Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Victory for Panther Habitat as Oil Driller Leaves Florida

Environmentalists working with the Sierra Club’s Florida Panther campaign won a year-long battle Friday to stop oil drilling in southwest Florida after a Texas-based oil drilling company announced it will terminate its lease holdings on 115,000 acres.

DAH leases in yellow
Numerous environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Stonecrab Alliance, Preserve our Paradise, and South Florida Wildlands Association, led the fight against drilling in the environmentally sensitive areas of the Everglades and Big Cypress Watersheds. 

The fight began in April 2013 when the Dan Hughes oil company mailed a letter informing residents of a Naples suburb they were living in a "hydrogen sulfide evacuation zone" for an exploratory well. The well, which would be 1,000 feet from residences and less than one mile from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, sparked public protests, meetings with elected officials, and hearings to assess the environmental impacts from the company’s oil wells in the western Everglades. The county was so concerned about the impacts it challenged a consent order between the drilling company and the state.

Earlier this year, the US Environmental Protection Agency held a public forum to address the public's concerns. Sierra Club generated over 167,000 comments calling for the exploratory permit to be revoked. Also, in March, the Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee, meeting for the first time in five years, reversed their initial decision to allow the permit after hearing public testimony. In a 4-1 vote, they recommended denial of the permit.

The concerns with drilling in the western Everglades are numerous - ranging from water quality and hydrology to habitat fragmentation and increased panther mortality. For Florida panthers, whose numbers range from 100 to 180, these wells would have destroyed primary habitat and fragmented areas that are used for hunting, denning, and traveling. Increased traffic on the roads in Golden Gate Estates (large trucks on isolated, small roads) would have increased the chances of a panther being hit - the leading cause of panther deaths. Perhaps most importantly, there have been no studies conducted that show how oil drilling impacts panthers or other wildlife. 

The tide turned several weeks ago when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which had supported drilling, issued a press release that the driller had used illegal extraction techniques that mirrored fracking. 

Senator Bill Nelson has also been keeping a close eye on the drilling developments in southwest Florida. "We've spent billions of dollars to restore the Everglades... I want to make sure what goes on does not mess that up," Nelson said at a press conference with Sierra Club and others on Monday. Nelson has expressed concerns over public safety, water quality, and impacts to Everglades restoration.

On Tuesday, the oil company announced it was stopping work on another well in the area minutes before the Florida DEP announced it would file suit.

This is a great victory for all the dedicated activists and citizens of southwest Florida. While we have won this battle, the war on oil drilling is far from over. Two other companies, Tocala and Burnett, are proposing to do seismic testing (a precursor to exploratory drilling) on over 200,000 acres in the Big Cypress area. With millions of dollars invested in the restoration of the Everglades, these companies pose a salient threat that could undermine the efforts of so many to protect one of the most unique ecosystems in the world.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Public Officials, Experts & Concerned Citizens Call for Energy Savings, Good Jobs and Clean Air Now!

Last week, over 130 St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay area residents attended the Citizens’ Hearing for Clean Energy Solutions, joining public officials in calling for the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) to boost energy savings goals, clean air and clean energy jobs in 2014. 
Sierra Club Florida Staff Director Frank Jackalone welcomes participants.

Previously, the Sierra Club formally requested an official PSC field hearing in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, which the PSC denied, prompting Sierra Club and the Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition to create an alternative forum to ensure public participation. The PSC's decision will set the course for the next ten years.

The seven elected officials who participated in the hearing included State Representative Dwight Dudley, Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, St. Petersburg City Council Member Darden Rice, Safety Harbor Commissioner Andrew Zodrow, City of Seminole Councilor Patty Plantamura, and Gulfport Council Members Michael Fridovich and Yolanda Roman.

“Our Public Service Commission is supposed to make sure Florida consumers get reliable power at the lowest cost, but they’ve all but ignored the fastest, cheapest, safest option to meet our power needs. Energy efficiency lowers power bills, supports our economy and creates jobs here in Florida. The PSC needs to hold the power companies’ feet to the fire and make sure Florida consumers get the savings we need,” said Council Member Rice.

Presenters included Susan Glickman, Florida Director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Lorraine Ross, President of Intech Consulting, and Kelly Martin, Senior Campaign Representative for the Florida Beyond Coal Campaign.

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch pledges to engage his fellow commissioners on energy savings.

The Citizens' Hearing was captured by a court reporter in order to enter the testimony into the formal proceedings under the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act. But the PSC still needs to hear directly from Floridians who demand clean energy that will create jobs, lower bills, and protect the climate.

