Monday, August 6, 2018

Sierra Club's Comments on the Draft EIS for SFWMD's EAA Reservoir plan

On July 24, 2018, Sierra Club, along with Friends of the Everglades and Bullsugar Alliance, submitted comments to the US Army Corps of Engineers on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the SFWMD Section 203 EAA Reservoir/Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) study. Click here for a pdf of our comment letter to USACE. Below, is what we said.

Sawgrass prairies in the central Everglades/ Photo Credit: Mac Stone

July 24, 2018
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Jacksonville District

RE:  Comments on the Draft EIS for the SFWMD Section 203 EAA Reservoir/STA Study

On behalf of Sierra Club, Friends of the Everglades, and Bullsugar Alliance, we submit the following comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Section 203 Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) and Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) study.

Our organizations believe the EAA Reservoir is an integral component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) that, if adequately planned, designed and constructed, can help solve South Florida’s ongoing water crisis and restore the globally unique and invaluable Everglades ecosystem, including Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. To that end, we desire to support and advance an EAA Reservoir project that provides the long-term ecosystem restoration benefits that both people and the natural system need, especially in light of the challenges South Florida faces with sea level rise and other climate changes, and that meets, with greater certainty, all applicable water quality standards. We also want to support a restoration project that does not pose unnecessary risk to the people and properties in and near the EAA and downstream of the project area.

We offer the comments below with the goal of seeing the SFWMD recommended plan (Alternative C240A) improved.  Our comments are meant to address our concerns; they also echo a number of the concerns expressed by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works (ASA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in their May 2018 Review Assessment of the SFWMD’s recommended plan as described in their Section 203 Post Authorization Change Report (PACR), Integrated Feasibility Study and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (March 2018, amended May 2018):

1.      When the Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 10 (SB 10) in 2017 (Chapter 2017-010, Florida Laws), it was not its intent to take away the ability for SFWMD to analyze alternatives with a larger land footprint. SB 10 did not prohibit the modeling of project alternatives with private lands from owners that at the time of SFWMD’s scoping phase had expressed no interest to sell or swap lands.  Therefore, other possible alternatives should be evaluated as they might produce a project that is more economically feasible, safer, carries less uncertainty in cost and benefits, and provides greater ecological benefits. It is in the public interest, and certainly in the federal interest, to study the feasibility of other less land-restricted alternatives.

2.      The study should include the feasibility of alternatives with reservoir options that are between six (6) and twelve (12) feet in water depth (depths that had been proposed in in 2000 and 2006) and that provide a minimum 240,000 acre-feet of water storage.

3.      There is no legitimate reason to limit the feasibility study to alternatives within lands in state ownership in the A-1 and A-2 parcels and just west of A-2; nothing, including the removal of the eminent domain option in SB 10, imposed such a limitation. The study was overly restrictive in assuming that none of the current private landowners, in areas that could provide a more optimal footprint, would be willing to sell or swap land by the time the project is ready for the Pre-Construction Engineering and Design (PED) phase.  Economics, politics, and other factors could motivate some of them to re-consider and sell or swap their lands with other state-owned land holdings. For instance, the state currently leases several thousand acres of land within or near the EAA with soils that are favorable to agriculture. It is premature to assume that no additional land can be acquired while the project is in the planning phase.

4.      The SFWMD’s work that led to the 2006 Revised Draft Integrated Project Implementation Report (PIR) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Storage Reservoirs project, which had recommended a 12-ft deep reservoir, should be considered as an alternative.

5.      All alternatives presented in the SFWMD feasibility study should include sufficient land to treat water to meet applicable water quality standards with a high degree of certainty. We share the concern stated in the ASA Review Assessment that the proposed project “poses a significantly high risk in feasibility, design, and construction in terms of cost and performance of a water quality treatment facility. This poses a significant risk that once constructed, the flows into the Everglades from this project will not meet water quality standards, and the project flows will be reduced significantly to meet those standards”.

6.      At this time we agree with the SFWMD decision to not re-purpose the existing A-1 Flow Equalization Basin (FEB) into either a reservoir or an STA as part of their recommended plan.  Based on its current performance, the A-1 FEB is an important component of the Restoration Strategies Regional Water Quality Plan that is already operational.  Meeting the Water Quality Based Effluent Limit (WQBEL) of the EAA STAs is of the utmost importance and there is land, other than the A-1, that should be utilized.

