Wednesday, April 14, 2021

TAKE ACTION: The Truth about HB 1601 “Right to Farm/Harm Bill”

Take action here today ahead of the House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on 4/15/21.

Fresh off the momentum gained at the Environment, Agriculture, and Flooding subcommittee hearing where Stop The Burn Go Green champions traveled to Tallahassee to oppose HB 1601 the "Right to Harm" bill, Representative Omari Hardy (West Palm Beach), and Representative Anna Eskamani (Orlando) gathered a crop burning emissions expert and Glades community leaders for a press conference to highlight the threats presented by HB1601. 

Participants included Dr. Jessica McCarty, Co-investigator for the NOAA NASA Fire X Field Team, Associate Professor and Director of the Geospatial Analysis Center at the University of Miami of Ohio;; Former Mayor of South Bay, Shanique Scott; Former Mayor of Pahokee, Colin Walkes; and Muck City Black Lives Matter founder Robert C. Mitchell. 

See the entire virtual press conference here.


Dr. McCarty“Sugarcane smoke plumes do not travel in a systematic way. And so having a sensor in only one location in the Everglades Agricultural Area means you're likely never going to capture the full impact of smoke and particulate pollution because the winds are so variable and can impact so many communities.”

“Particulate Matter 2.5 is a very fine particle and it is known to pierce very deep into our lungs which means it can exacerbate chronic lung conditions like asthma and COPD”

“You don’t need to burn sugar to harvest it.  Yes, it's cheap and fast, but it’s not necessarily the cheapest in the long term, because it reduces your yield and your soil carbon, and with the peat soils in South Florida, they’re actually reducing their own soil fertility by burning it.”

“There is also a growing demand for biomass -- the trash leaves on the sugarcane itself -- not only for compostable flatware and textiles, but for bioplastics as well.”

McCarty Presentation: 

Shanique Scott: “A lot of my own dance students struggle with asthma and other respiratory issues during the harvesting season.”

"Even the kids have become accustomed to telling their teachers to pull down the shades because, you know, it seems like the fields and the playground areas are on fire."

“The only thing we are asking is that the sugar industry be better neighbors. If you have an alternative such as green harvesting just do it.” 

“It’s sad that there is so much technology available out there for the industry to evolve away from burning but our community still has to fight for clean air.”

Full testimony here.  

Colin Walkes“The issue we have here locally with HB 1601 (or any bill for that matter) is that it precludes us as citizens locally from pursuing any recourse or redress from any practice used by our sugar industry which harms our community.”

“We have our Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried., We know you, Nikki. You came to our community and spoke to us. It’s time for you to stand for us. I don’t know if you are being brought out or being intimidated. I don’t know what you’re going through as an elected official,. I pray for her as I pray for all elected officials because I know from experience it’s a hard job, but we must stand for what’s right. But you are hearing us Nikki; you are hearing us and you’re not doing what’s right.”

Full testimony here.

Robert Mitchell:  “We have political leaders in Tallahassee who put the agenda of the sugar mills higher than they do the health of the people.”

“We are in a pandemic and many are suffering from respiratory problems in our communities, but we have not been given one consideration by Nikki Fried or the industry to even give us a protective buffer to stop the burn during COVID.”

“In Belle Glade, there is a saying that her soil is her fortune. But I have amended that statement to say her soil and her people are her fortune, and her people have been forgotten. Bbut hopefully, this horrible bill HB1601 will not pass.”

Full testimony here.

Rep. Anna Eskamani: “It is not ok that a major industry gets to dictate policy at the local level, a state level, and even a federal level just because they have the money to do that. Just because they have the money to influence politicians and even different sectors of the media.” 

“No one is trying to end the industry.  People are just trying to end these practices that haves damaged far too many lives and far too many communities.” 

“The reality is that the influence of the sugar industry goes far beyond the legislature; it also goes into the executive branches, it goes into the regulation process, to the planning of when to burn and when not to burn. There is a reason why some of the richer communities of south Florida don’t experience this. It is not a coincidence. It’s an intentional policy decision. 

“Sugar companies could choose to switch to green harvesting, but they are far less likely to make that switch to green harvesting if the legislature gives them immunity from lawsuits and all health impacts caused by this practice.”

Full testimony here 

Rep. Hardy:  “What this bill does is that it not only allows this practice of sugarcane burning to continue, but it closes the doors of the courthouse to those who have been seeking justice, people, African American and people who are of color who have been harmed by this practice and all they want is to have their day in court.” 

