Saturday, May 23, 2015

Find one near you! May 30 Amendment 1 "Finish the Job" Rallies

On June 1, the Florida Legislature will convene for a special session in Tallahassee to pass the state budget and decide how to spend Amendment 1 funds.

On May 30, help us send them back to Tallahassee with this voter-approved to-do list:
- Fund Florida Forever
- Fund Everglades       Restoration
- Protect our Springs 

This is our last chance to convince our legislators to finish the job and protect Florida's natural treasures before they are gone forever.




Saturday, May 16, 2015

Legislative Wrap-Up/Update


The final chapter of this year’s session is almost over.  The Florida House adjourned three and a half days early because of a severe difference with the Senate on whether to expand Medicaid or not, with the result that no budget was adopted (the one thing the legislature is mandated to accomplish by the State Constitution) and, from an environmental perspective, many bad bills died. 
There will be a special session from June 1-20 to develop and adopt a balanced budget.  The joint proclamation for the special session does not include any of the bills that died as a result of the early House adjournment, so those bills will remain dead absent a 2/3 vote in both chambers to take them up.  However, Amendment 1 funding is still on the table both because it is a budget issue and because it is constitutionally mandated.

The legislature’s policy with respect to Amendment 1 so far is disappointing to say the least.  During the regular session the House proposed to put only $8 million into Florida Forever and the Senate proposed only $15 million.  Worse, each chamber uses over $230 million to fund existing agency operating and regulatory expenses from Amendment 1.  These dollars are proposed for items like salaries of officers who enforce hunting, boating, and fishing rules, regulating fish farms, and funding salaries in the Division of Cultural Affairs.

The special session gives legislators one more chance to finish the job and renew state spending on water and land conservation and programs like Florida Forever, Everglades Restoration, Florida Communities Trust, and Rural Family Lands.

SCF issues during the 2015 session:
Go to www.flsenate.gov and www.myfloridahouse.gov to see the full text of bills.

Energy - Clean Power PlanEPA's Clean Power Plan goal of reducing carbon emissions from power plants by 35% is one of National Sierra Club’s main goals.  It was also the subject of hostile bills filed by Sen. Gibson (D- Duval county) and Rep. Wood (R - Polk County) requiring legislative ratification of the State’s implementation plan (SIP) to meet the carbon emission goal before submitting it to EPA and further, that any rules required to meet the goal would also have to be ratified before they could become effective.

Rep. Wood’s bill, HB 849, passed its first committee by a vote of 8-4, but Sen. Gibson agreed not to pursue a hearing for her bill, SB 1076, and it was never heard in committee.  Therefore, both bills died.  A ‘Thank You!’ is in order for Sen. Gibson.

On a similar subject, companion memorials (messages from the Florida Legislature) HB 949 by Rep. Rodrigues and SB 1228 by Sen. Evers, that urged the U.S. Congress to direct EPA to go easier on coal burning power plants did not pass.  The House bill passed all its committee stops, but the Senate version only passed out of its first committee.

Fracking - Bills to ban fracking in Florida. 
SB 166 by Sens. Soto and Bullard and HB 169 by Rep. Jenne call for a ban on fracking and/or well stimulation in the state.  Not surprisingly, neither bill was heard in even its first committee.  But there was plenty of action on fracking…

Bills ‘regulating’ fracking and providing secrecy for well operators
Rep. Rodrigues and Sen. Richter filed companion bills.  HB 1205 and SB 1468 (Regulation of Oil and Gas Resources) purported to impose regulation on the practice of fracking in Florida.  However, both used such a narrow definition of fracking (termed ‘high-pressure well stimulation’) that many instances where toxic chemicals are injected into the ground would not be regulated.

The House version also included local preemption that would prevent local jurisdictions from protecting their residents.

The bills called for well operators to disclose the chemicals they inject into the ground to both the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the national website, FracFocus, but the linked bills HB 1209 and SB 1582 grant a public records exemption to well operators making it incredibly easy to claim the chemicals were secret and prohibiting DEP from releasing information about the chemicals if they had been marked ‘proprietary business information’.  FracFocus does not publish trade secrets or proprietary information. 

