Thursday, July 30, 2020

PRESS RELEASE: Commissioner Fried: Stop Sacrificing Black Lives to Appease Big Sugar

July 30, 2020
Contacts: Patrick Ferguson,, 954-288-4234
Steve Messam,, 989-400-4225


“Stop Sacrificing Black Lives to Appease Big Sugar”

BELLE GLADE—Sierra Club and the Stop The Burn Campaign leadership, a group of local
activists fighting to protect their communities from the scourge of pre-harvest sugar field burning in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area, sent yet another unanswered letter to Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried in an attempt to get her attention to the life and death situation plaguing the Glades due to unrestrained pre-harvest sugar field burning by the politically powerful sugar industry.

The new letter, dated June 22, 2020, drew Commissioner Fried’s attention to the CDC Guidelines released on June 16, 2020, recommending bans on open agricultural burning to protect vulnerable residents from pollution exposure during the Pandemic. The CDC acknowledges the health impacts posed by open agricultural fires and recommends a burn ban to reduce smoke exposure for people with COVID19. The regions most impacted by pre-harvest sugar field burning, namely Western Palm Beach, Hendry, and Glades counties, and Indiantown in Western Martin County, have as of July 29 a total of 4,384 cases of Covid-19. Western Palm Beach County, the most heavily impacted by pre-harvest sugar field burning, currently has 1,571 cases with no sign that the situation is improving. The yearly harvest season officially begins on October 1, when a 27-30 mile no-burn buffer zone would help protect impacted communities from the health impacts exacerbated by the Covid-19 threat.

Screenshot of Glades area zip codes from Florida's COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard

“It is now common knowledge that Black and Brown communities throughout the country are being impacted by COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates. One of many contributing factors is that our communities are exposed to toxic air pollution on account of racist regulatory policies that prioritize protecting more affluent and whiter communities. Sugar field burning in the Glades region is a case in point,” stated South Bay resident Kina Phillips.

“Commissioner Fried has criticized Governor DeSantis for ignoring CDC guidelines stating that ‘the public health of Floridians and our Florida Forest Service personnel is of utmost importance during the Covid-19 pandemic,’ shared her concerns for listening to Black voices, and stated she is supportive of green harvesting -- the no-burn alternative for sugar cane harvesting practiced around the world and elsewhere in the U.S -- but as of yet she has refused to protect her South Florida constituents from this outdated, toxic practice” stated Patrick Ferguson, Sierra Club Organizer. 

This is only the most recent of a series of messages sent to Commissioner Fried going back to November 2019 urging her to use her authority to institute a protective 27-30-mile radius no-burn buffer zone around impacted communities. Former Mayor of South Bay Shanique Scott said:  “COVID-19 is the perfect reason to begin the phase-out of pre-harvest burning, but make no mistake, a temporary ban is not enough.  Our families deserve protection from the scourge of pre-harvest burning every year.”

A long-running request for a meeting between local Glades residents and Commissioner Fried, in-person before the pandemic and virtual since has also been ignored. “This week, we were notified by the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (FDACS) personnel of an impending announcement of new changes to the sugarcane burning regulations. Unless they announce the first phase -- a 27-30 mile no-burn buffer zone around impacted communities -- of a full stop to pre-harvest sugar field burning, it will not be enough” stated Belle Glade resident, Pastor Steve Messam.




