Monday, July 30, 2012

Areawide Study for Florida Phosphate Mining is Badly Flawed

The Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club, ManaSota-88, People for Protecting Peace River (3PR) and Protect Our Watersheds (POW) on July 25 filed extensive joint comments on the US Army Corps of Engineers Draft Areawide Environmental Statement (DAEIS) for phosphate mining. We pointed out that the DAEIS is flawed in several serious ways. 

A chart which appears at 4-191 of the DAEIS illustrates many of the problems:

This is a chart of acreage of mined and not yet reclaimed areas from 1975 to 2060. The areas in the graph are also the areas in which all surface water is captured by the ditches and berms of the mines, and it is sometimes called the “capture area.” The chart shows that the capture area has gotten better since its high of 40,000 acres in about 1995, but, with the new mines considered in the DAEIS it’s about to get much worse, going all the way back up to over 35,000 acres. And the continuing damage continues for decades. While the graph ends in 2060, one can see that the capture area/mined and unreclaimed land extends beyond that, into the 2090s in fact.
So, while the mining companies tell us that things are much better than in the past, in fact most of the major insults of mining, the vast areas of mined and unreclaimed land, including wetlands, and the surface water capture, and the groundwater pumping, are actually continuing or getting worse. We’re about to enter the second significant era in mining in central Florida. While there is great disagreement about whether the companies can reclaim wetlands sufficiently, the fact is that whatever inadequate reclamation they do won’t occur for decades. 

Estimates in the DAEIS differ from page to page. Of the mines immediately proposed, Ona, Wingate East extension, South Pasture extension, and Desoto will involve over 51,000 acres; and will destroy almost 10.000 acres of wetlands and over 49 miles of streams. Future mines, Pine Level/Keys and Pioneer, will involve almost 50,000 acres and destroy 15,000 acres of wetlands.

The DAEIS does not provide a map with all past and future mines, but an idea of the extent is suggested by combining the following two maps. First past and presently proposed mines, then the two additional mines coming somewhat later:

The phosphate mining companies pump extraordinary amounts of water from the Floridan aquifer to use to slurry their phosphate matrix from the mine to the processing plants and to slurry the clay and sand back to dispose in the mines. Mosaic alone is allowed almost 70 million gallons per day on average. This is more than 3 times more than is used by the entire downstream Peace River Manasota Water Authority’s 200,000 users. And claims by Mosaic that it recycles 95% of its water doesn’t mean they pump less, it just means its water use, for slurrying for example, is actually 20 times its pumping rate. The water the companies pump is free, it is simply allocated to them by SWFWMD.

And the damage from mined and unreclaimed lands and wetlands is not just to the surface water and groundwater. A study (by NASA, NOAA and other scientists) presented with the Sierra comments concluded that the draining of wetlands and elimination of land cover in the past had contributed to localized climate changes with less rainfall and higher daytime temperatures in the rainy season, as well as lower nighttime lows. So the water is not only impounded by the mines, there’s also less rainfall to begin with.

These lost flows will impact streams like Horse Creek, where three mines are scheduled, as well as downstream uses like Charlotte Harbor, where reduced flows can result in changed salinity levels and impacts on species, including the endangered small tooth sawfish. These changes were not studied.

The Environmental Groups’ criticisms of the DAEIS also addressed the failures of wetland reclamation, the failure to do a cumulative analysis, adding the damage from proposed mining to that of past and current mining, the failure to consider increased radioactivity at mined lands, and, astoundingly, the failure to consider the impacts of mining gypstacks in which the waste from fertilizer plants is stored forever in giant phosphogypsum stacks which frequently spill their acid wastewater in times of rain. Gypstack spills have been an ongoing problem in Florida, with the state diverting hundreds of millions of dollars from state mine reclamation funds to clean up rivers and harbors damaged by spills from stacks like Piney Point.

Sierra Club retained Professor Richard Weisskoff from the University of Miami to comment on the economics of the DAEIS. Weisskoff pointed out that the DAEIS conclusions that phosphate mining had a net economic benefit failed to consider many of the economic benefits, including the employment, of the agriculture which it replaces. The jobs comparison, for example, is not close, with roughly 10 times more agricultural cluster jobs than mining cluster jobs. And the cash from agricultural inputs tends to stay in Florida, while a good part of the mining profits go to the mining company parent.

Weisskoff also studied the world phosphate market. Here his results are eye-opening. Contrary to common perception, the world has a great deal of phosphate reserves, much of it in stable reliable source markets. The US has only 1.2% of world reserves. BUT, the US produced 14.9% of the world phosphate rock in 2010 (down from 25.3% in 2000). The US exports no phosphate rock, instead it turns its rock into fertilizer (at the fertilizer plants which produce gypstacks) and exports exports it. Over 27% of phosphate fertilizer exports worldwide are from the US. In other words the mining companies are basically fertilizer export companies, using up a phosphate resource which is limited in the US, but widely available in the rest of the world. They have a low cost advantage in their competition for the global market because of low taxes, high quality rock, access to transportation, free water and minimal land reclamation costs.

