Friday, September 19, 2014

Sierra Club leads opposition to U.S. Sugar's plan to build city in Everglades

Last week, Sierra Club was joined by more than two dozen coalition partners and members in speaking out against Sugar Hill at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board meeting in West Palm Beach.

Representatives from the environmental community and the public took the floor to oppose the Sugar Hill Sector Plan, which includes land use plan changes proposed by U.S. Sugar Corp. and Hilliard Brothers spanning 67 square miles in Hendry County just west of the Palm Beach County line.

It would allow up to 18,000 homes and 25 million square feet of commercial and other uses between the Everglades and its water source, Lake Okeechobee.

Sugar Hill would be the "death knell" of the Everglades, said Jonathan Ullman, of the Sierra Club.  “If we want to restore the Everglades water flow … we need to say no to this plan."

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Take Action
Take action! Tell Gov. Rick Scott and other officials to stop Big Sugar's development plan.

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The heart of Everglades restoration effort is buying farmland that can be used for water storage and treatment areas so that more Lake Okeechobee water flows south to the Everglades.

“I think the last thing Hendry County needs is a development of homes and businesses filled with nail salons and Subway shops,” said Kim Aumen, wearing a sticker that read “Send Water South.”

As part of a 2010 land deal with U.S. Sugar, the district was given an option to purchase some of the land in the Sugar Hill plans. Sugar Hill would have an irreversible impact on the Everglades and coastal communities, either directly by allowing the approval of development that would preclude the creation of flowway south of the lake, or indirectly by increasing the speculative market value of the lands needed for restoration.

“It would do a … disservice to taxpayers to let this move forward," said Lisa Interlandi of the Everglades Law Center."

Governing Board Members sought clarification from District staff on the timing of the review process and the agency’s role. The Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) has thirty days to review the plan. The SFWMD, along with other state agencies, is required to submit comments on the plan by Oct. 2.

Julia Hathaway of the Sierra Club called on the District to formally inform DEO that the plan is not in Florida's best interest. Said Hathaway, “DEO should reject the Sector Plan because of its adverse effect on the Florida Everglades and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, and the flood control, water supply and economic functions they provide to nearly 8 million Floridians and millions of tourist and visitors.”

Our action was covered by the Sun-SentinelPalm Beach PostMiami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. Other media coverage on the Sugar Hill controversy included a Palm Beach Post editorial; a Tampa Bay Times editorial, an editorial cartoon by Jim Moran of the Miami Herald; and an article by the online newspaper Broward Bulldog (reposted by the Miami Herald) which digs into a possible connection between the King Ranch trips and US Sugar's strategy for securing State approval of the Sugar Hill Sector Plan.

Take ActionTake action! Tell Gov. Rick Scott and other officials to stop Big Sugar's development plan.


Clean Energy Coalition Rally Against Bad Duke Business Practice

Last Saturday in St. Petersburg, the Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition came together with the Stop Duke Ripoff Coalition and other community leaders, including State Representative Dwight Dudley, to speak out against Duke Energy's policies that hurt rate payers.  Duke, the largest energy company in the United States, has been in the news recently for their new billing system that forces many of its customers into a much higher rate for using the same amount of energy.  

This new billing practice wasn't the only thing with which rally attendees were frustrated.  The unpopular Advanced Nuclear Cost Recovery fee, Duke's refusal to returning all the money it took for a nuclear power plant that was never built, and their current request to the Public Service Commission (PSC) to reduce their Energy Efficiency Standards by 95%.  The PSC oversees and regulates investor-owned power companies in Florida and are in the works to make a decision on the Energy Efficiency standards as early as next month.

Sierra Club has been strongly opposed to the creation of new dirty power plants in place of increasing energy efficiency.  A efficiency standards reduction could lead to higher rates for consumers, and open the door to more unnecessary power plants being built.  This is great news to investor-owned utilities, who make money on building new dirty power plants, but end up costing rate payers more, and contributes to climate disruption.

A recent University of Florida study on the effectiveness of the FEECA process (Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act) and found "the benefits exceed the costs," "customers are not burdened," and it is "supported by stakeholders."

Contact the Public Service Commission now and tell them to maintain high Energy Efficiency Standards, which would create jobs, protect the environment, and save ratepayers money.  You can reach them HERE.