“In this case, Big Sugar has come to the legislature to try and change the law in the middle of a lawsuit. It’s changing the rules in the middle of the game and it’s not fair and that’s why this bill should not be heard, and if it’s advanced it needs to be changed from its current form.” 

“Why should Brazil, have to beat us to the punch to ban sugarcane burning? Why does Thailand have to beat us to the punch to ban sugarcane burning?  In Louisiana upwards of 65% of sugar cane is harvested green. Please explain why it can be done in other places and not here where we have fantastic research universities and we have an agriculture institute at the UF which has studied this issue and have tried to create a road map for sugarcane farmers to harvest this crop in a way that doesn’t harm people’s health. It’s because you have a powerful industry that is influencing people and has obscured the facts and science around this practice and that has tried to squash the voices of the people in Glades and pretend to paint them out as a monolith and that’s not true.”

“We should not accept the narrative that says that people out in the Glades should have to choose between a good job and clean air. Between a job that helps them provide for their families and a job that harms the health of their family members. Any narrative put forward that pretends those two things are inseparable is a false narrative.”

Full testimony here

Press Coverage: 

People get sick when sugarcane burns. Florida lawmakers giving industry a gift, anyway | Editorial 

What do riots and farming having in common? 

Democratic Lawmakers, Advocates Say Right To Farm Bill Is Ploy To Protect Sugarcane 


Florida Legislator: House Bill 1601 a Dangerous Piece of Legislation 

Environmentalists Say Bill To Protect Farmers From Lawsuits Disenfranchises Communities Impacted By Sugarcane Burning

Florida “Right to Farm” Bill Protects the Right to Harm

After sugar’s $11 million flex, Florida lawmakers push to protect industry

“Right To Farm” Law Unfairly Favors Agriculture

Critics: Farm bill would allow agriculture operations to pollute Florida communities

Do Florida lawmakers want to make it harder to sue sugar farmers?

FFS satellite burn map of sugarcane burn plumes in the Glades (3/24/21)

Sugarcane burn over Belle Glade, Florida (3/24/21)

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

URGENT: Contact members of the Senate Appropriations Committee NOW to ask them to oppose House Bill 1!

House Bill 1 has passed the House and is now headed to Senate Appropriations-we need your calls to oppose this legislation before Friday, April 9th

HB 1 was created to silence and criminalize everyday Floridians from speaking out for justice. Governor DeSantis made this bill his top priority for 2021 legislation, despite an ongoing pandemic and social unrest. He would rather silence Floridians than offer real solutions. These bills are not needed.

Violence, destruction of property, and seditious acts are already prohibited by law. HB1 is overbroad and vague in defining an “unlawful assembly,” opening nearly endless possibilities for abuse.

Conservation organizations like ours use a variety of tools to carry out our respective missions to better Florida’s environment, including litigation, science, media, lobbying, and various forms of assembly. Floridians rally, protest, march, sign wave, and gather in vigils to better Florida’s environment. There is a rich history of public protest in the interest of protecting and restoring Florida’s natural resources. 

People travel from around the world to visit our springs, rivers, beaches, bays, forests, wetlands, parks, and preserves. We live and work here because we enjoy Florida’s natural environment. This legislation would undermine our ability to achieve our shared conservation goals and as a result would put at risk our very way of life. 

Please call these members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and tell them you OPPOSE HB 1 for these reasons and more: 
  • This bill would undermine our ability to achieve conservation goals. 
  • It would embolden bad actors who would violently harm peaceful protestors.
  • It creates a chilling effect on participation in climate marches, justice protests, and gatherings in favor of solar energy.
  • It would take away local decision making on law enforcement budgets and put natural resources at further risk of underfunding.

Call these Senators ASAP.

Sen. Kelli Stargel: 850.487.5022 
Sen. Aaron Bean: 850.487.5004 
Sen. Ben Albritton: 850.487.5026 
Sen. Jeff Brandes: 850.487.5024 
Sen. Doug Broxson: 850.487.5001 
Sen. Manny Diaz: 850.487.5036 
Sen. George Gainer: 850.487.5002 
Sen. Ed Hooper: 850.487.5016 
Sen. Travis Hutson: 850.487.5007 
Sen. Debbie Mayfield: 850.487.5017 
Sen. Kathleen Passidomo: 850.487.5028 
Sen. Keith Perry: 850.487.5008 
Sen. Wilton Simpson: 850.487.5010 

Thank you for all you do to protect Florida's environment!

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Piney Point phosphogypsum stack “gypstack” disaster exposes the threats posed by phosphate mining

Dear Sierra Club Community:

The ongoing disaster at Piney Point is of grave concern to us all.  Staff and volunteer leadership are working hard to determine our next steps, both as an organization, and as a partner in a broad coalition working on preventing disasters just like this one.

You are likely wondering what you can do as an advocate.  There are immediate actions that you can take below.  We also ask for your continued support as we use science, best practices, and level heads to determine our next steps.

We will hold them accountable, and we will keep you in the loop.  Please stay tuned for further action alerts and next steps.  Thank you!


Deborah Foote

Acting Chapter Director

Sierra Club Florida


 Catastrophic toxic wastewater release highlights the need for Federal action

Over the holiday weekend, Manatee County officials issued evacuation orders for the area surrounding Florida’s Piney Point in anticipation of the imminent catastrophic collapse of a phosphogypsum stack retention pond holding up to 700 million gallons of wastewater.  In response to the unfolding threat, Governor DeSantis declared a state of emergency for Manatee County.
Reports have 22,000,000 gallons a day being discharged from the holding pond to prevent the release of millions of gallons of wastewater and a failure of the radioactive phosphogypsum stack itself.  Phosphogypsum is the radioactive waste from processing phosphate ore into phosphoric acid, which is predominantly used in fertilizer.  The risks to Tampa Bay water quality and wildlife may well be longer term than the duration of the discharges.

Sierra Club Florida has been fighting against phosphate mining and its impacts for close to two decades.  In February 2021 Sierra Club and partners petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to improve federal oversight of the radioactive waste produced by phosphogypsum facilities, including wastewater from phosphoric acid production.  

Please sign this petition to let the EPA know you demand action now.

In December 2020 Sierra Club and partners sued the EPA for approving the use of radioactive phosphogypsum in road construction. The groups also petitioned the agency to reconsider its Oct. 20, 2020 approval of that use.

The Piney Point disaster was predictable and preventable and is inextricably tied to the failure of both the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to adequately regulate phosphate mining waste and more broadly the phosphate mining industry.

Florida has 24 more phosphogypsum stacks storing more than 1 billion tons of this dangerous, radioactive waste. 

Radium-226, found in phosphogypsum, has a 1,600-year radioactive decay half-life. In addition to high concentrations of radioactive materials, phosphogypsum and processed wastewater can also contain carcinogens and heavy toxic metals like antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoride, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, sulfur, thallium and zinc.

For every ton of phosphoric acid produced, the fertilizer industry creates 5 tons of radioactive phosphogypsum waste, which is stored in mountainous stacks hundreds of acres wide and hundreds of feet tall. More than 1 billion tons of the radioactive waste have already been stored in 25 stacks scattered throughout Florida.

The stacks are perched precariously atop the Floridan aquifer, which supplies drinking water to 10 million people. As phosphate mining expands throughout Florida, more phosphogypsum will be created and added to these failing stacks.

In 2019 a phosphogypsum stack in Louisiana started shifting, prompting emergency measures. 

In 2016 a massive sinkhole opened in a different Florida phosphogypsum stack, releasing 215 million gallons of wastewater and waste material into the Floridan aquifer.

In 2004 a gypstack at Riverview, Florida breached, spilling millions of gallons of polluted water into Tampa Bay.

Other phosphogypsum stacks have been designated Superfund sites. Phosphogypsum stacks are also located in Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

In February conservation and public-health groups petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to improve federal oversight of the radioactive waste produced by phosphogypsum facilities, including wastewater from phosphoric acid production.

In December 2020 environmental, public health and union groups sued the EPA for approving the use of radioactive phosphogypsum in road construction. The groups also petitioned the agency to reconsider its Oct. 20, 2020 approval of that use.

Learn more about phosphogypsum and efforts to protect public health and the environment from its harms at 

Protecting Florida Together?  The state has shown its complete refusal to avoid the Piney Point disaster for over a decade.  FDEP will be posting their testing results and updates here:  
You can sign up for FDEP Piney Point updates here: 


Please sign this petition to let the EPA know you demand action now.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Thank You to the Champions

   The champions really showed out last week. .

Colin Walkes, Sister Laura, and Representative Omari Hardy went well out of their way - literally and figuratively - to defend Floridians against attacks on our health and rights.

You’ve likely heard about the “Right to Harm” bills by now.  What you may not know is that 2 community leaders trekked all the way from the Glades to Tallahassee to speak up for their neighbors, and one state representative brought extensive research to the table to dispute myths about the bad bill.

Read excerpts of their statements below (some paraphrasing for clarity and brevity).  Consider reaching out to say thank you to Rep. Hardy, and post this blog post on your social media.