Thursday, July 9, 2020

Sierra Club's New Confederate & Colonizer Monuments Position

Sierra Club's stance, adopted yesterday:

This monument in downtown Tampa was removed
3 years ago by the Hillsborough County Commission,
an action supported by Tampa Bay Sierra Club.
The nationwide uprisings against police brutality and in support of Black lives have drawn attention to the proliferation of monuments and markers to Confederates and those who actively promoted the conquering, displacement, subjugation and enslavement of Indigenous People in many public and outdoor spaces in the United States. They memorialize the genocide, slavery, and hatred that resulted in the marginalization of millions in America since European colonizers arrived on our shores. For more than a century, these monuments have sent a message to Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and others with marginalized identities: You are not welcome here. And for too long, we have let them stand. These symbols are constant and threatening reminders of the systemic racism and oppression that have denied marginalized groups the freedom to move and live safely and sustainably. Public spaces — especially our parks, public lands, and schools — are meant to be enjoyed by all, and the glorification of white supremacists through these monuments and markers is demeaning and insulting to those of us who continue to suffer at the hands of brutality, racism and discrimination. As such, the Sierra Club supports the removal of these statues and monuments from all public lands and spaces. We support replacing them with monuments and markers of leaders who dedicated their lives to fighting for freedom and justice for the oppressed.

What You Should About Sierra Club's Position on This Issue:

  • Sierra Club is committed to fighting back against white supremacy and bigotry while fostering a welcoming and inclusive spaces in the outdoors.
  • Everyone should be able to see themselves reflected on our public lands, both in current use and the history represented. 
  • The outdoors are supposed to be for all to enjoy, and public outdoor spaces should be welcoming.
  • These statues are monuments to slavery and genocide, which make public spaces unwelcoming to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, and they should be removed.
  • Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and others with marginalized identities deserve to feel safe and welcomed everywhere, including in the outdoors, from local green space to national parks.
  • Removing these monuments is an easy and obvious way to make public lands and spaces more welcoming for marginalized communities. 
  • These monuments to white supremacy should be replaced with monuments to people who have dedicated their lives to fight for freedom and justice for the oppressed.
How Was This Position Created? A Note of Thanks from Jackie Ostfeld (she/her), Director, Outdoors for All Campaign; founder & chair of Sierra Club Outdoors Alliance for Kids: Special thanks to ShawntĂ© Salabert (Outdoors for All campaign volunteer lead) and Ian Brickey (Deputy Press Secretary, Outdoors for All campaign) for putting in the lion's share of the work on this. Additional gratitude to so many who helped develop and support the adoption of our stance: Ginny Cramer, Lena Moffitt, Joel Pannell, Rob Vessels, Jayni Rasmussen, Karlie Drutz and many others. Also big thanks to Bruce Hamilton, Michael Bosse, Jesse Simon, Leslie Fields, and Ross Macfarlane for helping to get this over the finish line.

P.S. Exactly what history are we taking down? A helpful survey of the years when all CSA monuments were erected illustrates a correlation with the height of the Klan and acts of white terrorism against black people all across the U.S. (Tulsa 1921, Rosewood 1923, and so many, many more). 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020


Late yesterday afternoon, Governor DeSantis vetoed Senate Bill 410; a bill that would have further weakened Florida’s already crippled laws that attempt to provide for the intelligent use of the state’s lands. The margin of passage in both chambers is not enough to override a veto.

In his transmittal letter, the Governor cited the provision whereby "a county charter provision or comprehensive plan policy adopted after January 1, 2020, may not impose a limitation on lands with a municipality unless the municipality adopts the same limitation. This broad provision preempts charter county powers and unnecessarily risks frustrating the will of the voters in charter counties" as the reason for his veto.

Had SB 410 been signed into law, it would have facilitated, for example, the River Cross  project thereby undoing Seminole County’s longstanding, voter-approved prohibition against intensive development in the county’s rural eastern region near the Econlockhatchee River.