In any event, residents or visitors near fracking sites would have no way of knowing what chemicals they and their families might be exposed to until long after any damage was done. 

Rep. Rodrigues’ regulation bill, HB 1205 passed the House on a mostly party line 82-34 vote Vote [Seq# 367]   but his public records exemption bill was postponed on final passage and did not pass.  The Senate bills by Sen. Richter sailed through their early committees but ran into stiff opposition from the public (Sierra worked with numerous groups including ReThink Energy, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Our Santa Fe River, the Environmental Caucus, and many anti-fracking activists - and we’ll undoubtedly work with them again!) 

The Senate bills also started to run into trouble with Senators on both sides of the aisle, particularly in Senate Appropriations where Republican Senators Hukill, Garcia, and Flores joined Democrats Montford, Joyner, and Smith in opposing  SB 1468 (the regulation bill).   And SB 1582, the public records exemption bill, was opposed by Republicans Latvala, Lee, and Hukill in addition to Democrats Joyner, Margolis, Montford and Smith.  Sen. Ring from Broward was the only Democrat who supported both bills. 

The Senate bills were on the Senate floor at the same time the House decided to go home early so they died for the session.  But this issue will be back.  Meet with your legislators to make sure they know how YOU feel about fracking.

Advance Cost Recovery bills
It is notable that five bills were filed in the House to modify or repeal advance cost recovery for nuclear plants that allow utilities to charge customers for plants that are never built for a couple of reasons.  First, the issue was bi-partisan.  House bills 67, 353, and 473 were filed by Republican Reps. Latvala, Burgess, and Ahearn, and 399 and 4001 were filed by Democratic Reps. Dudley and Rehwinkel-Vasilinda.  Most notable though is the sad fact that not even one was heard in committee.  That’s an indication of how much power (no pun intended…) the utilities wield in Tallahassee.

Utilities Regulation
SB 288 by Sen. Latvala and HB 7109 Florida Public Service Commission did offer small improvements in accountability of the PSC, but the early adjournment prevented Sen. Latvala from being able to fight for the Senate version which required the Public Counsel to be a party to settlements and for the PSC to meet in the service territories they regulate.  These provisions were not in the version that had passed the House before it adjourned.  Sen. Latvala felt he had to accept the weakened bill in order to reduce the amount rate payers are charged for nuclear asset cost recovery.  The bill provides for a dedicated revenue stream from a nuclear asset recovery charge that can be bonded at a lower interest rate.

The bill also provides for term limits for PSC members, ethics training, a requirement that those who lobby the PSC register as lobbyists, maximum deposit amounts, and requires utilities to help customers get the best rates.

Ad Valorem exemption for commercial renewable energy
SB 400/402 and HB 865/867 by Sen. Brandes and Rep. Rodrigues
These bills would have placed a Constitutional amendment to exempt renewable source devices from ad valorem taxation of commercial property on the 2016 ballot and the linked implementing bills would immediately go into effect if the amendment were adopted by voters.  Unfortunately, these bills only passed their first committee and went no further.

Solar Constitutional Amendment
Remember, Sierra Club Florida is working with Floridians for Solar Energy to get petitions signed for a Constitutional amendment to remove obstacles to solar energy! –If you haven’t already, go to the website for a petition and send it in so the coalition can track and turn in completed petition forms to your Supervisor of Elections.  http://www.flsolarchoice.org/

Water Quality  - The House and Senate took very different approaches to he big water policy bills. The House started very quickly with a Proposed Committee bill in the State Affairs Committee which had one hearing in the Appropriations Committee.  HB 7003 was passed by the full House on only the third day of session by a vote of 106-9.  Vote [Seq# 5]  DEP said they had not even had time to fully review the bill when it was first proposed.

