Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An Attack on Everglades Science

Dr. Christopher McVoy, here doing Everglades research, is now unemployed.
This month, Florida Governor Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature completed their initial dismantling of the staff of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), the state agency charged with protecting the Everglades. In all, 280 employees are gone, 60 percent of those in management. (Note: Similar attacks are being carried out at the other state water management districts.) At the South Florida District, it wasn’t a blind, belt-tightening decision. It was an attack on science and more specifically an attack on Everglades restoration.

  A flow map by Dr. McVoy      
One of the scientists laid off was Dr. Christopher McVoy, a Ph.D. in Soil Physics from Cornell and lead author of the recently published 576-page book Landscapes and Hydrology of the Predrainage Everglades. Dr. McVoy, whose 15 years of working at the District ended two Fridays ago, conducted cutting-edge research on how the Everglades functioned. His breakthrough research showed that the key factor in restoring the Everglades was restoring its water flow.
Everglades flow chart by Dr. McVoy

Dr. McVoy focused on the central landscape of the Everglades called ridge and slough, the deposition of sediments by a lattice of little rivers forming tear-shaped islands. He was a detective, probing black and white pictures taken from blimps, looking for clues, anything that could tell us what the Everglades was supposed to look like today. He discovered that unrestricted water flow was the life-blood of the Everglades and that only by removing the north-south barriers could we restore the giant wetland.

An Everglades Skyway rendering, now 6.5 miles of bridges
Soon his research led to policy. Restoring Everglades water flow was the basis of the Everglades Skyway, a 6 ½ mile series of bridges over Tamiami Trail, an effort the George W. Bush Administration called the “lynchpin” of Everglades restoration and the Obama Administration called its “top funding priority.”

Dr. McVoy’s work also probably played a part in Governor Crist’s decision to purchase sugar lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area to help restore Everglades water flow through contiguous reservoirs and Storm Water Treatment areas and over time establish a flow-way through the EAA.

It would be simpler if this was just a story about Dr. McVoy, but it’s not. It’s about something broader and more worrying. Dr. McVoy’s departure was part of a systematic dismantling of environmental regulatory agencies throughout the state. It was a direct attack on nature.

“I'm pretty disappointed that the governor and legislature have lost their commitment to Everglades restoration. This is just straight politics." Dr. McVoy told the Post in its article “Brain Drain Astounding.” http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/state/brain-drain-astounding-as-dozens-depart-water-district-1731384.html

As Dr. McVoy joins the hundreds of South Florida scientists who lost their jobs trying to restore America’s Everglades, we have only one question to ask: Who will restore the Everglades without them?

-- Jonathan Ullman, Sierra Club South Florida/Everglades Senior Organizing Representative, Miami, Florida

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Panther at the Crossroads - September/October 2011 - Sierra Magazine

Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
Printer-friendly version Share: Share this page on FacebookShare this page on TwitterShare this page by emailShare this page with other services

Panther at the Crossroads

Without room to roam, Florida's big cats are roadkill waiting to happen

By Tristram Korten | Illustration and map by Javier Zarracina

ON THE AFTERNOON OF JULY 11, yet another Florida panther was discovered lying on a lonely stretch of Immokalee Road, an east-west corridor that cuts through cattle and farm country in rural Florida. The year-old male was the 7th big cat killed by a vehicle this year and the 19th killed overall, a rate that is set to outpace the 23 deaths in 2010 and 25 in 2009.

That late-night collision continued another unsettling trend. For the past decade, cars have been the leading cause of known panther deaths, surpassing panther-on-panther aggression. The increasing human traffic within panther territory is taking its toll.

Only weeks before the accident, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had declared the Eastern cougar—which hadn't been seen in decades—extinct. That leaves the Florida panther, itself on the threshold of extinction, as the eastern seaboard's sole surviving big cat.

Only 100 to 160 adult Florida panthers live in the wild today, according to government estimates. Roughly 20 percent of that population is killed off annually—a number barely replenished by yearly litters.

Puma concolor coryi once prowled the Southeast as far west as Missouri. But the growth of subdivisions curtailed the big cat's range to South Florida's sodden hinterlands. Female panthers roam territories as large as 75 square miles; males, up to 200 square miles. They need that space, especially the fiercely territorial males, which regularly kill trespassing competitors. As panther range shrank, so did their numbers, dipping down to the 30s in the 1980s before protection efforts ramped up. That's when the Texas cougar, a genetic cousin, was introduced to Florida to diversify the DNA and avoid inbreeding.

Constructing animal-friendly over- and underpasses so panthers can safely cross roads is one way to prevent them from being hit by cars. Another is to identify and protect land adjacent to existing reserves and ranches to create a contiguous habitat stretching the length of the Florida peninsula, a mission of the Florida Wildlife Corridor initiative. A key benefit is that it would allow female panthers to range north of the Caloosahatchee River, currently a natural barrier, by going around Lake Okeechobee. (Males are able to cross the river, and one has even been sighted in Georgia.)