The vetoing of SB 410 doesn't undo the Legislature's dismantaling of Florida’s once vaunted growth management laws over the past ten years, including:

  • Dismantling of the Department of Community Affairs and making it a division of the Department of Economic Opportunity and eliminating the requirement to demonstrate need for development before changing the Future Land Use Map. (2011)
  • Third party language shifting the burden of proof to citizens challenging a license, permit, or conceptual approval. (2011)
  • Whittling away at the Development of Regional Impact process that is designed to protect communities affected by projects outside of their city or county’s jurisdiction, and agricultural enclave language that entitles owners of enclaves to comp plan amendments that result in up-zoning their property. (2012)
  • Language that says natural gas pipelines (which can go from one end of the state to the other) are eligible for expedited permitting and that any challenges to permits for the pipelines have to go through the summary hearing process which diminishes the challenger’s access to due process. (2013)
  • Unjustly shifting the risk of doing business from developers to the public by extending permits (again) and limiting localities’ enforcement to the regulations in place when the permit was issued, despite the fact that conditions may have changed and the public interest will be compromised. (2014)
  • Intimidating local governments by awarding of costs and fees for a suit that involves what may be expressly preempted, and of citizens who are the only parties with standing to challenge the issuance of a permit as inconsistent with the comprehensive plan. (2019)

The Legislature and the Governor have a long way to go before growth management returns to the underlying principle that a comprehensive plan is the law and everything else – permits, zoning, development orders – is subservient to the plan. The current laws benefits developers and robs citizens and communities of the ability to choose what kind of place they want to live in.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

GOVERNOR SIGNS POLLUTERS’ WATERWAYS ACT: Why is DeSantis Ignoring Blue Green Algae Task Force Recommendations?

June 30, 2020
Contacts: Ryan Smart, Florida Springs Council,, 561-358-7191
David Cullen, Sierra Club,, 941-323-2404
Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper,, 904-509-3260

JUNO BEACH—Governor DeSantis surprised no one today when he signed the misnamed “Clean Waterways Act,” SB 712, after it was escorted to passage in both chambers of the state legislature by Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein. 

Florida Springs Council, Waterkeepers Florida, and Sierra Club urged legislators to “fix” SB 712 and provided pragmatic amendments to make the bill more protective of water quality, but what Governor DeSantis signed today is the result of weakening, over and over again, the language to fit the needs of the state’s biggest polluters.
On June 18, 2020, the organizations sent a side-by-side comparison of the provisions of SB 712 and the Blue Green Algae Task Force recommendations to the Governor so that he could see, in black and white, for himself, that the claims made by the bill supporters do not hold water.  
Ryan Smart, Florida Springs Council Executive Director, responded with:  “SB 712 will only make our water quality problems worse in the long run. It provides political cover for a Legislature and Governor that refuse to make the tough choices necessary to address this crisis. SB 712 does nothing to reduce nutrient pollution in Florida’s many impaired, algae-choked springs.” 

Dave Cullen, Sierra Club lobbyist said:  “SB 712 is all promise and no delivery.  It preserves the Florida status quo: pretend that the requirements in law are working when they’re not, and kick the can down the road.  The bill fails to require polluters to reduce the damage they cause our waters enough to bring them back to health.  And what little it promises is dependent on future funding (good luck with that the next few years), and new rules which will have to be ratified by the same legislature that refused to pass a law that would actually do something important.”
Jen Lomberk, Vice-Chair of Waterkeepers Florida, added:  “The Blue Green Algae Task Force identified some huge issues that desperately need to be addressed by our state water quality managers. Currently Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) fail to incorporate projected changes in land use and hydrology, and the presumption of compliance for Best Management Practices (BMPs) and stormwater systems is not supported by scientific data. SB 712 doesn’t fix any of these problems; it just doubles down on the same broken water regulatory system that got us into this mess in the first place.”
Cris Costello, Sierra Club Senior Organizing Manager said:  “If you are celebrating the signing of SB 712 today, you have either sold out to or been taken in by the state’s major polluters.  This is no victory for clean water and certainly no victory for the state.  When the Governor and legislature actually listen to the Blue Green Algae Task Force, rather than ignore it, we will have something to applaud.”