Sierra Club Florida opposed the bill because it weakened the protections from last session’s Springs bill, removed deadlines, and relied exclusively on collaborative Basin Management Action Plans (BMAP) and Best Management Practices to accomplish water quality goals instead of enforceable standards.  The bill was also a major step backward for the Everglades and Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie watersheds and estuaries because it eliminated the enforcement leverage provided by permits (if standards aren’t met the permit can be revoked) in favor of a Lake Okeechobee BMAP.

The Senate was more deliberate and started with a reworking of last year’s Springs bill with a Shared Use Non-Motorized Trails portion grafted onto it.  There were three hearings on the bill in the Environmental Protection and Conservation Committee, but in the end, the House Water bill was amended onto it, and the Springs protections were further weakened. 

On final passage in the Senate the House version, HB 7003, was substituted for SB 918 and amended to match the Senate version of the bill.  Since the House had adjourned by then, there was no way for the House to agree to the amendment(s) and the bills died for the session. 

The path taken by the water bill between last session and this was exceedingly frustrating.  The Springs bill from last year had real promise, but it was progressively weakened and laden with bad policies until Sierra had to oppose it. 

The bill’s approach to water supply is a good example. The main focus of the bill was water supply for human use (not natural systems.)  The policy throughout was that whenever an applicant for water is denied a Consumptive Use Permit (CUP), the mandatory response is that taxpayers come up with whatever water is requested.  The concept of sustainability is completely ignored.  Since the state is looking at adding another 5 million residents (and who knows how many visitors) in the next 20 years, this is a fatally flawed planning strategy.  But that’s what the legislature is passing.  We were only saved by the House’s adjournment.  We can be sure we’ll see these short-sighted policies again next year.

Land Application of Septage
Since July 1, 2010 the following has been law in Florida:
"381.0065 Florida Statutes
(6) LAND APPLICATION OF SEPTAGE PROHIBITED.Effective January 1, 2016, the land application of septage from onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems is prohibited."

Septage is the stuff they pump out of septic tanks.  For years pumpers have been applying it to the land as a way of getting rid of it despite Florida’s water quality problems with nutrients.  Roughly 2/3 of the land application sites are in Springs Protection Zones in karstic areas of the state where contaminated groundwater can move quickly to springs through conduits and sinkholes.

Instead of using the past five years to prepare to obey the law that will be effective next January, pumpers, wastewater treatment facilities, and the counties they serve have done just about nothing to prepare for the prohibition and have instead focused on trying to repeal the law.  That strategy may not have panned out very well for them this year.

Rep. Brad Drake’s HB 687 passed the full House by a vote of 99-12 Vote [Seq# 94] after it was amended from a full repeal to pushing back the date by two years to 2018.  The companion bill, SB 648 by Sen. Evers, only made it through its first committee of reference.  The issue was not included in the call of the special session so the law will come into effect and land application will have to stop. 

Growth Management
This session started with a number of bills dealing with different aspects of growth management from sector plans, to the DRI process, to Regional Planning Councils, to Connected-City Corridors, to Constrained Agricultural Parcels as well as a number of bills relating to the Bert Harris Act.  Most of them were rolled into SB 1216 by Sen. Simpson and HB 933 by Rep. LaRosa. 

1000 Friends of Florida and Sierra Club Florida succeeded in having the worst parts of SB 1216 amended out of the bill which passed the full Senate 39-0 and the House by a vote of 83-31 Vote [Seq# 284]

Of greatest concern was the Constrained Agricultural Parcels section that preempted local control and would have forced West Palm Beach to approve up to 10 square miles of development right next to the EAA.  That section was removed from the bill. 

The DRI process is eliminated for future amendments to sector plans in favor of the coordinated state review process.  Language was also clarified to ensure that localities are not prohibited from requesting information about aspects of a sector plan if they choose to do so. 

The bill also made numerous changes to Regional Planning Council statutes.  The number of RPCs is reduced from eleven to ten, and the Councils’ role is eliminated in planning for transportation, electrical power plant facilities and transmission lines, and natural gas pipelines.  SB 1216 was sent to Governor Scott on May 7.