Panther Kitten Deaths Signal Need for Underpasses

Two Florida panther siblings were killed by cars on August 24th, marking the 20th and 21st panther deaths for 2014. The four-month old kittens were found on either side of Immokalee Road, near Wildwood Boulevard at the entrance to Bonita Bay Club East in Collier County

Twenty-two panthers have died this year: seventeen from vehicle strikes, two from intraspecific aggression (fighting between individuals of the same species), and three from other causes. With this many deaths by September, the state is heading toward a record breaking year for panther mortality; the current record is 26 panther deaths in one year. Mortality tends to increase in the fall and winter months, when southwest Florida's human population increases. 

Mortality by vehicle strike and intraspecific aggression is a direct result of habitat loss and increased pressure from development. Once ranging throughout the southeastern United States, panthers have been relegated to a breeding population south of the Caloosahatchee River. These lands are increasingly being carved up for housing developments and fragmented by roads, which puts dramatic pressure on a species that has reached, and possibly exceeded, it's carrying capacity in its current habitat. 

One solution, other than protecting more habitat for the panther, is to couple wildlife underpasses with fencing in high risk areas for panther deaths. Installing underpasses has significantly reduced road kills in those areas. On I-75, along Alligator Alley, this method has drastically reduced all road kills, a great success for such an environmentally sensitive area. Coupling fencing with underpasses allows wildlife to be funneled into a safe thoroughfare, which not only allows panthers to cross roads safely, but also benefits black bears, bobcats, otters, and other species.

-- Alexis Meyer, Florida Panther Critical Habitat Campaign, Sierra Club

Friday, September 12, 2014

Coalition Asks Gov. Scott to Stop Sugar's Plan to Build City in Everglades

September 10, 2014

Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

RE:  Sugar Hill Sector Plan

Dear Governor Scott,

Residents and businesses on the east and west coast suffered economic havoc last summer because polluted water from Lake Okeechobee was dumped into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries.

The solution has been clear for decades – water from Lake Okeechobee must be moved south to ease the burden on the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers and estuaries and to provide critical water supply to a parched Everglades National Park.

The state of Florida has a contract with U.S. Sugar to purchase 46,800 acres south of Lake Okeechobee that will expire in October 2015, and to purchase more than 100,000 additional acres before the rest of the contract options expire.  These are the very lands required to stop the devastating pumping of massive volumes of water to the estuaries, and flow that water southward instead to restore the central and southern Everglades. 

The South Florida Water Management District publicly stated that the potential acquisition of these lands “represents an unprecedented opportunity to protect and restore the Everglades in a way we never anticipated.’’ (8/14/2008).  The District has developed several alternative plans for these restoration projects.  As the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2010, the U.S. Sugar purchase "serves the public purpose of conserving and protecting water and water-related resources." 

The opportunity to secure and use these lands for water storage and flow - the only realistic option for real restoration success - is threatened by a land use plan change (The Sugar Hill Sector Plan) recently proposed by Hendry County for over 43,000 acres owned by U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers that would allow up to 18,000 homes and 25 million square feet of commercial and other uses in the very region that is essential to the ability of the state and federal government to resolve the crisis in the estuaries and restore the Everglades.

Approval of this Sector Plan could end any realistic chance of doing this – either directly by allowing the approval of development that would preclude restoration, or indirectly by increasing the speculative market value of the lands needed for restoration.  The proposed Sector Plan appears inconsistent with numerous requirements of Florida’s land use planning law, as a result of its failure to acknowledge state’s restoration efforts, and the suitability of this land for development relative to drainage, water management, water supply and other issues.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Stop big sugar's sprawling city!

Sierra Club - Explore, enjoy and protect the planet
Big sugar is at it again, putting profits ahead of the water needs of seven million Floridians and the health of the Everglades.
Take action now to protect Florida's residents, lands and wildlife. Tell Gov. Scott "Direct the FDEO to deny development in the Everglades agricultural area!"
Birds in Everglades Source: NPS
Send Your Letter

Last week, US Sugar unveiled plans to build a massive, sprawling city called Sugar Hill between the Everglades and its water source, Lake Okeechobee. The project would bring 18,000 new residential units and 25 million square feet of commercial, industrial, office and retail buildings directly into the Everglades agricultural area, effectively preventing clean water from Lake Okeechobee from reaching the Everglades and the millions who rely on it.

The 67-square-mile development would have a devastatingly irreversible impact on the Everglades and coastal communities. This dangerous plan would also skyrocket the value of US Sugar's land, potentially derailing completion of the Florida government's contract with US Sugar to purchase 153,000 acres in the Everglades for cleaning and restoration.