On February 3, the Florida Springs Council, Waterkeepers Florida, and Sierra Club sent a letter to Senator Mayfield and other legislators asking for 18 amendments to SB 712 that would address the most serious flaws of the bill.  On February 12, in response to public comments made by Chief Science Officer Thomas K. Frazer regarding the bill, the same groups sent a twelve-page letter to Frazer that included a full and documented explanation of the bill’s many failures.  Responses, both formal and informal, from Senator Mayfield, DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein, and the Chief Science Officer failed to refute any of our arguments and continue to blithely ignore the glaring inadequacies of this legislation.

June 18, 2020: Side-by-Side Comparison between the Blue Green Algae Task Force Recommendations and the Provisions of Senate Bill 712:

February 20, 2020: Photos from Senate Appropriations Committee:


For Immediate Release                                     
June 29, 2020
Contact: Deborah Foote, 850.727.4039,


TALLAHASSEE, FL. (June 39, 2020)- When it comes to home rule, Governor DeSantis seems conflicted. On one hand, he delegates authority to deal with a pandemic outbreak to counties and to decide on school reopenings to local school districts. But when it comes to protecting Florida’s Coral Reef, he sides with corporate interests, despite the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on reef preservation and restoration.

By signing Senate Bill 172, Governor DeSantis harms home rule, strips Key West of its reef protection sunscreen ordinance, and jeopardizes one of Florida’s most precious and unique natural resources.

This action is directly contrary to Florida’s Coral Reef, a new awareness campaign and website created by the Governor's Florida Department of Environmental Protection and twenty-five partner organizations, including NOAA, Florida State Parks, the Coral Restoration Foundation, and others. The website urges the public to “Check sunscreen active ingredients. Some chemicals commonly found in popular sunscreens have been shown to negatively impact marine life.” This message is reflective of a widely accepted body of science which shows oxybenzone and octinoxate damage the health and reproduction of coral reefs. Alternatives to these chemical sunscreens are affordable, effective, and widely available.

SB 172 is a direct attack on home rule and the City of Key West’s coral reef protection ordinance. Coral reefs in southeast Florida have an asset value of $8.5 billion, generating $4.4 billion in local sales, $2 billion in local income, and 70,400 full and part-time jobs. They also are imperiled.

“When the state should be doing it all it can to protect this valuable natural and economic resource, the Governor has done the opposite. Apparently local governments can be trusted to manage the pandemic response, but not to keep harmful sunscreen off of store shelves. Where is the logic in that?” Deborah Foote, Sierra Club.

“SB 172 is yet another example of the legislature forcing a one size fits none solution for Florida communities. Rather than taking a stand for local control and environmental protection, the Florida Legislature and Governor DeSantis have stripped Floridians of the ability to protect one of the state’s most precious ecological and economic assets, the Florida Reef Tract.” Holly Parker Curry, Surfrider Foundation.

“Local democracy is critical to the health, safety, and prosperity of our communities. Floridians must have the power to craft and implement our own local solutions. On SB 172, Governor DeSantis had a choice. He could stand with the communities who are working to protect their cherished coral reefs and their local economy, or with the greedy corporations who value their profits over the environment. By signing this bill into law, he stood with the latter.” Ida V. Eskamani, of Organize Florida


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Sierra Club Florida Launches First Political Intern Program

Late this Spring, the Sierra Club Florida Political Action Committee launched its inaugural class of Political Interns. This summer, eight interns are embedded in seven campaigns- and we have plans for two dozen interns this fall!

Intern recruitment was done through a variety of channels including college internship web platforms, college political organizations, and Sierra Club members. Political Director Deborah Foote and Suwannee/St. John Political Chair Scott Camil screened all the applications and conducted the candidate interviews.

The interns directly assist state and local candidates running for public office that have been endorsed by Sierra Club Florida. They received training on the basic skills of campaign organizing, education on environmental issues of key importance, and general administrative and reporting responsibilities. Deborah provides ongoing support to the interns- from answering questions on how to locate research on an environmental issue to communicate effectively with campaign staff.

The candidates have been overwhelmingly appreciative of this valuable resource and this intern program provides Sierra Club Florida with an opportunity to build deeper relationships with current and future political leaders.