Freedom of Speech bill
SB 1312 Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation by Sen. Simmons/ HB 1041 by Rep. Moskowitz/ anti-SLAPP suit bill on the basis of protecting right of citizen to petition government free speech passed both chambers and was delivered to Gov. Scott on May 7.  (SLAPP suits have been used to discourage citizens from opposing development and land use decisions.  Sen. Simmons and Rep. Moskowitz deserve a big ‘Thank You!’)

Recycling
SB 966 Disposable Plastic Bags by Sen. Bullard passed out of its first committee this session which puts it in play for next year.  The companion bill, HB 661 by Rep. Richardson, was not heard in its first committee.  Committee chairs tend not to take up time with bills whose companions in the opposite chamber are not moving, so we’ll have to work very hard to get the House version heard next year.

Toxics
SB 374 by Sen. Sobel and HB 607 by Rep. CruzChemicals in Consumer Products would have required the Department of Health to publish a list of chemicals of high concern and their presence in products intended for use by pregnant women and children.  The bills were not heard in any committees.

GMOs
HB  351 by Rep. Rehwinkel-Vasilinda and SB 416 by Sen. Ring - Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods  would have mandated labeling requirements for genetically engineered raw foods and for foods made with genetically engineered ingredients.  Neither bill was heard in committee.

           

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Press Advisory: Back for more on Thursday at SFWMD

Press Advisory
For Immediate Release: Contact Cris Costello, Sierra Club, 941-914-0421 (cell). Julia Hathaway, Sierra Club, West Palm Beach, 202-315-8211 (cell)

Back for more: 
Floridians will not stop until state water managers initiate US Sugar purchase

When: Thursday, April 14, 2015
Time:  9:30 a.m. 
Press conference at 12 Noon after results of  SFMWD decision on US Sugar.

Where: South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Headquarters Auditorium: 3301 Gun Club Road, West Palm Beach, Florida, 33406

What:  Residents turnout yet again to Buy Sugar Land NOW!

As a special budget session is planned for June, Florida Senator Joe Negron (R) said he is planning on introducing legislation asking for $500 million for land purchases, money that could buy U.S. Sugar lands.

Supporters of US Sugar purchase will once again convene at the West Palm Beach headquarters of the South Florida Water Management District to demand that Governor Rick Scott's appointed water managers purchase 48,600 acres of US Sugar land to restore the Everglades and protect the coasts from pollution. The state of Florida has an option to purchase the land by October, but water managers must take action now for the process to begin.


**VISUALS** Residents wearing stickers. Signs. Residents will drop Everglades quarters into a bucket representing the enormous value of the Everglades compared to the relatively small cost of buying the land.

Why: The South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are dumping more about a half billion gallons of highly polluted fresh water a day into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, polluting critical marine habitats and harming communities.  

Residents are incredulous that Governor Scott and his appointees will not consider the 48,600 acre purchase option in the US Sugar contract in spite of algal blooms and massive marine die offs that occurred in Indian River Lagoon in 2013 and are now threatening. According to the University of Florida, the land purchase must be considered to stop marine life die-offs.

As polluted water is dumped to the coasts, the Everglades subject of a multibillion restoration project, is starving for water. The solution, according to University of Florida scientists, is to pursue 48,600 acres of sugar land to store and clean the water.  Governing board members have largely ignored those pleas and appear intent to allow Big Sugar to walk out of a deal and let restoration evaporate forever.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Judge's Ruling Threatens Silver Springs

CONTACTS:  
Karen Ahlers (352) 546-3560
Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper (904) 509-3260 or Lisa@stjohnsriverkeeper.org
Linda Bremer, Sierra Club (904) 399-1520

RULING BY JUDGE THREATENS SILVER SPRINGS
Judge recommends approval for controversial cattle operation


SILVER SPRINGS, FL -- Despite evidence that Florida’s iconic Silver Springs would be further degraded from the over-pumping of groundwater and increased nutrient pollution, an Administrative Law Judge has recommended approval of a permit for the massive cattle operation, Sleepy Creek Lands (formerly known as Adena Springs Ranch).   The Judge’s ruling is the result of a legal challenge by Sierra Club, St. Johns Riverkeeper, and two citizens, Jeri Baldwin and Karen Ahlers.  Florida Defenders of the Environment also supported this challenge as an Intervener.