7.      In the draft EIS and the SFWMD Section 203 report, the terms “CERP goal(s)” and “restoration target(s)” are referenced often to state how well the SFWMD recommended plan achieves or approaches them. These terms should be better explained for the benefit of a wide range of stakeholders, including decision makers, who may not be familiar with the technical aspects of how CERP is implemented and evaluated.  If these numerical goals and targets are not clearly defined in the CERP Yellow Book, then the EIS needs to clearly articulate how and when these goals and targets were defined (including appropriate document references). It should also be clearer for the benefit of all stakeholders whether these goals and targets represent “interim” values versus final values.

8.      We agree with the USACE statement that “CERP identifies capacity for 360,000 acres [ft] of storage south of Lake Okeechobee, for Component G. Considering anything short of 360,000 acre [ft] storage option a final action could limit achievement of CERP goals related to Component G” (Section 3.1, draft EIS). As referenced in the draft EIS, the SFWMD Section 203 report has stated that its preferred alternative is “the final step,” instead of “the next increment,” towards implementation of Component G. Sierra Club agrees that the SFWMD recommended plan should not be considered the final increment of surface storage within the EAA.

9.      It is not clear in the draft EIS, nor in the SFWMD Section 203 report, what the basis for SFWMD’s assertion is that their preferred alternative is also the final implementation of the following CERP components. Clarification is needed with supporting details:
§  Flow to Northwest and Central WCA 3A (Component II)
§  Environmental Water Supply Deliveries to the St. Lucie Estuary (Component C)
§  Environmental Water Supply Deliveries to the Caloosahatchee Estuary (Component E)

10.  We are pleased to see that the SFWMD’s recommended plan provides a significant improvement of freshwater flows to the Everglades, above what CEPP was scheduled to provide, particularly during the dry season, from an average of approximately 210,000 ac-ft to 370,000 ac-ft annually.

11.  The draft EIS states that, based on modeling with the 41-year period of record (1965-2005), the SFWMD preferred alternative (C240A) “meets” the CERP goal for average annual flows to the central Everglades. As stated, this is a great concern as this erroneously implies that the approximate 370,000 ac-ft increase in average annual flows to the central Everglades (via the C240A alternative) will be enough to meet the freshwater needs of South Florida’s ecosystems. The 2014 CEPP PIR stated that since the formulation of CERP, published studies “estimate that the northern inflow to the Everglades was an average of two million acre-feet (ac-ft) annually” (pg.3-3). The 2014 CEPP PIR (pg. 3-9) also states that “new science demonstrates that the need for flows passing through EAA is even higher than envisioned in CERP. This suggests that storage greater than 360,000 ac-ft, and necessary treatment, is likely needed if CERP goals and objectives are going to be fully achieved.”  Amplifying this concern is the fact that the modeling performed by SFWMD did not take into account the greater freshwater flows that will be needed to cope with climate changes already taking place, and accelerating, including sea level rise.

12.  SB 10 had been introduced and passed in recognition that high-volume freshwater discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries must be resolved. Therefore, project alternatives should provide significantly more reductions of these high-volume discharges above what the previously authorized CEPP and other authorized projects will provide (also referred to as Future Without, or FWO).  Based on the information presented in Sections 3 and 4 of the draft EIS, the SFWMD C240A alternative, while it provides some added relief to both estuaries, the reductions are relatively minor in comparison to those provided by already authorized projects. To re-establish stable health to these estuaries more significant high-volume discharge reductions are needed.  For instance, as noted in the model output figure below for the Caloosahatchee estuary, the high-volume discharges (with mean monthly flows above 2800 cfs) are only reduced by 9 months beyond the 22 months anticipated with CEPP and other authorized projects (FWO) (Figures 3-3, Tables 3-7 and 4-1, draft EIS). This still leaves 61 months of harmful discharges within the 41-yr period record. Again, while any relief to the estuaries is welcomed, project alternatives that provide higher benefits to the estuaries are needed.