Meet three of our summer interns!

Elizabeth Pruitt
Elizabeth is a first-year student at Florida State University. She is  working with Patricia Sigman's Senate District 9 campaign. She is a Presidential Scholar at FSU, the foremost undergraduate merit scholarship at this institution. Recently she completed an internship with Environment Florida where she worked to make FSU commit to 100% renewable energy dependence by 2035. She also is a research assistant under internationally recognized Public Administration professor Dr. Richard Feiock studying healthy, sustainable cities and infrastructure.

Glorimar Rivera Zamorano

Glorimar is a Miami resident and a student at the University of Central Florida, majoring in Environmental Studies. She is working to re-elect  Cindy Polo as the Representative from House District 103. Glorimar previously served as an Executive Intern at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens where she gained valuable professional skills such as educational outreach, data collection, and horticulture management. Glorimar is fluent in Spanish, a valuable asset in a district that is over 75% Hispanic.

Emily Porterfield
Emily is a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida and this fall is heading to graduate school at American University. Emily just joined Julie Jenkins' campaign to win House District 60. A resident of St. Petersburg, Emily first held an internship at the United Nations Association of Orlando where she examined global environmental issues including pollution and habitat destruction. She was then promoted to Executive Director which has allowed her to grow her leadership skills including organizing events, leading chapter meetings, and overseeing the semester interns. Emily also served as an Environment and Global Change Intern at the Office of Global Perspectives and International Initiatives.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Sierra Club Florida Encourages Participation in Six Nineteen Mobilization this Weekend, June 19–21, 2020

White supremacy is a matter of life and death specifically for Black people and the planet.

The white supremacist, tragic murders of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others have renewed global demands for justice and we can’t stand by while our governments continue to fund an excessive, brutal, and discriminatory system of policing with our tax dollars. 

As one of the largest climate and environmental justice advocacy organizations, part of the Sierra Club’s mandate is to ensure that oppressed communities receive justice and experience the benefits of a healthy and sustainable future. We can never forget that the roots of the climate crisis lie in racism, land-theft, pillaging, colonialism and patriarchy. And the pain of these injustices is still felt today - Black people have been disproportionately devastated by COVID-19 and live with disproportionately higher levels of toxic pollution, and face more powerful storms, floods, heat waves, wildfires, and droughts. This powerful piece by Hop Hopkins, our Director of Strategic Partnerships, in Sierra Magazine details the inextricable connection between the  climate crisis and white supremacy.           

What is Juneteenth: 
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865 — the day when enslaved people in Texas received word from a Union Army officer that they were free — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. However, Juneteenth was followed by decades of lynching, mass incarceration, discriminatory housing policies, lack of economic resources, police violence and racial profiling.  While progress has been made in Black America’s 150 years out of bondage, considerable barriers continue to impede that progress.

To honor Black lives and to lay a path to freedom for future generations, the Movement for Black Lives is calling for Six Nineteen mobilization this weekend, June 19–21, 2020, where we will make a clear and distinct call to end police violence and to defund police. The Six Nineteen mobilization has three demands: Defund the Police, Invest in Black Communities, Call for Trump’s Resignation. This is a Black led mobilization- which means that Sierra Club staff and volunteers across the country must take the direction of Black leadership in your community and Sierra Club is taking the direction of Movement for Black Lives nationally because of shared principles, goals and values. 

Juneteenth is a sacred day for the Black community, and Sierra Club is standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matter for this critical action. Please read the Movement for Black Lives Six Nineteen Principles before participating in this action.

Join the #SixNineteen weekend of action in front of the White House or in your communities: Virtual and in-person mobilization events are being added every day. Please ask representatives of black-led mobilization events to share information here

It’s time. We must lay the path to freedom for future generations NOW. Join the #SixNineteen mobilization on Juneteenth weekend, June 19–21, 2020. #DefendBlackLives