Thursday, December 17, 2015

EPA says Sabal Trail pipeline is threat to Florida's drinking water, then recants

The Sierra Club strongly opposes any oil and gas pipelines proposed for Florida. Currently we are working in opposition to the Sabal Trail Pipeline, a joint venture of Spectra Energy, Duke Energy and Next Era, the parent company of Florida Power & Light Co.

Map of the Sabal Trail gas pipeline in Florida
The pipeline is slated to originate in Alabama, run through Georgia and run 266.8 miles through parts of north and central Florida, to end in Osceola County at the Southeast Connector Project. Three compressor stations are proposed for Suwannee, Marion and Osceola counties, with pipeline proposed to run through Alachua, Hamilton, Suwannee, Gilchrist, Levy, Marion, Sumter, Lake, Polk, Osceola, Orange and Citrus Counties.

The proposed path of the pipeline will run through environmentally sensitive areas including the Green Swamp, over Florida’s springs, drilled under rivers and will cross nearly 100 acres of state parks, state forests and state recreation trails, not to mention its potential to drastically impact the Floridan aquifer.

In April, 2015, Sierra Club Florida filed an emergency petition with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeking designation of the Floridan Aquifer as a Sole Source Aquifer (SSA) under the EPA’s Sole Source Aquifer Protection Program. The emergency petition would protect Florida’s drinking water and put a roadblock to building of the pipeline.

On November 21st, 2014 Sabal Trail filed an application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the lead agency reviewing the proposed project. On September 3, 2015, FERC issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement to assess the potential environmental effects of the pipeline (Update: Final EIS released 12/18/15. Sierra Club Florida, in partnership with the Alabama and Georgia Chapters, and represented by Green Law, submitted joint comments to FERC in opposition to the proposed pipeline. In October, EPA wrote a 30 page letter to FERC, stating it had “very significant concerns” about the proposed route of the Sabal Trail Pipeline and the impact it will have on wetlands. Further, EPA cited the Sierra Club petition for SSA in is comments and strongly recommended an alternative route for the pipeline to avoid impacts to the Floridan Aquifer. FERC must issue a permit before the Sabal Trail Pipeline can be built. They are expected to issue their final ruling in March, 2016.

On December 11th however, EPA reversed its course on the pipeline when a different division of EPA said the wetlands-related issue was addressed after it met with Sabal Trail Management officials. In response, Frank Jackalone, senior organizing manager, Sierra Club of Florida, questioned the “about face” in such a short time and said, “I smell a skunk.” Further, Jackalone stated “This was really bold. There was a very detailed analysis of why the pipeline was flawed in the 30-page letter by the EPA to FERC. Now suddenly in a five-page letter, James Giattina (an EPA administrator) throws it all out the window.”

Back in Florida, after the EPA issued its scathing report, the WWALS Watershed Coalition asked a Florida administrative law judge to take judicial notice of the EPA objections. But the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) joined Sabal Trail Transmission LLC, the company proposing the pipeline, and objected to the judicial notice. The Administrative Law Judge denied the Coalition’s request and on December 11th, the judge recommended that DEP should issue an environmental resource permit for the proposed pipeline.

Sabal Trail Transmission LLC must also acquire a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act before the pipeline can be built. Sierra Club Florida, working with the Gulf Restoration Network and Green Law recently submitted comments in opposition to the Sabal Trail Pipeline to the U.S Army Corps of Engineers.

We will continue to do everything we can to oppose the Sabal Trail Pipeline and will keep our Members posted about ways you can take action to oppose the Pipeline.

-- Stephanie Kunkel

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Final push for Floridians for Solar Choice petition

The Sunshine State is currently one of only four states that prohibits citizens from being able to purchase electricity from anyone other than a utility. Because of this prohibition, Floridians are unable to access clean, homegrown energy sources such as solar.

Floridians for Solar Choice launched a ballot initiative to allow consumers the option to power their homes or businesses with solar power. For more information on the Solar Choice initiative, please visit

For the past several months, the Sierra Club has been actively working to help Floridians for Solar Choice collect enough petition signatures to place the solar initiative on the ballot. Sierra Club members and volunteers across Florida have been working to collect petition signatures of Club members and their friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. Because of you, Floridians for Solar Choice is about 80% of the way towards the required number of verified petition signatures.

But the utilities have launched their own counter petition, called Consumers for Smart Solar in an effort to confuse voters. Utilities want to control the solar market and maintain the status quo when it comes to solar energy, and are using petition gatherers to confuse voters into signing their ballot initiative over the one we support.  