13.  The draft EIS does not clearly indicate to stakeholders what percentages related to reducing damaging discharges to the northern estuaries are benefits that were already predicted to be realized by CEPP versus those gained by SFWMD’s recommended plan.  The EIS should not make this ambiguous, particularly to the decision makers that need to evaluate the lift the recommended plan would provide. For instance, the draft EIS states (pg. 4-1)  “compared to the No Action Alternative, the Recommended Plan provides an overall 55% reduction in discharge volumes and a 63% reduction in the number of discharge events to the Northern Estuaries from Lake Okeechobee, in conjunction with other authorized projects.” For clarity and transparency, the report needs to include the portions of those percentages that are being realized by the recommended plan.

14.  According the ASA Review Assessment of SFWMD’s Section 203 report, the USACE, by May 2018, was scheduled to complete a climate change analysis required for feasibility studies in accordance with USACE policies. The results of that analysis, and the impacts to project benefits and the cost of SFWMD’s recommended plan, need to be included in the EIS.

15.  According to the draft EIS, SFWMD’s recommended plan provides only minor benefits to nearshore Florida Bay (via Taylor Slough). This again highlights the need for alternatives that more meaningfully improve hypersalinity conditions in Florida Bay.

16.  We agree with the concerns raised in the ASA Review Assessment in regards to analysis of potential failure modes, consequences of failure/life loss, and seepage analysis. These types of analyses are critical to ensure the stated ecological benefits of this project will be fully realized, to reduce risk in project costs, and to ensure the project is properly designed for the safety of people and property within and near the EAA and downstream of the project. According to the ASA report:  “USACE has identified that there is significant risk that the 34% cost contingency currently in the cost estimate will not cover the additional cost associated with the likely design changes required to meet all standards after the proper analysis is completed… [USACE] identifies the submitted SFWMD recommended “tentatively selected plan” as presenting a “high” implementation and cost growth risk.” This analysis should not be left to the PED phase due to the stated high risk that the estimated project cost contingency may not be enough.

17.  The timeframe provided to external agencies for the Agency Technical Review (ATR) was extremely tight and particularly unfair to the local government agencies within the study area that were invited to participate. It is our understanding that the ATR kick off meeting was held Friday, February 16, 2018, just before the President’s Day holiday, and that participants were asked to provide written comments by noon on Monday, February 26, 2018 (five business days later). This likely explains why only one county (Broward) provided written comments. In fact, in their comments Broward County (Carolina Maran) stated that “the established time frame was insufficient to provide the extensive review required for this type of document.”  Given the importance of this project to South Florida, adequate time should have been allocated to allow for careful review of the draft report and for meaningful input before SFWMD issued their final Section 203 report.

18.  While public scoping meetings were held in later 2017 by SFWMD in West Palm Beach and Clewiston, they were inadequate in scope and timing.  In addition, the SFWMD was repeatedly unresponsive to stakeholder information requests and questions. For example, Sierra Club submitted written scoping comments and questions to SFWMD on: November 22, 2017; February 9, 2018; February 22, 2018; and February 29, 2018 but received no responses. Please also note that the SFWMD neither included Sierra Club’s pertinent correspondence nor addressed our questions and comments within their Section 2013 PACR report. 

19.  Neither SFWMD nor USACE provided meaningful and accessible NEPA-compliant in-person public participation in the stakeholder process to all those that stand to benefit, or be impacted, by this project. While public meetings were held in West Palm Beach, Clewiston, Fort Myers, and Stuart, both agencies failed to provide any public participation opportunities south of the reservoir project where restored water flows are intended to flow.  In particular, residents of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties (where Everglades National Park and Florida Bay are located) were not afforded equal representation and equal opportunity for public engagement. This fact should be acknowledged in the EIS. The Southeast Florida region experiences significant traffic congestion during the times that SFWMD and USACE conducted its public hearings; as a result, hosting meetings in just the northern-most part of the project area was a barrier to public engagement that should have been avoided. We raised this concern several times because webcast recordings and SFWMD Governing Board meetings did not provide the kind of accessible, quality and open public engagement that others in the northern parts of the project area were afforded.

The above list is not a comprehensive coverage of our concerns but we look forward to providing additional comments on an ongoing basis as the process proceeds.  Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments.