Sleepy Creek Lands and its owner, Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach, are seeking a permit to pump 1.46 million gallons a day (mgd) from the already-stressed Floridan Aquifer for the first phase of a multi-phase beef operation located close to Silver Springs and the Ocklawaha River Aquatic Preserve.  The proposed project has created uproar from concerned citizens throughout the state. 

“The declining health of Silver Springs is emblematic of the significant water quality and water use problems we are facing throughout Florida,” says Karen Ahlers. “The Sleepy Creek permit represents everything that is wrong with our regulatory process and the way we allocate the public’s water, and is a classic example of the state’s ongoing failure to protect our most important water resources.”

During the administrative hearing, it was revealed that the 9,500 head of cattle planned for Phase I will produce nearly 158 million pounds of manure and 11 million gallons of urine per year.  In addition, 700,000 pounds of nitrogen from fertilizer will be used to grow grass and crops to feed the cattle.

The petitioners presented evidence that the aquifer is critically over-tapped in the Silver Springs springshed, and that the fertilizer and manure will increase nutrient pollution in the Silver and Ocklawaha Rivers.  The flow of Silver Springs has already declined on average by more than 30 percent, and nitrate concentrations have increased 20-fold over healthy background levels.   In 2012, the state of Florida introduced a cleanup plan calling for a 79% reduction in nutrient pollution from existing users to protect Silver Springs and the upper Silver River.

The legal challenge was in response to the proposal by St. Johns River Water Management District staff to grant the requested permit to Sleepy Creek Lands despite overwhelming evidence that groundwater in the area is already over-allocated and that existing permitted withdrawals are contributing to the significant flow reductions at Silver Springs.

While disappointed, the petitioners say the battle is not over.  The parties first have an opportunity to file written exceptions to the Recommended Order, explaining where they think the Judge erred in his determinations.   The Judge's recommendation and these exceptions will then be considered by the St Johns River Water Management District Governing Board when they vote on the permit at a to-be-determined upcoming meeting.

One of the weakest parts of the Judge's conclusions is his finding that the proposed withdrawal is "consistent with the public interest,” says to St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman. "Allowing our over-pumped aquifer and polluted waterways to be further degraded for the economic benefit of a private landowner is completely contrary to the public interest. The Judge's recommendation elevates the economic interests of a few about the damage that will likely occur to Silver Springs, Silver River and the Ocklawaha River, and ignores the testimony of nearly 50 citizens who spoke as part of the administrative hearing process."

Sierra Club's Linda Bremer echoed Rinaman's sentiments.  “The water management district is tasked with protecting the springs, rivers, and groundwater that belongs to the citizens of this state.  We should not have to fight so hard to protect our water resources and hold our regulatory agencies accountable.”
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Stand up for the Farmton Tract!

We need standing witnesses to help protect the Farmton tract in Brevard and Volusia counties!
Sierra Club has filed a lawsuit to object to the Army Corps of Engineers’ lack of protection of this land from development. Go here for more details from a Daytona Beach News-Journal article.
We are compiling a list of Sierra members who have recreated in this area to support our legal standing in the litigation.
Interested? Send your name, email address, street address and phone number to JaneStan@bellsouth.net or LBlackner@aol.com
If you have engaged in outdoor activities in any of the following places you would be a great standing witness:
  • St. Johns River near Lake Harney
  • Lake Harney
  • Buck Lake
  • Wiregrass Prairie Preserve
  • Deep Creek Preserve
  • Turnbull Hammock Conservation area 
  • Buck Lake Conservation area
  • Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve
  • Seminole Ranch Conservation area
  • Scottsmoor Flatwoods Sanctuary
  • Little Big Econ State Forest
  • Salt Lake Wildlife management area
  • Lake Ashby
Being a standing witness is EASY!  Don't miss this opportunity to stand up for your treasured wild places!  Call Janet Stanko at 904 208 1341 or Leslie Blackner at 561 569 5754 for more info!