That’s why, in just two weeks, the Sierra Club and the Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition will transport people to Tallahassee for a Rally for Energy Savings during the public hearing at the Public Service Commission. Join us to show your support for strong energy savings goals!  

WHAT: Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition Rally for Energy Savings

WHEN: Monday, July 21st at 11am

WHERE: Public Service Commission, Tallahassee, FL

To RSVP, please contact Julia Hathaway at julia.hathaway@sierraclub.org or go to the Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition on Facebook:

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Urgent: We need 100 witnesses to the decline of springs

Your Support is needed NOW
We need 100 WITNESSES 
Sleepy Creek Lands (aka Adena Springs Ranch)

In early June, Sierra Club filed a challenge to the St. Johns River Water Management permits for Sleepy Creek Lands, formerly Adena Springs Ranch. The project site is in Marion County near the small town of Ft. McCoy adjacent to Mill Creek. In the first of three phases of a 30,000 acre beef operation that will ultimately withdraw 5.3 million gallons of water per day (mgd), Sleepy Creek Lands/owner Frank Stronach is seeking a permit to withdraw 1.46 mgd from an already over-tapped aquifer.

The Sierra Club and our co-petitioner, St. Johns Riverkeeper, also maintain that the increased nutrients from grass fertilizer and wastes from 9,500 head of cattle will endanger the health and restoration of the Ocklawaha River, an OFW and the St. Johns River, an American Heritage River.  The pumping of the aquifers to irrigate pastures will affect the Silver River, Silver Springs, and Salt Springs all of which are designated OFWs.  These springs and rivers belong to all the citizens of Florida and we must do our best to protect them from destruction. 

We need your help. To maintain Sierra Club's right to challenge these permits we need to prove that our members enjoy and benefit from outdoor activities on these water bodies and have a deep interest in protecting and restoring these water bodies.  This is referred to as establishing "standing."

1. If you have enjoyed outdoor activities such as canoeing,photography, kayaking, fishing, swimming, bird watching,camping, etc. along any of the affected waters and springs...
2. If you own a home, business, or property on any of the affected water bodies listed above...
3. If you lead eco-tours or outings along any of these water bodies...
4. If you live in close proximity to Mill Creek near Ft. McCoy ...

You can stand up for protection of Florida's springs and rivers by letting us know of your commitment to be a standing witness. You should be willing to speak to a hearing judge that you have a compelling interest in the protection of these springs and rivers and their fish and wildlife because of your enjoyment and activities.  We will need over 100 names of potential standing witnesses.  Your help is critical to us. 



A huge thank you to anyone who can do this!  Thank you all.    

Contact us with any questions: 

Linda Bremer, SC- FL Legal Chair, linda@bremer.net

Cris Costello, Regional Organizing Representative

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Collier Commissioners Stay the Course, While DEP Condemns Them

Collier County Commissioners decided Tuesday, June 10th, to stay the course and uphold their decision to file a petition against the consent order between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Dan A. Hughes Company.

Dan A. Hughes is the applicant for exploratory drilling in Golden Gate Estates - 1,000 feet from residences and less than one mile from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. They are also the company involved in using illegal fracking techniques at the Collier-Hogan well, within the Big Cypress Swamp Watershed.

The Collier Commissioners voted in April to challenge the $25,000 settlement between Dan A. Hughes and the DEP regarding the illegal extraction techniques at the Collier-Hogan well. DEP's settlement also called for groundwater testing, but it should be noted that testing has still not been conducted in the six months since the original infraction.
Commissioner Hiller discussing well testing for local residents

Commissioner Coyle said, "We've never had a drilling representative at any of our meetings to answer questions in public... DEP should be here [to discuss] the lax enforcement of the permit." Attempts between the Collier Commissioners and DEP to meet to discuss the administrative challenge disintegrated when DEP refused to meet in a public forum. Commissioner Hiller recommended to "deny the permit because DEP doesn't have the oversight for fracking and hasn't done their duty of protection."

During the public comment period of yesterdays meeting, the DEP issued a press release denouncing the Commissioners' decision to challenge enforcement. Titled, "Commissioners Thwart Enforcement Against Dan A. Hughes Oil," the DEP called the decision "unfortunate" and "urge[d] the Commission to reconsider its decision." Rather than having the desired bullying effect, the Commissioners considered the DEP's statements a direct threat, and rallied again to hold fast to their decision against the DEP and Dan A. Hughes.

Numerous environmental groups attended the hearing, including the Sierra Club, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Stonecrab Alliance, Preserve our Paradise, and others, some coming from as far away as Orlando to show their support for the Commissioners' decision.