Diana Umpierre
Organizing Representative, Sierra Club

Alan Farago
Vice President - Conservation, Friends of the Everglades

Alex Gillen
Policy Director, Bullsugar Alliance

Thursday, August 2, 2018

TB Times' Bill Maxwell on Stop Sugar Field Burning Campaign

June 3, 2018

Bill Maxwell, Opinion Columnist, Tampa Bay Times


This town’s motto is "Her Soil is Her Fortune." The soil, called "muck," is the moist, dark earth where sugarcane thrives. Also called "black gold," the soil does indeed provide a financial fortune for the growers who have powerful influence on lawmakers and other important leaders.

The bittersweet irony is Big Sugar uses a process called "pre-harvest burning" to make its fortune. 

From October to April or May, the companies ignite huge fires in their fields to burn off so-called "trash," the outer leaves of the cane stalks, before harvesting.

The fires send billows of smoke and stench into the air. Ash rains down over four counties.

Impoverished residents of the western Everglades Agricultural Area, mostly low-income African-Americans and foreign temporary laborers, call the falling ash "black snow."

A small group of activists began meeting to find ways to encourage sugar growers to switch to "green harvesting," the use of machines and human labor rather than fire.

Hardly anyone listened to them or took them seriously.

Steve Messam, 35, one of the activists and an associate pastor at Glades Covenant Community Church in South Bay, was born in Belle Glade. He grew up taking his heavy breathing and allergy flare-ups for granted. Many neighbors and schoolmates had the same symptoms.  When he went to college in Michigan, his respiratory ailments disappeared. But when he returned for Christmas each year, his ailments also returned. Today, his wife and 4-year-old son have similar problems. His son uses a breathing machine during the burn season.

Messam said that in addition to causing medical problems, the emissions negatively impact residents’ quality of life. Homeowners are especially plagued by inconveniences and unnecessary expenses.

"There’s nothing like opening your door and being greeted by ash rushing into your home and over your body or going outside and seeing your car covered with it," he said. "I have to pressure clean my doors and porch at least once a year."  His home air conditioner filters should last three months or more, but he changes them monthly during the burn season.

"Pre-harvest burning is like having a bad next door neighbor who takes all his trash from his yard and throws it across the fence into your yard," he said. "We’re paying to clean up someone else’s trash."
Former South Bay Mayor Shanique Scott said she sees relatives and friends suffering from asthma, migraines and sinus and respiratory problems that worsen during burn season.

"When I walk out my front door, I see the black snow and smell the pollution," she said. "I’m appalled to see clouds of billowing smoke, not knowing if a neighbor’s home is on fire or if it’s just another day of sugarcane burning. I have difficulty breathing during the burning season."

Teachers such as Mariya Feldman share Scott’s experiences and outrage. Feldman, who has a master’s degree in environmental science, taught for two years in Pahokee, which is surrounded by cane fields and has a sugar refinery nearby.  She said most of her students showed symptoms of asthma during burn season.

"I had two students who would wear garbage bags over their heads to get to the school bus because of the burnings," she said. "I have spoken to parents who are angry that their children aren’t getting help from the exposure to the smoke. I spoke off-the-record to scientists and even with officials who told me these burnings are archaic. Ash falls in the school parking lot. Some days, it was unbearable for me to go from my car to the school because the smell from the burning would give me cramps in my lungs."

Feldman visited the U. S. Department of Agriculture in Palm Beach County on two consecutive days for answers, but no one was available to speak with her. She emailed sugarcane officials, but no one granted her an interview. She complained to the fire department. An official promised to "look into it." She called the Sheriff’s Office and was dismissed as being "naive" for accusing Big Sugar of harming the environment, she said.

Local community activists, seeking attention for their cause, became hopeful after learning about a press conference in which the possible link between sugarcane burning and human health was a topic. Shortly afterward, the grassroots Stop the Burn campaign was initiated.

Sugar growers have accused the Sierra Club and the Stop the Burn campaign of trying to end agriculture south of Lake Okeechobee. They point out that they receive burn permits from the Florida Forest Service, and that air quality is good in counties such as Glades, Hendry and Palm Beach.

"Neither the Sierra Club nor local activists involved in the campaign want to destroy the sugar industry," said Patrick Ferguson of the Sierra Club. "A shift to green harvesting would benefit the industry in the long-term rather than put them out of business. Investing in the infrastructure to utilize the trash, instead of wasting it, would create more local jobs and provide new sources of revenue for sugar growers. Green harvesting is a win-win-win."

June 29, 2018

Bill Maxwell, Opinion Columnist, Tampa Bay Times

When I was told Chris King, a Democratic candidate for governor, would visit Belle Glade to meet local activists who are trying to persuade sugarcane farmers to change their pre-harvesting method, I wondered why he would invite the ire of the powerful industry.

Belle Glade, south of Lake Okeechobee, is one of Florida’s poorest towns. Agricultural and conservative, it has a population of roughly 19,000. Only about 10 percent is white, and the median household income is $26,859.

Running a serious campaign for governor requires millions of dollars. King, a 39-year-old Harvard-educated Democrat and business owner, will not find much money in Belle Glade and in two other nearby towns, South Bay and Pahokee, together nicknamed The Muck.

"I traveled to Belle Glade," King said, "because I wanted to better understand the communities that live there, the challenges they face from sugarcane burning and why few leaders in our state have tried to understand this issue and figure out if there’s a better way forward. For seven to eight months a year, and six to seven days a week, this community is on fire. I came away astonished, incredibly concerned and angry."

He is referring to pre-harvest burning, Big Sugar’s method of igniting huge fires in their fields to burn off so-called "trash," the outer leaves of the cane stalks, before harvesting. Activists want growers to switch to "green harvesting," using machines and human labor instead of fire.

"Before my visit, I was aware that this was one of Florida’s areas of greatest poverty and shameful treatment, but I don’t think that prepared me for what I saw there," King said. "I’ve done charitable work in countries experiencing dire poverty across the world, but I never expected to view similar conditions in Palm Beach County. It unnerved me that in a county with tremendous wealth and resources, that prosperity has not been shared with the people who are helping to generate it."
Most news outlets that cover the area focus on environmental problems such as water levels in Lake Okeechobee and algae blooms in once-pristine waterways flowing east and west.

King said he wanted to know more after hearing about human health problems that are rarely addressed objectively.  "I learned that sugarcane burning has had real public health consequences for the families that live around the lake," King said. "Residents shared with me generations of concerns about respiratory illness, asthma and associated health problems from the air quality. I also learned they live in the one community in Florida where it snows seven months of the year thanks to the ash from sugarcane burning."

From October to April or May, pre-harvest burning sends up billows of toxic smoke and stench that come down over four counties. Local residents call the falling ash from the process "black snow."
Since King will not grab many voters in The Muck, I asked him to explain what he hoped to gain from the visit.

He said few politicians acknowledge the "extraordinary poverty" in the area, and even fewer have the courage to take on Big Sugar, the industry that has created some of the very conditions residents face.

"What’s happening in Belle Glade is at the intersection of race, poverty and environmental neglect and justice, and our state has turned a blind eye to the public health and economic impacts of sugar cane burning," he said. "Since my visit, I’ve asked myself why, and it’s because one industry, sugar, has a vise grip on Florida politics."

If elected, he said he would make "substantial efforts" to get the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to conduct research and publish the findings on the public health effects of sugarcane burning on communities around Lake Okeechobee.

"The issue in Belle Glade and other communities around the lake is that the sugar industry has told us that if we begin using green technologies and innovation on pre-harvest burning, which are proven to be better for people, we will hurt the economy. I reject that premise and false choice."

July 15, 2018

Florida’s land of black snow | Bill Maxwell column, July 1

Don’t burn sugar cane, period

In this column, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King got a lot of things right about how sugarcane burning negatively impacts the Glades communities with one enormous caveat: The outdated, toxic and unjust practice of pre-harvest sugar field burning in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area should be stopped rather than studied. No one in the Glades should continue to experience the six to eight months of smoke and ash, the already well-documented threats to public health, the cost of clean-up or the limitations burning puts on the local economy, while the practice is studied.

It is time to apply the rules for eastern Palm Beach County residents (no burning when the wind blows toward eastern Palm Beach County) to everyone (no burning when the wind blows in any direction). That means stop burning, period.

We know there is an alternative to burning because Florida’s sugar producers already use "green harvesting" when it is convenient for them. We also know green harvesting is used by the world’s largest sugarcane producers. Studying the practice in Florida would just kick the resolution can down the road and prolong the ill effects of sugar field burning on some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

If you want to study something, then study how much valuable vegetative material has gone up in smoke every year that could have otherwise been used to create jobs in the Glades and even more profit for sugar producers. Be a good neighbor, Big Sugar, and stop blowing smoke.

Patrick Ferguson, Belle Glade
The writer is the Sierra Club organizing representative for the Stop Sugar
Field Burning Campaign.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Florida Legislature Appeals Decision to Protect Land Acquisition Funds -- Environmental Plaintiffs Respond

FOR RELEASE:   July 25, 2018

Florida Senate President and House Leader Ask Appeals Court to Overturn Major Land Conservation Victory

Tallahassee – Today the Florida State Senate President and Florida House Speaker filed an appeal requesting the overturning of a ruling last month that they had diverted money that was supposed to be spent on new public land acquisition and restoration. The ruling was in response to litigation brought by conservation organizations. Three out of four Florida voters approved a ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to require a portion of proceeds from the existing real estate transaction tax go to protecting new public lands, yet the legislature spent much of the preservation funds on other things. The judge had ruled that moving forward the state had to comply with the will of the voters.

Statements in Response From Plaintiffs who Sued to Require the Legislators to Comply with the Constitutional Amendment:

Alisa Coe, Plaintiffs’ Attorney from Earthjustice who represents Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, Sierra Club, and Manley Fuller:
“This appeal is an attack on the most important conservation victory in Florida in years. The facts are on our side. The will of the people is very clear from the passage of the constitutional amendment. It’s disappointing that the state’s political leaders are spending the taxpayers’ money to fight what the taxpayers want. Time is critical here. Every day we spend debating this in court is another day we lose the opportunity to protect more land in Florida.”

Manley Fuller, Plaintiff and President of Florida Wildlife Federation:
“The ruling should be upheld through the appeals process. The ruling would provide funding for the purchase of important conservation lands that protect watersheds and connect habitats from the Panhandle to the Keys.”

Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director:
“House Speaker Corcoran and Senate President Negron are fighting against the clear mandate from Florida voters. The fate of Florida's environment is at stake in this court case.”

Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper:
“This appeal was filed to further block the conservation of many natural places in Florida. Protecting land is critical to the health of our rivers and our springs and is also needed to make Florida more resilient to hurricanes and flooding.”

Becky Ayech, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida:
“We hope the court upholds the ruling. The ruling was 100% justified. The leaders of the Florida House and Senate must stop diverting funds the voters said should be spent on land conservation.”


Frank Jackalone for Sierra Club, or 727-804-1317
Valerie Holford for Earthjustice, or 202-365-5336
Manley Fuller for Florida Wildlife Federation, or 850- 567-7129
Lisa Rinaman for St. Johns Riverkeeper, or 904-509-3260
Becky Ayech for Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida,


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Broward County Leading the State in Electric Transportation

15 Zero-Emission Buses to Run in 2019

Sierra Club volunteers meet in Broward County to support zero-emission buses. 
On Tuesday, June 12, Broward County Commissioners unanimously voted to purchase five zero-emission buses and to issue a Request for Proposal to purchase an additional ten buses in the future. Wearing “Z.E.B.” stickers in support of “zero-emission buses,” ten Sierra Club volunteers attended the County Commission meeting to support Broward County’s consideration of the new, zero-emission, electric buses. Three Sierra Club supporters in attendance spoke on behalf of the group to thank County Commissioners for considering the purchase. 

Sierra Club supporter Michelle Clawson
thanks Broward County Commissioners
When all 15 buses are deployed, Broward County is projected to have more zero-emission electric buses in operation than any other transportation agency in Florida. Given that the buses have no tailpipe and are very quiet on the road, Sierra Club supporters told Broward County Commissioners that residents will “see and appreciate” these buses but not “smell or hear” them. 

Zero-emission buses are clean, quiet and save taxpayer dollars. Each bus will also eliminate 1,690 tons of carbon dioxide, 10 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 350 pounds of diesel particulate matter over a 12 year period, ultimately reducing the air pollutants that cause or worsen diseases like asthma and cancer. Furthermore, as Sierra Club volunteer Michelle Clawson told the Broward County Commission, a single electric bus can “save between $150,000 to $200,000 dollars in fuel costs alone.” 

Broward County Transportation Department is now looking to further their leadership by charging these buses with the help of a solar energy system. Department leadership hopes to install advanced solar photovoltaic panels on the rooftop of the Copans Road maintenance facility in the City of Pompano Beach that will support the charging for their electric buses and significantly lower the amount of energy consumed at the facility. Sierra Club has offered a letter of support as Broward County seeks grant funding for additional zero-emission buses as well as the installation of solar photovoltaic panels.

Investing in zero-emissions vehicles represents an opportunity to reduce emissions, improve air quality and save taxpayer dollars. Sierra Club applauds the Broward County Transportation Department for their leadership and looks forward to seeing these buses on the road!

Now, the region will look to Miami-Dade, a county that issued an ambitious Request for Proposals more than two years ago for up to 75 zero-emission buses. If all 75 buses were purchased, it would represent the largest investment in electric buses on the East Coast. As the Miami-Dade County request has gone unfulfilled for years, residents are left to wonder; will they ever see the zero-emission buses they were promised? Or will Broward County remain the only true clean transit leader in South Florida?

Friday, June 15, 2018

Landmark Legal Victory!!! Judge Rules that Florida Legislature Must Spend Amendment One Funds on Land Acquisition as Mandated by Voters in 2014

Florida Judge Rules in Favor of Conservation Groups on Constitutional Amendment for Land Acquisition

For Immediate Release
June 15, 2018

Frank Jackalone for Sierra Club,
Valerie Holford for Earthjustice,
Manley Fuller for Florida Wildlife Federation,
Lisa Rinaman for St. Johns Riverkeeper,
Becky Ayech - Environmental Confederation of SW FL,

Tallahassee - Florida Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled today in favor of environmental organizations that the land conservation constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters requires funding to be used for land acquisition, and restoration and management of those lands, not for other purposes. Organizations filed suit because the state legislature was violating the Water and Land Conservation Amendment by spending funds on unallowable expenditures. Background on the issue can be found here:

Below are statements from plaintiffs in the lawsuit reacting to the ruling:

Manley Fuller, Plaintiff and President of Florida Wildlife Federation:
“Judge Dodson ruled today that the amendment funds are to be used for new land acquisition management and restoration from the Everglades to the Florida Panhandle! This is what the voters of Florida intended in 2014. The sun was shining in Florida today.”

Becky Ayech, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida:
“We are very, very happy.  This is a great day for all of the people who live in Florida.”

Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper:
“Protection of Florida’s lands is critical to protecting Florida’s waters. Today’s ruling is a stunning victory for our state’s wild places, rivers, springs, residents and future generations.”

Alisa Coe of Earthjustice, one of the attorneys who represents plaintiffs Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, Sierra Club, and Manley Fuller:
“Today’s decision is a big victory for the millions of Florida voters who demanded that the legislature reinstate land buying programs for parks, wild lands and the Everglades.  Four million Floridians approved a constitutional amendment to devote almost a billion dollars a year to purchasing conservation lands. The legislature and agencies thumbed their noses at the voters by spending the money on other things. This ruling will help protect some of Florida's most beautiful and environmentally important areas for generations to come.
In 2014, an overwhelming three out of four Florida voters approved the Land and Water Acquisition Amendment to the state constitution—it was the most popular item on the entire statewide ballot that year. Today’s ruling means that the state must honor the voters’ will to preserve our precious natural resources through conservation.”

Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director:
“Judge Dodson’s ruling today is a landmark decision making it clear that amendments to Florida’s constitution are orders by the people; they aren’t suggestions which the Legislature can decide to ignore.  After four years of blatant misappropriation of taxpayers’ money, the Legislature has been forced by the Florida Courts to obey the voters mandate that it use a dedicated source of state funds to preserve and protect Florida’s natural lands.”