The decision will ultimately be made by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (FDEO), but Governor Scott has the power to direct their denial of the project. Now is your chance get him moving!

Tell Florida Governor Rick Scott and South Florida Water Managers to direct the FDEO to stop big sugar's massive development plan and protect the Everglades, the sole source of drinking water for seven million residents.

The Governor cannot allow US Sugar to wall off the Everglades from Lake Okeechobee putting the Everglades and the coasts in jeopardy. The state of Florida has the power to stop the Sugar Hill development plan now, but the decision makers need to hear from you; reach out now and demand the Governor and the South Florida Water Management Board direct the FDEO to deny this bad plan.

If allowed, US Sugar's development plans could threaten the Everglades, impact coastal communities and jeopardize clean water for millions. 

For more info on the dangerous Sugar Hill plan, check out a recent article from the Tampa Bay Times.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Making history at the March Against Lake Okeechobee Discharges

Two thousand activists from coastal areas devastated by Lake Okeechobee discharges last year gathered at the 2nd Annual SAVE OUR RIVER CLEAN WATER RALLY in Stuart on Sunday to voice their concerns and propose solutions. 

Rally attendees sent a strong message to Tallahassee: We are every summer just one tropical storm away from a repeat of 2013, and we refuse to accept excuses for inaction.  Last year, massive discharges into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers devastated coastal estuaries, spurring thousands of residents to protest. This summer's rally, before any harmful Lake O discharges have seriously impacted the estuaries, shows the extent and depth of this new expanded grassroots movement.

The crowd included speakers and supporters from a long list of organizations:  Citizens 4 Clean Water, Indian Riverkeeper, Rivers Coalition, Florida Oceanographic Society, Earthjustice, Arthur R, Marshall Foundation, Save the Manatee Club, Martin Memorial Hospital, Sierra Club, Audubon Florida, Love the Everglades, River Kidz and more.  







    











Floridians Flood Public Service Commission, Demand Clean Energy Savings

Two weeks ago, more than 100 members of the Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition descended upon the Public Service Commission (PSC) hearing in Tallahassee as it reviewed energy companies' request to reduce efficiency standards. The Coalition called on state regulators rather to strengthen, not weaken, energy efficiency programs to save consumers money on their power bills, create jobs and promote cleaner air.
Members of the Coalition held its "Rally for Energy Savings" outside the PSC hearing because inside the public was barred from speaking on the issue of how Floridians' energy needs are met over the next 10 years.
Rep. Dwight Dudley telling the PSC to open the hearing
to comments from the public.
In remarks just before the hearing opened, State Representative Dwight Dudley echoed the sentiments of the ralliers: "The name Public Service Commission includes the public,” he said. “The public should be heard on this, not hurt. Right now, they're about ready to get hurt.”
Said Ennis Leon Jacobs, past chairman of the Public Service Commission: “Increasing energy savings is a business opportunity and Florida is ready to take advantage. Big utility companies like Duke, TECO and FP&L should be bending over backward to help boost Florida’s economy. They can start by bringing their energy savings programs to industry standards this year.”
Bill Bucolo, President of the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida and a leader of the Coalition, called on the commissioners to reject the companies’ request to slash energy savings programs. Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and Florida Power & Light have proposed to gut their energy-saving goals by 93 percent. 
Currently, none of Florida’s major utility companies meet national industry standards for energy savings programs, meaning Florida consumers are missing out on savings that people living in other states enjoy. Duke Energy Florida, part of the nation’s largest electric company, has significantly weaker energy savings programs in the Sunshine State than in North and South Carolina and Ohio.
“Duke Energy is saving their customers in Ohio, North Carolina and South Carolina money through good energy efficiency programs, but they’re not doing the same for their customers in Florida. Florida consumers should get the same opportunities and benefits as Duke customers elsewhere,” said Kelly Martin, senior campaign representative with Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. 
Ralliers also heard from Susan Glickman, Florida Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action Fund and Kim Ross, President of ReThink Energy Florida. also spoke out against the utilities' attempt to undermine their ratepayers and the people of Florida.

Take Action:


Press coverage of  the rally and hearing: Tampa Bay Times: http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/energy/ad-campaign-rally-target-proposals-to-cut-floridas-conservation-goals/2189111

-- Tim Heberlein, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign