Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Everglades Victory

Source: NPS
Last week the Sierra Club and its allies scored a major victory when state water managers decided to move forward on a plan to restore water flow across Florida’s state-owned Everglades. The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board unanimously voted to share the cost of the Federal Government’s plan to remove two key canals and degrade a third that block water flow leading to Everglades National Park.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan known as the Central Everglades Planning Project (or CEPP) is a suite of critical, but never-authorized, projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (or CERP) of 2000.

Sierra Club members and supporters submitted more than 200 emails to Governing Board members and 10 spoke at the public hearing. In all, more than 30 speakers supported CEPP. None opposed.

But the fight is not over. Congress still needs to include CEPP in the Corps’ latest funding bill, and still not settled are important water quality issues between the Federal Government and the State of Florida. The Courts are closely eyeing the amount of Phosphorus from sugar, cattle and municipal waste allowed in various parts of the Everglades. Who will be forced to clean it up and to what extent is where the next battle lies.

-- Jonathan Ullman, Sierra Club South Florida/Everglades Senior Organizer

Read more:

Legislative Update, April 15, 2014

As you read this we are in week seven of the nine week legislative session.  While very little is definite until session is over on May 2nd, this update will give you an idea of what’s happening with environmental bills so far this year.

First of all, the legislature is not meeting this week!  Since Passover was on Monday and Good Friday ends the week, there are no committee meetings or floor sessions scheduled.  That means almost all committees have had their last meeting and starting next week we’ll be in the “end-game” of the session.  Any bill that hasn’t been heard in at least one of its committees of reference is basically dead for the year.

For Florida Legislative alerts, join our FLORIDA REPORT. Go to www.sierraclub.org/memberlists?listname=FL-FLORIDA-REPORT (have your membership number available). Or contact the owner of the list at  FL-FLORIDA-REPORT-Request@LISTS.SIERRACLUB.ORG.

Issues in this update: budget, fracking, springs bill, bad environmental regulation bill, DRI bills, renewable energy issues and bad energy memorials, land application of septage, plastic bags, chemicals of high concern, coastal management permitting and aquatic preserves, flood insurance, brownfields, green transportation funding, and reclaimed water.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

5,500 Floridians Tell Duke Energy to Choose Clean Energy Now

Crowd Rallies at Duke Energy’s Florida Headquarters 
Calling for Solar Power and Clean Energy Jobs

ST. PETERSBURG, FL – A crowd of 140 clean air advocates rallied outside Duke Energy’s Florida headquarters on April 2, 2014 and delivered nearly 6,000 signatures of St. Pete and Tampa Bay area residents calling on the region’s largest utility company to move beyond coal to clean energy. The Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition, led by the Sierra Club, launched in November of 2013 and has already grown to encompass more than two dozen member groups, representing faith, labor, business and health advocates in Florida. The rally took place the day after Duke Energy told state regulators that its ten year plan does not include provisions for new or expanded energy efficiency or clean energy projects.

“Hundreds of concerned residents turned out today to send a strong message to Duke Energy: it’s time to invest in Florida’s economy and people by choosing our homegrown energy resources over obsolete, expensive and dirty imported fuels,” said Julia Hathaway, organizer with Sierra Club in Florida. “We know that Duke, the nation’s largest utility, is building solar power and investing in energy savings in other states. But here in Florida, Duke is stalling, and wants to keep sending our energy dollars out of state. It’s time for the Sunshine State to see real investment in solar energy and energy efficiency solutions that will create jobs and clean up our air.”

Members of the coalition collected more than 5,500 petition signatures by talking primarily with Duke Energy customers in Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay area. The coalition believes it’s important for Duke, now the nation’s largest utility company, to hear directly from customers about the company’s inadequate solar and energy savings programs. Duke Energy’s Ohio and North Carolina operations are significantly outperforming its Florida arm, leaving its customers in the Sunshine State with higher energy bills and fewer opportunities. In fact, in Ohio Duke is among the nation’s best performing utilities, saving more than four times more energy than Duke in Florida, letting customers in Ohio reap the benefits.

“Civic engagement signifies the presence of an informed electorate and is critical to a thriving democracy. Civic engagement can be seen as a nuisance to corporations, but Duke should consider this demonstration as a favor. These 5,500-plus petitions serve to let Duke Energy know that there is consumer demand for energy efficiency and solar power in Florida,” said Kofi Hunt, project coordinator with Awake Pinellas.

Florida is ranked in the bottom half of states by the American Coalition for an Energy Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE) annual ranking, specifically because of utilities’ under-investment in energy savings programs

“I live in Brooksville and when I drive to the beach at Pine Island, I can see the Crystal River Power Plantsaid DeeVon Quirolo, marine conservationist and founder of Reef Relief, and a Hernando County activist. “It's time for Duke to retire obsolete its coal units #1 and #2 at Crystal River.  It's time for clean energy here in the Sunshine State and Duke should be promoting energy conservation so our power bills go down.”
off in the distance near the shoreline.  I am concerned that this is the largest source of mercury pollution in the state and that it is polluting the air we breathe, the land where we grow our food and coastal waters where we fish,”

Duke Energy operates four coal-burning units at its Crystal River power plant in Citrus County, FL. In recent filings to state regulators, the company has committed to phasing out coal burning at two of the units by 2018, but currently plans to increase natural gas use at the plant instead. By delaying its plans to phase out burning coal at the Crystal River plant, Duke Energy is choosing to produce four more years of air pollution, including toxic mercury pollution, which will impact children, seniors and people living with asthma and other respiratory illness.

“By shutting down the dirtiest power plants, like Crystal River, using energy more efficiently, and by generating more power from clean, renewable sources like the sun, we could be delivering a one-two punch in the fight against climate change, and ensuring the health and safety of our communities for years to come,” said Jennifer Rubiello, field associate with Environment Florida, based in Tallahassee.

Nationwide, 162 coal-fired power plants have been locked in for retirement since 2010 as coal generation declined by nearly one-fifth in two years. At the same time, clean energy production has skyrocketed, with wind providing more than 20% of Iowa and South Dakota’s power, and more than 10% of Texas and Oklahoma’s power. In 2013, more than 13,000 megawatts of solar power are now connected to the grid, powering homes and businesses. To learn more, visit www.sunshinestatecleanenergycoalition.org.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee Votes to Deny DEP Oil Drilling Permit

After several hours of deliberation yesterday, the Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee voted 4:1 to recommend denial of the Department of Environmental Protection Agency's (DEP) permit to allow an exploratory oil well in Golden Gate Estates.

The committee convened the meeting in Naples, Florida after an administrative challenge was filed in response to the DEP issuing intent of approval of the permit. They are an extension of the DEP, which ensures compliance of permits within the Big Cypress region.

The decision to recommend denial came as a surprise to those in attendance, as the meeting began with a 4:1 vote to recommend approval of the permit. But as numerous residents and environmental representatives finally had the chance to speak, the committee had a change of heart.

Issued raised by the committee included the need for a cumulative effects analysis on the environment (the Dan A Hughes Company has been granted a lease of 115,000 acres for drilling), accident preparedness, concerns with traffic, and increasing the bond the oil company is required to post.

The Sierra Club's concerns with the well include impacts to Florida panthers ranging from incidental take of the species, a lack of peer-reviewed science to back up official's statements, increased traffic, the destruction of panther primary habitat, and the cumulative impacts from oil drilling.

There have been no studies conducted analyzing the impacts to wildlife behavior and life history from oil drilling. Increased traffic in an area where panthers are found increases the likelihood that panthers could be hit by cars – the number one killer of the species. Behavioral studies on panthers are few and far between, so making statements that drilling will not impact behavioral patterns has not been verified.
Saying that "panthers and oil wells can coexist" is unacceptable without peer-reviewed studies to support the claim.

Telemetry data clearly identifies a tremendous amount of panther activity in the area, including telemetry points on top of the proposed well site. Previous statements by the Dan A Hughes Company, that no panthers have been found on the property is a blatant lie.

Given the knowledge of cumulative impacts, increased traffic, and destruction of primary panther habitat, a "take" (harm, harass, kill, etc.) for the species will be hard to avoid. No reasonable and prudent measures, the actions believed necessary and appropriate to minimize impacts, and mandated by the Endangered Species Act, have been proposed. This permit cannot be approved without the proper scientific review of a biological opinion under the ESA.

A video of Sierra's statements can be found here.

