskamani, Joy Goff-Marcil, Omari Hardy, Dotie Joseph, Angie Nixon, and Carlos Guillermo Smith.


It condemns a number of Republican legislators for their actions including:

·        Sen. Travis Hutson for sponsoring multiple pieces of anti-clean energy legislation which are being passed around in conservative playbooks across the country.

·        Rep. Bobby Payne’s statement that questions the impact of humans on climate change.

·        Rep. Randy Fine for his reasoning for the actions of the legislature: “because we can.”

·        Rep. Spencer Roach, who represents Fort Myers, and his never-ending intrusion into issues affecting Key West.

A chapter of the national Sierra Club, Sierra Club Florida is made up of volunteer leaders and civic activists representing over 240,000 members and supporters from all over the state.



Monday, June 14, 2021

Sierra Club to Florida Cabinet: Stop the Everglades Snakeway!

Last week, Sierra Club Florida sent the following letter to Florida Governor DeSantis and rest of the Florida Cabinet ahead of their vote Tuesday, June 15th to ask them to uphold the ruling of a FL Administrative Law Judge that found Miami-Dade's resolution for the proposed 836 tollway expansion violated numerous provisions of the Community Planning Act and were inconsistent with the County's Comprehensive Development Master Plan.

"It is time for the Florida Cabinet to cut off the "head" of the invasive #EvergladesSnakeway 🐍 that threatens Everglades restoration efforts and the climate resiliency of South Florida." - Diana Umpierre, Organizing Representative, Sierra Club Everglades Restoration Campaign.


June 11, 2021

Governor Ron DeSantis 
Ashley Moody, Attorney General of Florida 
Nicole "Nikki" Fried, Commissioner of FL Department of Agriculture & 
Consumer Services 
Jimmy Patronis, Chief Financial Officer of Florida 

Via email:

RE: Miami-Dade County SR-836 Extension Recommended Order
DOH Case Nos: 18-005696GM and 18-005695GM

Dear Members of the Florida Cabinet:

On behalf of Sierra Club Florida and its nearly 240,000 members and supporters, we urge you to adopt the Petitioners' Joint Proposed Final Order, which directs Miami-Dade County to rescind the Comprehensive Plan (Plan) amendments adopted by Miami-Dade County on September 27, 2018.  The Governor and Cabinet can and should uphold the recommended order on Limonar Development, LLC, et al. v. Miami-Dade County, Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) Case No. 18-5695GM, by Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk, which found that the Plan amendments violated numerous provisions of the Community Planning Act and were internally inconsistent with the Plan itself.  It held that the proposed expansion of Miami-Dade's SR-836 tollway demonstrated inconsistency with Everglades restoration efforts, with Miami-Dade County's Comprehensive Development Master Plan, and with state law.  We also urge you to reject Miami-Dade County's forty-seven (47) exceptions to the Recommended Order.  

Sierra Club is a long-time member of the Everglades Coalition, along with Everglades Foundation, Everglades Trust, Audubon Florida, National Parks Conservation Association and Tropical Audubon Society. The Everglades Coalition has written numerous letters over the years, the most recent sent on June 24, 2020, explaining why the Coalition is opposed to a highway extension at the proposed location; this has been an on-going battle for over twelve years.  Other comments in opposition to the SR-836 Extension include an April 9, 2018 Guest Opinion from Everglades Coalition Co-Chairs, a June 19, 2018 letter signed by multiple organizations, and a September 26, 2018 Sierra Club letter.  These letters expand upon the reasons why the proposed SR-836 Extension would be catastrophic to Everglades Restoration efforts and sabotage the investments made over the decades to protect this one-of-a-kind natural resource.

The strong arguments against the tollway extension are many.  