The Collier Commissioners listened to concerned citizens and made the right decision. We thank them for staying the course and filing the petition against the consent order. Please send them an e-mail thanking them for representing the voice of Collier County: DonnaFiala@colliergov.net, GeorgiaHiller@colliergov.net , TomHenning@colliergov.net, FredCoyle@colliergov.net, TimNance@colliergov.net

The Collier-Hogan well, where illegal extraction techniques took place in 2013. (c) Karen Dwyer

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sierra Club, St. Johns Riverkeeper, citizen activists challenge massive cattle operation permit

Silver Springs - 2013
Jacksonville, FL – On Monday, June 2, 2014, St. Johns Riverkeeper and Sierra Club Northeast Florida filed a petition for an administrative hearing to challenge the permits sought by Sleepy Creek Lands (formerly Adena Springs Ranch).   The two organizations are collaborating with concerned citizens, Karen Ahlers and Jeri Baldwin, who are also challenging the permits.

The legal challenges are in response to the recent announcement that the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) staff has issued an Environmental Resource Permit (ERP) and recommended approval of a Consumptive Use Permit (CUP) for this massive cattle operation located in the watershed of the Silver and Ocklawaha Rivers and the springshed of Silver and Salt Springs.

Silver River - 2012

The SJRWMD Governing Board would have decided upon the CUP permit request at its next meeting on June 10, but the legal action taken by St. Johns Riverkeeper, Sierra Club Florida, Ahlers, and Baldwin will postpone any decision by the Board.

In the first of three phases of a 30,000 acre beef operation that will ultimately withdraw 5.3 million gallons of water per day (mgd), Sleepy Creek Lands is seeking a permit to withdraw 1.46 mgd from an already over-tapped aquifer.

According to the petition, the SJRWMD staff has failed to account for the significant impacts to the flow of Silver Springs, Silver and Ocklawha Rivers and Salt Springs and the increased nutrient loading that will result from the manure of 9,500 head of cattle and the use of large quantities of fertilizer and water. The petitioners also question the validity and accuracy of the modeling upon which the challenged permits are based.  As a result, the SJRWMD has not provided reasonable assurances that water resources would not be significantly affected.

Unfortunately, Silver Springs and the Silver River, which flows through the Ocklawaha into the St. Johns River, are already under severe stress with flows in significant decline and nitrate levels exceeding the State of Florida’s pollution limits.  In 2012, the State mandated a 79% reduction from existing nitrate loading, in order to restore the health of these waterways.  

“Silver Springs and the Silver River are already in serious decline,” said Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper.  “How could we possibly allow such an intensive project that will only make the existing pollution and flow problems worse and restoration efforts more expensive and difficult for us to achieve?  It defies logic and is certainly not in the public’s best interest.” 

Silver Springs - 2012
Linda Bremer of Sierra Club Florida added, “It’s unfortunate that we must resort to legal action to hold our state agencies accountable and protect these iconic waterways. However, we are committed to making sure that our aquifer is not further exploited, and more harmful pollution is not permitted.  Our springs and rivers belong to all the citizens of Florida and are much too valuable to sacrifice for the fortunes of a few.”

“Impacts to the Ocklawaha River from groundwater contamination and surface water runoff have been all but ignored,” said Karen Ahlers, a private citizen and long-time advocate for Florida’s waters. “The ranch was historically used to grow pine trees and provided significant habitat for wildlife. It has now been denuded to make way for irrigated pasture to support 9,500 head of cattle. The pollution runoff from this site will be horrific.”

The legal petitions that were filed are available upon request.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tell Governor Rick Scott to support President Obama's climate action plan

As the cornerstone of President’s Climate Action Plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday will issue a proposal to curb dangerous carbon pollution -- the source of record heat, superstorms and sea level rise -- from existing power plants for the first time ever. 

The new protections will also help reduce other life-threatening air pollution including mercury, soot, and smog and spur investments in clean energy-- like solar power and energy efficiency.

Governor Rick Scott could stand in the way of this important protection against unchecked carbon pollution. If we don’t make sure the Governor hears from us, we may end up with a state plan that doesn’t do enough to protect us and our future. 

Take Action!
Call Governor Rick Scott’s office at (850) 488-7146 and say:
I am a concerned Floridian who wants Governor Scott to stand up to big polluters and protect our families from industrial carbon pollution. I would like the Governor to support strong and just EPA safeguards against carbon pollution! 

Drop us an email to let us know you called to: jonathan.ullman@sierraclub.org