Jon Arthur, a geologist with the DEP and chairman of the committee, stated of the committee's decision, "I get a feeling that approving this permit is pulling our finger out of the dike."

The public sway on the committee's vote shows just how powerful a concerned group of citizens can be. Without our voices being heard, this victory would never have taken place. Inspiring work by all the groups and citizens involved!

The Committee first met on March 11th, in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) public hearing at the Golden Gate Civic Association. After a public outcry for the EPA to hold a hearing in Naples, more than 300 activists came out to have their voices heard. Issues ranged from public safety and watershed impacts to concerns for increased traffic and panther habitat destruction.

The EPA made the decision at that meeting to extend their public comment period to March 31st. And as of yesterday, the deadline for public comments to the EPA, the Sierra Club had gathered over 115,000 signatures in a petition against the oil well!

The EPA now will address all public comments submitted and return with a decision on whether or not to deny or approve the underground injection well permit. Given the amount of comments received, there is no time frame for their decision - it could be months.

These small victories could not have taken place without the numerous concerned citizens of Florida! Thank you to everyone involved!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Buy Sugarland Now!

A St. Lucie River toxic algae bloom in Stuart on Aug. 1, 2013.
Image credit: 
Dick Miller.
To combat Everglades drought and coastal toxic algae blooms, the State of Florida needs to acquire the remaining 150,000 acres of US Sugar land it optioned three-and-a-half years ago.

Last summer, thousands of Treasure Coast residents took to the streets as black and green ooze swept through the Indian River Lagoon. The toxins killed fish, dolphins and manatees and devastated the local economy.

Each winter, the Everglades, source of water for seven million people, is increasingly subject to drought.

Everglades Drought:
Completing the US Sugar purchase would help solve both problems

The land could be used or swapped to create shallow basins to store water and remove harmful nutrients, before heading south to the Everglades.

When the US Sugar purchase was announced in 2008 by Governor Charlie Crist, environmentalists cheered the conversion of 187,000 acres to public land. But a neighboring sugar company, Florida Crystals, fought the purchase. Eventually, the state bought 27,000 acres, but the rest stayed on the table.

More than 5,000 protest dirty water in the Indian River Lagoon
Despite a surplus budget, Governor Scott is unwilling to buy the remaining US Sugar lands available under contract.  

What can you do? Contact jonathan.ullman@sierraclub.org and put the words “Buy Sugarland Now!” in the subject line. We will tell you more about our campaign, and how you can make a difference.

-- Jonathan Ullman, South Florida/Everglades Senior Organizing Representative

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sign the Petition to Stop Oil Drilling in Panther Habitat

This upcoming Tuesday, March 11th, the EPA is holding a hearing for Florida residents to voice their concerns about an injection well that would be located within the western Everglades. The well would be 1,000 feet from residences, less than one mile from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, and within panther primary habitat - the lands needed for the species' continued existence.

We're asking all activists to sign the petition below, and if you're in the area, to attend the hearing at 4:00pm on the 11th.

Please contact Alexis Meyer at alexis.meyer@sierraclub.org with any questions.
Thank you for your continued support and interest Florida panthers!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Florida Panther Symposium - March 21st

Sierra Club Florida, along with the Center for Biological Diversity, are proud to announce the first ever Florida Panther Symposium.

Florida panthers are no match for loss, fragmentation and degradation of their habitat. If these iconic and graceful predators are to survive, they need protected habitat and a clear plan for recovery.

Join the the Sierra Club on Friday, March 21st, hosted by the University of Florida's Levin College of Law Conservation Clinic and GreenLaw. It's free and open to the public.

Learn about efforts to protect and expand Florida panthers' range. The event will feature presentations from noted scientists and wildlife biologists in the morning, followed by complimentary lunch and a keynote speaker at noon. Come meet the Club's panther campaign organizer, Alexis Meyer. There will also be a field trip to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday, March 22nd.

Event details below:

What: Florida Panther Symposium
Where: University of Florida's Levin College of Law at 309 Village Drive, Gainesville, FL 32611
When: Friday, March 21st, beginning at 8:00am and closing with complimentary lunch and keynote speaker

This event is free and open to the public -- but space is limited, so you'll need to register by March 7th to attend.

Click here to get information and register for the Florida Panther Symposium.

Please contact Alexis Meyer at alexis.meyer@sierraclub.org with any questions.