The citizens of Florida and the Florida environment are subsidizing the phosphate companies.

There is still time to comment on the DAEIS and urge that it recognize the damage being done to the Florida environment. The deadline for comments is July 31, 2012.

You may want to urge the Corps to recognize the multiple impacts on our groundwater and our surface water and wetlands from mining; ask for an analysis of wetland and stream damage and the problem of long delays in replacing these important features, ask the Corps for a full study of the impacts of gypstacks and their spills; and recognize that Florida phosphate mining is not necessary for US or world fertilizer production and that Florida mining is being subsidized by Florida taxpayers and the Florida environment.

Comments should be sent to:

John Fellows: 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Settlement with EPA to Clean Florida’s Dirty Air

Aging Florida coal plants face clean-up

Washington, D.C. —  A coalition of clean air advocates announced this week a settlement setting deadlines for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to limit haze-causing air pollution from aging power plants and factories in Florida.  The settlement, lodged on July 20, 2012 in federal court, requires the EPA to finalize haze cleanup measures for the state in two phases, the first by November 15, 2012, and the second by July 15, 2013.  The steps are required by the Clean Air Act to clear polluted skies in the nation’s largest and most scenic national parks, wilderness areas, and wildlife refuges.  The settlement must undergo public comment and receive court approval before it becomes final. 

“Our national parks were set aside to both protect their natural attributes and to create a safe, healthy place for all Americans to visit and enjoy,” said John Ardonato, NPCA Sun Coast regional director. “But for decades, archaic pollution belching coal-fired power plants have been allowed to muddy the skies and leave dangerous chemicals in the air we breathe. This long-needed deadline puts in a concrete step toward clearing the air in beloved places like Everglades National Park.”

“It’s deplorable that people are forced to breathe and see filthy air when they visit national parks,” said attorney David Baron of Earthjustice, an environmental law firm representing groups in the case. “This settlement takes a big step toward protecting these majestic places from dirty power plants in Florida.”

“The same pollution that causes haze causes childhood asthma attacks, so this is a win for our kids and for our parks,” said Craig Segall, an attorney with the Sierra Club. “It brings ancient, dirty coal-fired power plants like the Lansing Smith plant in Panama City and the Crystal River plant north of Tampa one step closer to finally cleaning up their act.”
The settlement is the result of a suit brought by Earthjustice and Wyoming attorney Reed Zars on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Our Children’s Earth, Powder River Basin Resource Council, Montana Environmental Information Center, Grand Canyon Trust, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and Plains Justice.  The groups filed suit after the EPA missed legal deadlines for action on the haze pollution problem in Florida and 42 other states.  A settlement was reached earlier this year for all of the states except Florida. 

The Clean Air Act required states to adopt plans to curb haze pollution in all protected national parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refugees by December 2007.  Florida missed that deadline, and still does not have a legally adequate plan in place.  The law requires the cleanup plans to target haze-causing pollution from the nation’s biggest and oldest park-polluters.

Click here for link to settlement agreement


For More Information:  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sierra Club opposes plan to pump sugar cane pollution into Lake Okeechobee

Water managers for the South Florida Water Management District will soon consider a proposal to pump polluted sugar run-off into Lake Okeechobee, a controversial practice that ended more than a decade ago.

Under the plan to boost water levels, untreated sugar run-off water, laden with nitrogen, phosphorus, pesticides and herbicides, would be pumped backward into Lake Okeechobee.  

The pollutants, according to a recent South Florida Sun-Sentinel report, “could lead to a dead zone in the lake, resulting in algae blooms and low oxygen levels that kill fish, aquatic insects and disrupt other aspects of the lake’s food chain.”

Polluted runoff could run through the heart of the City of Belle Glade and be pumped into Lake Okeechobee at Torry Island, home to the community’s public fishing area and recreation space.

Pumping water into Lake Okeechobee diverts water critically needed for Everglades restoration. Instead sending water south into the Everglades after being cleaned-up, managers would force water back north - the opposite direction of the Everglades’ natural flow.

Backpumping would also reduce water available to Southeast Florida’s urbanized areas. Water that would otherwise go to Everglades and into aquifers to replenish them, would be diverted.

Sierra Club and other environmental groups recently wrote:  “…this shortsighted proposal undermines water quality efforts and investments, and will cause long-term harm to the Greater Everglades ecosystem, and the people and the economies that depend upon a healthy ecosystem.”

South Florida Water Management Governing Board is scheduled to vote on the measure on Thursday, August 9, in West Palm Beach.

For more information about the harmful impacts of backpumping, click here for a great Fact Sheet.

To help stop the pollution, contact Sierra Club Everglades Senior Organizer Jonathan Ullman at 305-860-9888 or

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Let Florida D.O.T. know you want safer streets and cleaner air.

Sierra Club - Explore, enjoy and protect the planet

kids in crosswalk
Take Action!
Florida is the most dangerous state in America to walk or ride a bike.1 Motorists in Florida kill more pedestrians than in any other state.

