Friday, March 18, 2016

State Lands Bill Passes

Despite the best efforts of Sierra Club Florida staff and volunteers the State Lands bill passed both chambers and will be sent to the Governor.   This is a disappointing outcome for the volunteers who lobbied their legislators to stop a key provision eliminating the requirement that conservation land management plans be consistent with the purposes for which the lands were acquired. Instead, the bill requires only that the plans be compatible with “conservation, recreation, or both.” Using the broad categories of “conservation” and “recreation” grants DEP significant discretion and may lead to incompatible uses such as grazing, timbering, hunting, and off road vehicle trails.

Every Floridian who enjoys our state parks will have to stay vigilant for news of land management plan updates in their area and keep a sharp eye on proposals for inappropriate activities on conservation lands, particularly in our state parks. 
The legislation - HB 1075 by Rep. Caldwell and SB 1290 by Sen. Simpson - contained multiple controversial issues when it was filed. While Sierra Club Florida opposed the final version of the bill, it was far better when it passed than when it started.  The bill is particularly important because its policies will affect land held by the State of Florida including  3,146,040 acres of conservation land, 800,000 acres of which are state parks. 

The issues in the bill fell into four categories:

  • using Amendment 1 funds for construction of infrastructure,
  • surplusing lands,
  • exchanging state land in return for permanent conservation easements on privately-held contiguous land and on the state land with the potential loss of public access, and
  • changing the management of land from the current requirement that it be consistent with the purpose for which it was purchased to being compatible with conservation or recreational purposes.

Representatives of the environmental community met with the sponsors and staff and were able to arrive at mutually agreeable language on some issues.  The sponsors agreed to strike the section of the bill that would have allowed the use of Amendment 1 funds for “construction of treatment, transmission, or distribution facilities.” 

The sponsors also agreed to clarify that when land management plans are updated, only lands that might be suitable for surplusing would have to be identified as such instead of the original language that required lands be identified for consideration for surplusing in every plan update.  Finally, the section of the bill that would have required conservation land to be considered for surplusing if it had not met its short-term goals (2 years) was changed to bring the acquisition and restoration council (ARC) into the process to look at whether the goals were appropriate, whether the managing entity should be changed, or if surplusing should be considered.

The section of the bill dealing with the exchange of state land in return for permanent conservation easements on both the state land and contiguous private property also saw some improvements: the exchange had to result in a net-positive conservation benefit and the ARC was again brought into the process and required to make recommendations.  However, neither Sierra Club Florida nor the Conservancy for Southwest Florida were able to get an explicit requirement that the ARC recommendation include consideration of whether the exchange was a net-positive conservation benefit.  We were also unable to get state parks and preserves exempted from the land exchange section – a particular concern because of the potential loss of public access.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Cattle grazing in state parks? Call your Senator to stop it

Florida Chapter

Take Action
Bill could open up state parks to cattle grazing, timbering, hunting or worse. 
Photo: Murray Grey cows and calves, Walcha, NSW 
We urgently need you to call your state Senator. A bill is headed to the Senate floor that would remove key environmental protections for Florida State Parks and threaten the use and enjoyment for all Floridians. 

SB 1290 passed out of its last committee last Thursday and could be brought to the floor of the Senate on Monday. March 7. Please call your Senator and urge him or her to vote 'No' unless SB 1290 is amended to:

•      Exclude our state parks and preserves from the land exchange provision. These important lands must not be given up to private use in exchange for conservation easements that could well eliminate public access 

Require land management plans to remain consistent with the purposes for which they were acquired. DEP's goal of requiring land management plans to be compatible with conservation or recreation purposes or both potentially opens our parks and other conservation lands to inappropriate uses like hunting, logging, grazing, and off road vehicles. 'Conservation' and 'recreation' are broad categories and the purposes the lands were acquired for may be much narrower. The bill's language grants DEP too much discretion.

This is the last real chance to impact this bill. The House and Senate versions are the same and could be sent to the Governor next week. Please call your Senator nowtell them where you live and that you vote.