The Sierra Club has sued the federal government to get it to designate 3 million acres as critical habitat for the panther. This would broaden the government's power to control development in those areas. A judge dismissed the lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds earlier this year, but Club lawyers are appealing.

Environmental groups in Florida are divided on the question of new development in panther territory. Some are seeking compromise, agreeing to accept some construction in exchange for new protected areas. The Sierra Club, on the other hand, opposes all new development where cats roam. "If you bring new people and cars into panther habitat, you'll kill panthers," says Frank Jackalone, the Sierra Club's senior organizing manager for Florida. "It's as simple as that."

TRISTAN KORTEN is a journalist who lives in Miami.

This article was funded by the Sierra Club's Resilient Habitats Program.

Panther at the Crossroads - September/October 2011 - Sierra Magazine - Sierra Club

Friday, August 5, 2011

Only Sewage, Agriculture and Fertilizer Industries Can Testify


Cliff Stearns Shuts Out Public for Congressional Hearing


ORLANDO -- U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, has sided with polluters and is refusing to invite any clean-water advocates or members of the public to testify at an Orlando Congressional hearing he is holding next week to discuss EPA’s proposed limits for sewage, fertilizer and manure in Florida waters.

“We are not sure why Rep. Stearns is stacking this hearing with representatives from polluting industries and shutting out clean-water advocates, but it doesn’t bode well for the public,” said Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller. “Stearns isn’t allowing any public testimony at the hearing, and instead has assembled a panel of people from the sewage, agricultural and fertilizer industries – the very parties who are polluting the public’s waters and causing nauseating toxic algae outbreaks.”

“If Stearns wants to hear from his constituents, he should make room to hear from business owners and residents who have endured the public health threat posed by toxic algae outbreaks and fish kills at dozens of cold-water springs, at Sanibel Island, Naples, Daytona, and other tourist beaches, and along the St. Lucie, Indian St. Johns and Caloosahatchee Rivers,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest.

Stearns’ one-side hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, called  “EPA’s Takeover of Florida’s Nutrient Water Quality Standard Setting: Impact on Communities and Job Creation,”  will be held at 10 a.m. Aug. 9 at the University of Central Florida Alumni Center in Orlando, 4000 Central Florida Blvd., Building 126.

“This is a surprising and disappointing about-face for Rep. Stearns,” said Sierra Club Florida Staff Director Frank Jackalone. “He was the only Republican in the Florida congressional delegation who voted in February against a damaging amendment by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta. That amendment, to the House Continuing Budget Resolution, would have stopped EPA from enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida. Fortunately, the Senate rejected it.”

Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club, frank.jackalone@sierraclub.org
Manley Fuller, Florida Wildlife Federation, wildfed@gmail.com
Andrew McElwaine, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, andrewm@conservancy.org


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sierra Club's position -- Strengthen the Gulf RESTORE Bill

August 4, 2011

The Honorable Barbara Boxer
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
410 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20510-6175

RE: Strengthening RESTORE Bill

Dear Chairman Boxer,

On behalf of our 1.2 million members nationwide, which includes more than 75,000 members across the five Gulf Coast states, we are writing to express our appreciation for your continued support on Gulf recovery issues, and to respectfully ask that you strengthen the current Gulf legislation being considered by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW).

Over the past sixteen months, the Sierra Club has worked alongside our members and allies to ensure that the effort to restore the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystems, communities, and economies is driven from the ground up and guided by the principles of transparency, accountability, and independent science. The Sierra Club has advocated strongly for a public seat at the decision-making table, recognizing that widespread feelings of mistrust and lack of transparency continue to color restoration and slow recovery efforts.

We appreciate that the RESTORE the Gulf Coast bill currently under consideration by EPW would direct 80% of the anticipated Clean Water Act (CWA) fines levied against BP to the five Gulf Coast states. Indeed, this reflects Secretary Mabus’ and the National Oil Spill Commission’s recommendations as well as the repeated requests of countless NGOs and Gulf leaders, including the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club, however, believes the current bill is missing several elements that would ensure meaningful coastal restoration and recovery of the Gulf’s ecosystems and communities. We respectfully request EPW add the following provisions to the bill to address these serious deficiencies.

Provide Accountability & Restore Public Trust
  • Concerns about the mismanagement of federal monies distributed during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina recovery process underscore the need for a transparent, accountable process to apply and distribute CWA funds by: 
  • Creating a Science Advisory Committee comprised of independent scientists from around the Gulf Coast to provide input on restoration project selection, implementation, and monitoring processes. 
  • Requiring an annual legislative audit by the Government Accounting Office or an independent auditor located outside the five Gulf states. 
  • Ensuring the full application of the Administrative Procedures Act.