Governor Rick Scott's Department of Transportation (FL DOT) recognizes how serious this problem is. They're holding a series of listening sessions to get your ideas on how to make walking and biking safer in Florida. Unfortunately, these sessions are being held with very little notice and at times and locations that make it impossible for thousands of concerned Floridians to have their say.

Don't let them shut you out. Add your name to our letter to the Florida Department of Transportation letting them know that we want safe walking and biking improvements in our communities.

The new federal transportation bill recently passed by Congress now gives Rick Scott's Department of Transportation control of half of the funds allocated to Florida for safe walking and biking infrastructure. In recent years, this administration has rejected or shifted these funds for other purposes. We need to make sure our state's funds are used for their intended purpose -- our safety and the health of our environment.

Sign your name on our letter today and you'll send a strong message that Floridians are demanding safer streets and cleaner air.

The Florida Department of Transportation appears to be going through the motions to say they are listening to the people. But if people are excluded from these meetings that won't hold true. We need to make sure that everyone's voice is heard.

We'll be delivering our letter at each and every meeting across the state to let FL DOT know that we will have our say for safer communities, and we will be heard.

Thanks for all you do for the environment,

Britten Cleveland
Florida Healthy Air Campaign
Sierra Club

P.S. You can keep up to date with our Healthy Air Campaign on Facebook.
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Friday, July 20, 2012

National Environmental CEO's Ask EPA to Reject Florida's Nutrient Standards

American Rivers ● Clean Water Action Earthjustice Environment America Friends of the Earth Izaak Walton League of America League of Conservation Voters National Parks Conservation Association National Wildlife Federation Natural Resources Defense Council ● Physicians for Social Responsibility Sierra Club

July 19, 2012

The Honorable Lisa Jackson, Administrator     The Honorable Nancy Sutley, Chair
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency            White House Council on Environmental Quality
Ariel Rios, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.       722 Jackson Place N.W. Washington, DC 20004                          Washington, DC 20506

Dear Administrator Jackson and Chair Sutley,

As leaders of the nation’s largest environmental organizations concerned with public health and clean water, we write you on behalf of our millions of members and supporters to urge you to protect Florida’s waters from toxic algae outbreaks and disapprove Floridas proposed standards that fail to achieve that goal. This is both a regional and national imperative, as nitrogen and phosphorous pollution from sewage treatment plants, fertilizer and manure runoff, and other sources foul not only Florida’s waters but also rivers, streams, lakes, and beaches across the country.

Passage of the Clean Water Act forty years ago was one of the most important and popular environmental achievements in our history, creating a legacy of cleaner water in the United States. The growing numbers of toxic algae outbreaks in Florida and beyond demonstrates that the job of ending the pollution of the nations waters is still far from complete.  In Florida, 70 percent of freshwater springs have nutrient concentrations at least 500 percent higher than historic background concentrations.   Just last month, Northern Florida’s Santa Fe River experienced it’s first ever massive algae bloom along the most popular canoeing section of the river. Last month, Glades, Hendy, and Lee counties all issued public health advisories warning the public to stay out of the algae infested waters of the Caloosahatchee River in the southwest part of the state.

Reducing nutrient pollution is a critically important issue for the environmental community in Florida and it has been a long fought battle with polluting industries and their friends in state government to address it. EPA must act to protect Florida’s waters from toxic algae outbreaks to avoid economic impacts in addition to the environmental ones. Tourism at Florida’s famous beaches is vulnerable if swimming means risking respiratory distress from red tide toxins. Waterfront property owners are faced with Algae Alert” signs warning people not to swim in, drink, or eat fish from those waters, or even let their pets near the water. People who swam, fished, and went boating in these lakes, rivers, and streams as children are shocked by their current condition.

At issue today is whether EPA will approve Florida’s state standards. Governor Scotts administration is asking EPA to approve state rules written for the polluting industries.  While the state claims to have adopted EPA-approvable rules, it has not.  

We understand that a great deal of lobbying pressure is being applied to get EPA to approve Floridas standards.  We urge that you do not. At a minimum, EPA must look carefully at whether the state’s rules will meet acceptable pollution limits and protect Florida’s waters

As the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act approaches, EPA is asking the public Water, Is It Worth It?  We believe the answer in Florida and across the country is a resounding “Yes.”  EPA can demonstrate its commitment to clean water by ending toxic algae pollution in Florida.   We urge you to protect America’s legacy of clean water so that future generations may benefit from these important resources.

Thank you for your continued commitment to protecting our nation’s waters.


Trip Van Noppen 

Wm. Robert Irvin 
President and CEO 
American Rivers

Margie Alt 
Executive Directo
Environment America

Michael Brun
Executive Directo
Sierra Club

Robert Wendelgass 
President and CEO 
Clean Water Action

Erich Pica
Friends of the Earth

Frances Beinecke
Natural Resources Defense Council

Catherine Thomasson, M
Executive Director
Physicians for Social Responsibility

Thomas C. Kiernan
National Parks Conservation Association

Larry J. Schweiger
President and CEO
National Wildlife Federation

David W. Hoskins
Executive Director
Izaak Walton League of America

Gene Karpinski
League of Conservation Voters