Call your Senator now:
Sen. Joseph Abruzzo
Consists of part of Palm Beach county
Sen. Thad Altman
Consists of parts of Brevard, Indian River counties
Sen. Aaron  Bean
Consists of Nassau county and part of Duval county
Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto
Consists of parts of Charlotte, Lee counties
Sen. Rob Bradley
Consists of Alachua, Bradford, Clay counties
Sen. Jeff Brandes
Consists of parts of Hillsborough, Pinellas counties
Sen. Oscar Braynon
Consists of parts of Broward, Miami-Dade counties
Sen. Dwight Bullard
Consists of Hendry, Monroe counties and parts of Collier, Miami-Dade counties
Sen. Jeff Clemens
Consists of part of Palm Beach county
Sen. Charles Dean
Consists of Baker, Citrus, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Levy, Suwannee, Union counties and part of Marion county
Sen. Nancy Detert
Consists of Sarasota county and part of Charlotte county
Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla
Consists of part of Miami-Dade county
Sen. Greg Evers
Consists of Escambia, Santa Rosa counties and part of Okaloosa county
Sen. Anitere Flores
Consists of part of Miami-Dade county
Sen. Don Gaetz
Consists of Bay, Holmes, Jackson, Walton, Washington counties and part of Okaloosa county
Sen. Bill Galvano
Consists of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee counties and parts of Charlotte, Highlands, Hillsborough, Manatee counties
Sen. Rene Garcia
Consists of part of Miami-Dade county
Sen. Andy  Gardiner
Consists of parts of Brevard, Orange counties
Sen. Audrey Gibson
Consists of part of Duval county
Sen. Denise Grimsley
Consists of Okeechobee county and parts of Highlands, Martin, Osceola, Polk, St. Lucie counties
Sen. Alan Hays
Consists of parts of Lake, Marion, Orange, Sumter counties
Sen. Dorothy Hukill
Consists of parts of Lake, Marion, Volusia counties
Sen. Travis Hutson
Consists of Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns counties and part of Volusia county
Sen. Arthenia Joyner
Consists of parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas counties
Sen. Jack Latvala
Consists of part of Pinellas county
Sen. Tom Lee
Consists of part of Hillsborough county
Sen. John Legg
Consists of parts of Hillsborough, Pasco counties
Sen. Gwen Margolis
Consists of part of Miami-Dade county
Sen. Bill Montford
Consists of Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Hamilton, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Taylor, Wakulla counties
Sen. Joe Negron
Consists of parts of Indian River, Martin, Palm Beach, St. Lucie counties
Sen. Garrett Richter
Consists of parts of Collier, Lee counties
Sen. Jeremy Ring
Consists of part of Broward county
Sen. Maria Sachs
Consists of parts of Broward, Palm Beach counties
Sen. David Simmons
Consists of Seminole county and part of Volusia county
Sen. Wilton Simpson
Consists of Hernando county and parts of Pasco, Sumter counties
Sen. Christopher Smith
Consists of part of Broward county
Sen. Eleanor Sobel
Consists of part of Broward county
Sen. Darren Soto
Consists of parts of Orange, Osceola, Polk counties
Sen. Kelli Stargel
Consists of parts of Orange, Osceola, Polk counties
Sen. Geraldine Thompson
Consists of part of Orange county

Thank you for taking action and for all you do for Florida's environment!

Dave Cullen

Sierra Club Florida

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

What does fracking in Oklahoma have to do with Florida?

- by Chris Cooney, attorney, and Diana Csank, attorney for Sierra Club

At first glance, you wouldn’t see the connection between earthquakes in Oklahoma and Florida’s electric power supply. But the recent decision by state regulators to allow Florida Power and Light (FPL) to take money from ratepayers for a natural gas fracking project in Oklahoma[1] is just one example of the Sunshine State’s profoundly unwise natural gas policies putting profits before people.

FPL’s move to frack in Oklahoma couldn’t come at a worse time. Fracking’s rise in Oklahoma has led to 300 times the number of magnitude 3 or greater earthquakes than there have been historically.[2] 

Graph showing a rapid rise in earthquakes in Oklahoma, from 50 in 2009 to over 5,000 last year.
Source: Public Justice via

The quakes have already seriously disrupted local communities:

“[W]e met dozens of rural home owners last summer who literally cried telling me their stories—until you are awakened every night for months on end because an earthquake woke you up, you cannot imagine the psychological toll this is taking on our citizens.”
   - Johnson Bridgwater, Director of the Sierra Club Oklahoma Chapter[3]

Property damage from the earthquakes is also on the rise, including a 5.6 magnitude quake that damaged a church, requiring more than $2 million in repairs.[4]

Moreover, the quakes threaten catastrophic environmental harm, mainly through the inevitable rupture of the storage and transportation infrastructure for hazardous materials.[5]

Cushing, Oklahoma faces a particularly acute threat from earthquakes. Much of this oil hub, with its network of pipes and oil storage tanks, was built in the 1920’s, when the hazards of significant earthquakes were not part of safety designs.[6] Because oil prices are currently low, producers have been storing more and more oil in Cushing—approximately 55 million barrels at last count—and a major earthquake nearby could land Cushing in the disastrous ranks of Aliso Canyon and Deepwater Horizon.