Create Mechanisms for Public Engagement 
  • Ensure the full application of NEPA by requiring the Gulf states and the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to establish formal public comment periods and holding public hearings during the development of the Comprehensive and State Plans as well as all proposed restoration projects and programs. 
  • Create a permanent Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council (RCAC) comprised of community leaders and stakeholders from the affected Gulf states to improve communications and provide long-term oversight of future oil industry actions. 
Ensure Consistency and Increase Scrutiny of Projects

  • Ensure that all plans and projects developed and implemented under the statute are consistent with the goals and processes of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, and are approved by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. 
  • A Stop Gap/Do No Harm clause is necessary to ensure funds prioritize ecosystem restoration over economic development, such as: “Amounts provided under this bill may not be used for activities that destroy or degrade the health, diversity, or viability of natural coastal or marine ecosystems” and “No more than 10 percent of the funds received by a state in any fiscal year may be expended on projects that are primarily intended for economic development rather than restoration of the natural coastal or marine ecosystem” (Note: A definition of ‘economic development projects’ also is necessary). 
  • Section 4 that deals with 30% Impact Formula Allocation with Oversight by the Council allows for the states to bring the Secretary of Treasury to Federal Court if the Council fails to act within sixty days or disapproves a project. This language is burdensome and creates a hostile atmosphere for decision-making. 
  • Section 5 that identifies disciplines for grant monies annually awarded by the Gulf Coast Centers of Excellence includes, “Offshore energy development” and “Sustainable and resilient growth, economic and commercial development”. This language does not appear aligned with the principles of ecosystem restoration. 

We appreciate your consideration of these issues and look forward to working with you to restore the Gulf and its communities. Thank you for considering this important request. If you have any questions or need further information, please contact Jill Mastrototaro, Gulf Coast Protection Campaign Director, at jill.mastrototaro@sierraclub.org or (504) 861-4835.


Debbie Sease
Sierra Club, Legislative Director

cc: Members, U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
     Members, U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation

Congressman Stearns turns against EPA water rules - Was it cash or tea?

We were very surprised to learn that Congressman Cliff Stearns will hold a field hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on August 9th at 10 am at the University of Central Florida Alumni Center in Orlando. Stearns, who chairs the subcommittee, chose to title this hearing as "EPA's Takeover of Florida's Nutrient Water Quality Standard Setting:  Impact on Communities and Job Creation."

This is quite an about face from Stearns, the only Republican in the Florida congressional delegation who voted a few months ago (2-18-11) against the Rooney Amendment to the House Continuing Budget Resolution.  The Rooney amendment, rejected by the Senate, would have stopped EPA from enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida. Here's what Stearns told the Florida Times Union at the time of his bold vote:

 "I am very concerned about preserving the Silver River in my hometown [Ocala] as well as the Ocklawaha and the St. Johns rivers in my district...Although I don't want to see the EPA develop these burdensome and expensive regulations, I do want the EPA and the State of Florida to work together in developing an economical solution to protecting our waters."

Sierra Club praised Stearns for showing "significant courage, risking retaliation not only from the polluters' cabal and agricultural interests in his rural district in North Florida, but also from the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives which attached dozens of anti-environmental riders to the Continuing Resolution."

Fast forward to August 2 when Stearns announced his upcoming field hearing in Orlando. Stearns sang a different tune in his new press release:

“Although the EPA originally accepted the standards set by Florida, under outside pressure the EPA decided to impose its own standards; numerous studies in Florida indicate that the Washington-imposed standards will have a devastating impact on Florida’s job creation, economy, and certain agencies.”

It looks like the retaliation Sierra Club predicted was, indeed, too intense for Stearns. He caved to the pressure, and one can only wonder what did the trick. Was it campaign contributions, robo calls from the tea party or a threat from deep-pocketed polluters that they would find a serious opponent to run against him in the next election?

Click on "Read more" below for Stearns' announcement of his field hearing. It's clear he's now taking sides and no longer sees a role for EPA to make sure that Silver River, the St. John's River and the Ocklawaha River are cleaned up and protected.

- Frank Jackalone, Senior Organizing Manager, Sierra Club

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Thank the Obama Administration for proposing strong fuel efficiency standards and ask to keep the loopholes out

Sierra Club - Explore, enjoy and protect the planet

Thank the Obama Administration for proposing strong standards and ask that the rule be free of loopholes.
Go60 Photo Mosaic.

Take Action
Last Friday, President Obama announced a proposal for strong fuel efficiency and carbon pollution standards for cars and trucks of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Once finalized, this standard will save us money at the pump, reduce life-threatening carbon pollution and provide Americans with better and more fuel efficient car choices. We know that automakers can do better and meet our 60 mpg target, but the president's announcement is a strong step toward ending our dependence on oil.

You made this progress possible. Together we sent over 300,000 messages — including our photo petition1 -- to President Obama, the EPA and DOT, showing that reducing oil dependence and carbon pollution through better fuel efficiency is a high priority for Americans across the country.

This announcement is a win for everyone, but there is still more to be done!

Thank the Obama Administration for taking action to cut our dependence on oil and curb dangerous carbon pollution. Then, urge them to keep loopholes that weaken the standards out of the final rule.

Congratulations and thank you for all that you do,

Ann Mesnikoff
Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign Director

Share this page on FacebookShare this page on TwitterShare this page with other services

[1] Check out the photo petition we delivered to President Obama!