We have a short window to ensure the truly “smart” solar initiative makes the November ballot and we need your help in the final push to the finish line! Petition signatures must be verified by the Florida Division of Elections by February 1st, 2016 in order to make the November ballot. If you haven’t already, please visit to download and sign the petition by December 31st. Once you’ve signed the petition ask five friends to sign it as well. Together, we can place this amendment on the ballot to expand renewable energy in the Sunshine State.

To download the petition, click here.

-- Stephanie Kunkel

Lakelanders deliver petitions for clean energy, not coal

Petitions delivered to city commission
On December 7, just over a dozen Lakelanders delivered petitions demanding clean energy and the closure of one of the last coal plants in the state. 

Activists delivered more than 720 petitions to the City Commission, which acts as the board of directors for the City's utility, Lakeland Electric.  McIntosh 3, the only coal burning plant in Lakeland, puts around two million tons of carbon pollution into the air every year in addition to all the other toxic chemicals the community intakes on a daily basis.

Waiting to enter city chambers with petitions
Sierra Club was joined by the NAACP, Leaders from St. David's Episcopal Church, The Enactus at Florida Southern College, and other allies in the community.   The coalition held signs saying "You don't want coal in your stockings, so why would you want it in your lungs."  Also little stockings of "not coal" were given to the City Commissioners, asking them to find an alternative.
Fr. Robert Moses wants clean energy now

The press was out in force to cover the story, with camera crews from Bay News 9, ABC Action News, NBC- WFLA (Tampa), CBS Tampa, and Univision.  The Lakeland Ledger also ran a piece the following day.  It's clear that this is a critical issue to Lakeland, and the people demand leadership.

Florida Rallies for Paris Climate Agreement

St Petersburg Rally

On November 28 and 29, Floridians joined people from all around the world, in more than 200 countries, to rally in support of the Paris talks to fight climate change. The talks ended in an agreement last week, which Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune called "a turning point for humanity.

In the Tampa Bay area, hundreds of climate activists joined rallies in St. Petersburg and across the bay in Tampa. 

At the Tampa Rally, Andrew Rock, from the Tampa Bay Climate Action Network, asked that elected officials stop the partisanship and work together to solve the world's biggest crisis. 

Tampa Rally (photo credit WFLA)
Sierra Club's Tampa Bay Group Chair Kent Bailey said sea level rise is already affecting his boating experience on Tampa Bay.  Dr. Lynn Ringenberg, Florida president of the Physicians for Social Responsibility, urged Florida leaders to create a strong Clean Power Plan to cut our carbon.

French Consul Karine Aumon in Miami accepts a letter
urging strong global carbon reductions.
(Source: Jon Ullman)
In Miami, activists led by 350 South Florida marched over to the French Consulate on Brickell Avenue and presented a letter of support of the COP21 talks to Deputy Consul Karine Aumont.

Sierra Club's Jonathan Ullman was quoted by WLRN saying he hoped that COP21 will lead to meaningful action.  "We'd like to see a strong agreement...We'd like to see there be a set of commitments to reduce carbon, to achieve the levels scientists say are necessary to avoid a climate catastrophe."

WFLA's coverage of the Tampa Rally.
WLRN's coverage of the Miami Rally.

Here's a video from the November 28 march in St. Petersburg:

Climate March, St. Petersburg, Florida from green thing on Vimeo.

And here's a video reading the letter to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius and coverage from all the Florida rallies:

Organizations and businesses demand water pollution fix in 2016

On December 9, at simultaneous press conferences, clean water activists representing Sierra Club and other Floridians’ Clean Water Declaration campaign coalition partners, delivered a letter signed by 106 organizations and businesses to Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, calling for real protection of the state’s imperiled waterways.  The letter urges all of Florida’s state legislators to amend the 2016 water bills, SB 552 and HB 7005.

These bills do not satisfy the needs of our waters and neglect many opportunities to create water policies that serve the public’s interest. Various regulated industries, agriculture, and their lobbyists are leading a retreat from protective policies and are instead relying on the same tools that have, for decades, failed Florida’s citizens and our waters.

The letter suggests twelve key areas of concern, which can be remedied by amendments.

“They are not done yet” said Maria Bolton-Joubert of the Central Florida Sierra Club, at the event in Orlando. “The legislature needs to roll up its sleeves and get to work fixing the problems in these bills.”

The Orlando crowd delivered a poster-sized copy of the letter, with all 106 signatures, to the senator’s aide and asked that Senate President Gardiner not only consider the list of concerns but also act to remedy them.