The cause of these earthquakes is not in dispute.  Even state geologists and the Governor of the traditionally industry friendly state are on the record confirming that the quakes are a result of wastewater injection from drilling and fracking.[7]
Source:  US Geological Society   Research has identified 17 areas in the central and eastern United States with increased rates of induced seismicity. Since 2000, several of these areas have experienced high levels of seismicity, with substantial increases since 2009 that continue today.

Because to date Oklahoma has proposed partial mitigation measures including voluntary compliance by industry, Sierra Club filed a suit in federal court to stop frackers from re-injecting their wastewater in Oklahoma.  You can read more about the suit here.

As even Oklahoma is starting to acknowledge and address fracking’s hazards, it is time for the Scott Administration and the Florida Legislature to do so.  It is time to finally rein in natural gas over-reliance[8] by abandoning the dangerous gambit to open Florida to more fracking, and by taking down barriers to clean energy resources like solar, wind, energy efficiency, and storage at record low prices.

Thankfully, this year, pro-fracking legislation met strong opposition, backed up by nearly 80 local government bans on fracking.[9]  Just yesterday, the Florida Senate rejected a bill that would have stripped the power from these same local governments to regulate fracking and conventional oil and gas drilling.[10]

Such pro-fracking policies are particularly unwise when clean energy is so cheap and abundant.  We need look no farther than Florida’s municipal utilities for evidence; they are adding solar to the grid at five times the speed of the big investor-owned utilities—FPL, Duke, Gulf, and TECO—because solar is so cheap.  In fact, last summer, Orlando procured solar for 7 cents/kWh—less than energy from coal and natural gas power plants (8 cents/kWh), and exerting downward pressure on rates (10 cents/kWh).[11]

While there can no longer be any honest dispute about the economic and environmental case for clean energy investments—to be sure, natural gas is far from clean—the costs and risks of using natural gas are only growing.  Indeed, less than a year after FPL persuaded state regulators that its Oklahoma project would save Floridians as much as $100 million over 50 years, FPL has revised that down by a half and has given no assurance the project will not end up in the red.[12] 

Tallahassee has an even worse record of approving massive, multi-billion dollar natural gas power plants[13] and a so-called hedging program, all of which puts the profits of the state’s biggest monopolistic utilities before people. The hedging program alone cost Floridians $6 billion from 2002 up to an including 2015, [14] while insulating those big utilities from the costs and risks of their bad decisions to double down on natural gas.  Think of all the solar, wind, energy efficiency and storage we could have bought for $6 billion!

So not only is fracking directly putting lives in danger in Oklahoma and across the Southeast, it’s a terrible deal for Florida ratepayers. Fracking needlessly exposes Floridians to higher priced power while also robbing us of the wide-ranging benefits of clean energy resources.

We must not relent in our fight against fracking in Florida!

[3] Id.
[11] Sierra Club letter of December 12, 2015, available at

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Fracking Bill is Dead! NEXT UP: Calls Needed on State Lands Bills


Take ActionLast week, we told you the fracking bill SB 318 was voted down in the Senate Appropriations Committee and declared victory.  Well,it's never over 'til it's over.

An attempt to resurrect the bill this afternoon failed when its sponsor Senator Garrett Richter asked the Committee not to reconsider the bill.   

"I didn't have the votes despite working all weekend to try to get Sens to flip," a frustrated Senator Richter told a Miami Herald reporter after he pulled the bill.  "The opponents 'got what they wanted."

Under Senate rules, the bill can't be brought back for consideration this year.  NOW IT'S DEAD!

It's a tremendous victory for the thousands of concerned Floridians who called their Florida Legislators over the past month asking them to oppose this harmful bill.

Pop the cork on a bottle of your favorite beverage, but not yet!  


Your help is needed TODAY to make a quick call to your Representative contact info here.  

House Bill 1075, the State Lands Bill, is on the special order calendar for a vote on the House floor TOMORROW, Wednesday, March 2.  

Ask your Representative to vote no on HB 1075 unless the bill is amended to keep the provision in existing law requiring that state lands be managed for the purposes for which they were acquired The bill would allow Florida DEP to change the purpose of a state park to include other uses, such as timbering, cattle grazing, hunting, golf courses, and RV Parks.