The SR-836 Tollway Extension:
  • Would eliminate the open space buffer that is critical to Everglades restoration and provides other essential ecological services that benefit South Florida.
  • Was adopted by the County absent a determination of consistency with Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), therefore their decision was based on inadequate data and analysis.
  • Would destroy wetlands in habitats critical to threatened or endangered species, including the Pennsuco, which is inconsistent with the County's Comprehensive Development Master Plan (CDMP).
  • Threatens the Redland; it would reduce our agricultural lands by inducing sprawl.
  • Would strangle the Everglades by spurring development of buffer lands, impacting our drinking water recharge basins, wetlands, and lands needed to re-establish much needed freshwater flows to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
  • Be a blow to the commuters of Miami by adding more traffic to the Dolphin and Palmetto Expressways, while shortchanging transit projects that would deliver better and longer term commuting options for a sustainable Miami.
  • Raised concerns by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in 2009 and 2011 because MDX's proposed plan lacked sufficient data to make a determination about the project's effect on Everglades restoration.
  • Raised concerns by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) in 2018 regarding the road's potential impact on an Everglades restoration project during the state review process.
  • Threatens the Bird Drive and Dade-Broward Pennsuco project investments meant to direct water from the east and west to the Southern Everglades while ensuring that water remains in the natural areas and away from the urban corridor.  These wetlands act as the hydrological buffer between the high water table of Everglades National Park and the Water Conservation Areas, and the lower water table of the developed areas to the east.
  • Imperils the agricultural and wetlands that act as essential buffers between the Everglades conservation water conservation areas, Everglades National Park and urban Miami-Dade County, that recharge the Biscayne water supply aquifer, and feed freshwater to Florida Bay.
  • Would cost more than $1 billion dollars, a heavy burden to taxpayers, without resolving the transportation challenges faced by the county; the new corridor might make meager improvement to mobility in the West Kendall area but no overall improvement in commutes from West Kendall to downtown, the airport, or other employment and urban centers to the east and north.
  • Does not solve the problem it was intended to solve; it creates new expensive problems and offers only unproven benefits at the cost of proven harms.
  • Violates state planning law.
It has been shown, in Florida and across the nation, that new highways lead to more cars on the roads and renewed patterns of traffic congestion. We do not have to look far for proof:  In 2013, former Miami-Dade Chief Planner Mark Woerner stated it well:  "Look at the history. We built the Palmetto and filled that up. We built the Turnpike to the west and filled that up." Testimony from the county's own experts in 2019 revealed that drivers would shave a mere six minutes off a two-hour commute as a result of this project's implementation, which belies the claims made by the project's promoters.

The SR-836 Tollway Extension would snake 14 miles outside of the Miami-Dade Urban Development Boundary (UDB) through active agricultural lands, through environmentally sensitive lands, and through the West Wellfield, only to connect with the existing expressway operating at a level of service lower than it operates at today.  It would impact water quality and disrupt fragile ecosystems and natural resources on the Miami-Dade County periphery, which the State has invested significant resources toward protecting and preserving for the benefit of all Floridians.  Placing this tollway outside of the UDB is inconsistent with the very intent of the UDB, and the proposed tollway, unfortunately, would harm rather than help the people, land, water, and wildlife it would literally and figuratively touch. 

The State of Florida and federal government have invested billions of dollars to restore America's Everglades. A county must not unilaterally jeopardize taxpayers' investment in Everglades restoration.
In August of 2019, the U.S. EPA stated that "this project as proposed may have substantial and unacceptable adverse secondary impacts to the Greater Everglades wetland ecosystem and direct impacts to 350 acres of freshwater wetlands located in the Bird Drive Basin and within Congressionally authorized CERP project boundaries that are an [Aquatic Resource of National Importance] ARNI." We agree.

In September 2019, the Cabinet denied a request by Harmony Ranch that would have negatively directly impacted over 2,000 acres of agricultural land located outside the Urban Services District.  The MDX proposed 836 extension would imperil a much greater area of land and a much broader array of natural resources and listed species.

We urge you to uphold the Judge's ruling and close this chapter to make way for new projects that will benefit and protect us all.  There are proven and more effective ways to address mobility issues in Miami-Dade, and there are many already working on making the transportation system in the county both sustainable and efficient. One such proposal, with far less impact to CERP and natural resources was presented to the Miami-Dade County Commission in 2018 before their vote and ignored.  This highway extension puts the resilience of not just Miami-Dade, but all of South Florida, at risk.  


Deborah L. Foote, MPA
Acting Chapter Director
Sierra Club Florida
200 West College Ave. # 314
Tallahassee, FL 32301
850.727.4039 (office)
251.533.1798 (mobile)

Diana Umpierre, AICP, GISP
Organizing Representative
Sierra Club Everglades Restoration Campaign
PO Box 2347/136A S Main St, Belle Glade, FL 33430

Noel Cleland
Sierra Club Miami Group

cc: Chief of Staff Adrian Lukis: adrian.lukis@eog.myflorida.com
Deputy Chief Of Staff Alex Kelly: alex.kelly@eog.myflorida.com
Deputy Chief Of Staff Anna DeCerchio: anna.decerchio@eog.myflorida.com
Deputy Chief Of Staff Beau Beaubien: Beau.Beaubien@eog.myflorida.com 
Legislative Affairs Director Stephanie Kopelousos: stephanie.kopelousos@eog.myflorida.com
Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez: LtGovernorJeanette.Nunez@eog.myflorida.com
Barbara Leighty, Clerk, Administration Commission: barbara.leighty@laspbs.state.fl.us