In addition to the office visits, dozens of activists gathered in front of Glen Springs in Gainesville. "We're not being careful, we're not conserving, we're not being efficient in our use of water and our use of fertilizer," said Bob Knight, Director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute.

“Some parts of this legislation work against, not toward, water conservation and protection of groundwater and surface water” said Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Senior Organizing Manager. "If we don't act as citizens right now, we're going to have a bill that controls the fate of our water supply and water quality for decades to come."

Signatories to the letter are calling for legislation that ensures conservation; long-term protection of Florida’s springs, rivers, estuaries and aquifers; and rapid restoration of imperiled waterways, because clean, plentiful water is the linchpin for Florida’s public, environmental, and economic health.

Press coverage of the events and the letter included stories by The Gainesville Sun, Florida Today, and the Palm Beach Post; TV news stations Channel 20 (Gainesville) and Channel 9 (Orlando); and post-event editorials in The Gainesville Sun and the Ocala Star Banner.

What can you do?

The Water Bills, SB 552 Environmental Resources by Sen. Dean and the companion bill, HB 7005 by Rep. Caldwell, are ready to go to the floor the first week of the legislative session that starts Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. Between now and then is our last chance to get these bills amended to do what they are supposed to do.  Your State Representative and Senator will be in the home district from now until Friday, Jan. 8 and they need to hear from you via phone calls, emails and personal visits about how to improve the bills. 

Familiarize your legislators and the members of your county’s legislative delegation with these amendments that address the deficiencies cited in the attached letter signed by 106 organizations and businesses (including Sierra Club Florida).  The amendments are drafted to SB 552 and are listed in the order in which they will appear in the bill. 

Individual voters can take action to send the same message to their own legislators: Please consider submitting a letter-to-the-editor to your local newspaper urging your state representative and senator to give Florida the holiday gift it really needs - an amended water bill.  Or urge legislators to make a New Year's resolution to amend the bill! Florida needs leadership on water issues and the choices our legislators make now will determine the future of our water resources – please add your voice to the call to get the water bills right!

Action Summary:

1. Call and email your state representative and senator. (For contact info click on the words and type in address or zip code.)
2. Set up an appointment to meet them in the district now until Jan. 8 (Their address is on their contact page. See above.)
3. Tell them to support these amendments to the bills. Print them out.
4. Write a letter to your local newspaper  asking for stronger water bills and urging your legislators to support the amendments. Read this letter for talking points. You can also talk about a local water body you care about that is threatened by pollution.

Click here for more photos and information on the Floridians’ Clean Water Declaration campaign.

-- Cris Costello and Dave Cullen

Saturday, December 5, 2015

PRESS ADVISORY: December 9 press events to ask Senate President Gardiner, House Speaker Crisafulli for clean water fix

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Cris Costello, Sierra Club, 941-914-0421 (cell)


100 plus organizations and businesses from Panhandle to the Keys ask Senate President Gardiner, House Speaker Crisafulli for clean water fix

Simultaneous press conferences to be held at legislative leadership offices and at Glen Springs/Ring Park in Gainesville.

When: Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Press conference: 11:00 am; delivery at 11:20 am

Where:  Office of Senate President Andy Gardiner
1013 East Michigan Street, Orlando, FL 32806

Local contact:  Katie Tripp, Save the Manatee Club, 407-539-0990

Merritt Island
When:  Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Press conference: 11:00 am; delivery at 11:20 am

Where:  Office of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli
2460 North Courtenay Parkway, Merritt Island, FL 32953-4193

Local contact:  Phil Stasik, Space Coast Progressive Alliance, 321-455-2221

Where:  Ring Park, 1801 NW 23rd Blvd. Gainesville, FL 32601

Local contact:  Maryvonne Devensky, Sierra Club, 352-871-1606; Whitey Markle, Sierra Club, 352-595-5131

What:  Dozens of civic groups and businesses will simultaneously gather in front of the district offices of Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Crisafulli and Glen Springs to ask for leadership to strengthen water legislation that fails to protect state’s water bodies and endangers human health.  Delivery of the letter to Senate President Gardiner and House Speaker Crisafulli offices will immediately follow the press conference.

Why:  Florida’s world-class lakes, rivers, and springs and estuaries are in declining health. Our state’s shimmering waters have turned green and many are making us sick. This has had a severe impact on our environment, local businesses and property values.

New House and Senate water bills (HB 7005 and SB 552) fall far short of what is needed to reverse this trend and local businesses and residents can no longer afford to wait.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Gardner have the power to change that. They can allow amendments to the bills when the new session begins in January that would strengthen the bills to do the job.

**VISUALS** Signs, photos, posters, and delivery of letter in Merritt Island and Orlando.