Colin Walkes

Former Mayor // Pahokee, Florida // Muck City Black Lives Matter

Walkes stands outside of the Florida Capitol Building after addressing the Environment, Agriculture, and Flooding Subcommittee on March 30, 2021.

“I'm a former mayor of the City of Pahokee.  I'm in opposition of the bill.  I want to dispel the myth that we the locals are opposed to our agriculture industry.  We understand the importance of the industry.  We understand that it provides for us.  What our community does not want, if we are harmed, is for our recourse to be taken away from us.

We are asking the Committee to protect us, the citizens and residents.  We want to ensure that our industry thrives, but we must take care of the people that help the industry to thrive.  If we do not exist, the industry will die off without us.”

Sister Laura Cavenaugh

Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament // Belle Glade, Florida

Sister Laura outside of the Florida Capitol Building on March 30, 2021.

“My name is Sister Cavenaugh and I have ministered in the Glades since 1986.  I work directly with the people of the Glades, particularly with children and the elderly.  I see exactly what the health impacts of agriculture can be, whether it’s affecting our air, our water, or our food.  Because of this and the injustices I see, I ask you please vote no on HB 1601.

One of our sisters in Belle Glade is a nurse, and for many years she was a school nurse.  I remember her coming back to the convent and saying, “Man!  It’s been a really smokey day.  I had so many kids come into the office.”

She had to put them on nebulizers and inhalers.  Then after a while if they didn’t improve she would have to call the parents.  One time she couldn’t get in touch with the parents and had to send a child to the emergency room for severe asthma.  

I deal with kids that live in tenements and walk to and from school every day.  Because many of them live in homes without adequate ventilation, that means they and their families, including the elderly, are breathing in the smoke and soot as long as the burn is occurring, from October through May.

This bill would eliminate mine and my neighbors’ ability to seek justice for health damages through the court system.  That’s not acceptable.  We would have no recourse.

We deserve the right to hold agriculture - and any other business - accountable to the damage they sometimes do to our health, especially if there are healthier alternatives to their practices.  There is a better way.  And it starts with accountability.

If this bill is really about hayrides and winery tours and corn mazes, then make it about that only.  Right now, this bill is a danger to me and my neighbors and tramples on our rights to seek justice.

For the sake of our children, our health, and our futures, please vote not on HB 1601.”

Florida Representative Omari Hardy

House District 88 // Palm Beach County

Rep. Hardy fought a good fight.  He introduced 6 amendments and questioned and debated the bill for nearly 2 hours.  Unfortunately, his concerns and hard hitting points were ignored by his fellow committee members, and the Committee voted in favor of the bill.

“When I moved to Palm Beach County I heard tale of a community where ash falls from the sky.  People have to clean it off of their cars, homes, and school custodians have to clean it off of the playgrounds.  I wondered who would accept that for their children.  I wondered what kind of concerns you must have for your economic viability to accept that kind of bargain for you and your family.

I think this bill will provide cover for practices that have been demonstrated to be harmful for people in the state of Florida.

Independent, peer-reviewed studies show that particulate matter increases dramatically during burn season.  That stuff gets deep into your lungs, into your children’s lungs.  That’s the stuff that causes or exacerbates asthma.  During harvest burn season you have people going to the hospital because they can’t breathe.  Because clearly the practice of burning is affecting their ability to do what we all must do to stay alive.  That’s problematic.

Emissions are carcinogenic and mutagenic, meaning they cause cancer.  This is the stuff that’s emitted when sugar cane is burned in the Glades.

There are those that feel they have to choose between clean air and a good job.  They feel that they have to choose between air that doesn’t give their children asthma, and the ability to put food on the table for those children.  That’s not fair.  That’s a choice nobody should face.  And frankly it's on those of us in this body, on this committee, and the federal government to resolve that choice in favor of the people in the community.  They need a new deal from the federal government which gives these companies billions of dollars in subsidies.

I cannot vote for this bill because it provides cover for practices that are clearly harmful.  I’ll be voting against it and I hope that the committee does the same.”

Press Coverage

Environmentalists Say Bill To Protect Farmers From Lawsuits Disenfranchises Communities Impacted By Sugarcane Burning

Florida “Right to Farm” Bill Protects the Right to Harm

After sugar’s $11 million flex, Florida lawmakers push to protect industry

“Right To Farm” Law Unfairly Favors Agriculture

Critics: Farm bill would allow agriculture operations to pollute Florida communities

Do Florida lawmakers want to make it harder to sue sugar farmers?

Call your Representative to tell them to vote no on HB 1601 if it comes to the House Floor.

  Thank you, Sister Laura and Colin Walkes, for speaking up for your community! .