Monday, August 29, 2016

Hundreds gather at Summit to take Big Stand against Big Sugar

More than 250 people attended Big Sugar Summit 2 in West Palm Beach
Photo by Leonard Durham Bryant, Jr.
More than 250 people crowded into a packed ballroom last week to hear experts and activists deliver the uncoated truth about the sugar industry at the Big Sugar Summit 2 in West Palm Beach. In the day-long conference, 36 speakers in eight breakout session, ranging from the politics of Big Sugar to the economics of the Everglades Agricultural Area, gave insight into one of the most influential and polluting industries in America.

New voices and perspectives shared at this year’s summit sent an undeniable message to Big Sugar, and all those in attendance, that the grassroots movement against Big Sugar’s corruption has broadened and strengthened.

Sierra Club Florida Director Frank Jackalone kicked off the Summit with a talk called “Winners and Losers (for now)” It focused on industry’s owners, its global ambitions, and its influence on Federal and State policy. He contrasted the billionaire winners with the financially-struggling communities around Lake Okeechobee, ravaged coastal cities and a dying Everglades.
Charles Kropke or Tropic Moon Holdings.
Photo by Leonard Durham Bryant, Jr.

Documentary maker and tour operator Charles Kropke of Tropic Moon Holdings, then gave a presentation on the natural history of the Everglades ecosystem and Florida Bay. He compared the old “river of grass” to its current state and how development, lack of fresh water flowing south, and Big Sugar’s industrial farming practices in the EAA threaten the future of the vital Everglades ecosystem.

Captain Mike Connor of laid out the devastating economic toll the blue-green algae blooms have had on the fishing and tourism industries on the coasts in the past few years culminating in guacamole-thick algae making international headlines this summer. He described how the once world class fisheries of the St. Lucie Estuary and Florida Bay have been depleted by massive fish kills and a near ecological collapse because of the ongoing water quality crisis. He said business owners like himself, who have relied on the waterways for their livelihoods, are now being forced to either move or shut down while Big Sugar continues to profit and block long term solutions to the continuous discharges.

South Bay activist Kina Phillips
Photo by Wolfram Alderson
The audience experienced the most emotional speech of the day when South Bay community activist and Stop Sugar Field Burning team member Kina Phillips spoke about the negative effects sugar cane burning has on the health and quality of life for citizens within the Glades communities in Western Palm Beach County. She pointed out the injustice of how current burning restrictions only prevent burning when the wind blows from the west towards eastern Palm Beach County, but no protection at all is in place when winds blow smoke and ash upon the Glades communities in the western part. Kina said her community will no longer remain silent to such injustice.  She described how the campaign aims to pressure the Big Sugar to become a better neighbor to the residents of the Glades communities by adopting green-harvesting, a smoke-free harvest method that would protect Glades community residents and bring new economic opportunity to the region. Her speech ended to the backdrop of thunderous applause as she encouraged attendees to “have a voice and a choice” and sign the newly released Western Palm Beach County Stop Sugar Field Burning Petition.

Miccosukee Tribe Water Quality Director Gene Duncan said the tribe used its sovereign authority to become the first region in the Country to set water quality standards for phosphorous, long before similar standards were adopted by Florida. He said action is needed to reduce nutrients throughout the Everglades watershed.

Mary Barley, left, says voters should reject
those in the pocket of Big Sugar.
Photo by Leonard Durham Bryant, Jr.
Mary Barley, chairwoman of the Everglades Trust, touted the success of the Now or Neverglades declaration which has urged politicians to act in favor of Floridians and not Big Sugar interests. She lauded Senator Negron’s recent EAA land purchase proposal as a positive example of grassroots efforts fueling bipartisan political will. She urged the public to vote for clean water supporters, regardless of party affiliation.

Leslie Fields, director of the Sierra Club’s National Environmental Justice Program, expressed how touched she was by her tour of the Glades communities the previous day. She explained how shocked she was to find out sugar cane burning took place right up to the fences of elementary schools and people’s backyards in South Bay. She tied in similarities of the Stop Sugar Field Burning Campaign to her environmental justice work done elsewhere in the nation with poor minority communities such as in New Orleans. She emphasized the importance of incorporating just transition work into environmental campaigns to ensure economic support for displaced workers coincides with campaign goals. Just transition, as Leslie described, is about solidarity and ensuring no single community bears all the burdens or reaps all the benefits.

Clean water activist Betty Osceola
Photo by Leonard Durham Bryant, Jr.
The audience also fanned out to break out panels, which included Sugar Field Burning, the St. Lucie Estuary, the Caloosahatchee Estuary, Everglades National Park/Florida Bay, Political Influence on the State/Local Level, the Federal Sugar Program, the Economic Future of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), and Health Impacts. The panels provided a great educational opportunity where each attendee was able to attend two different panels, listen to experts give brief presentations, and participate in detailed discussions regarding the panel specific topics.

There was also an "open-mic" session and a "taking it home" session, in which audience members received information and resources to spread the word and build the coalition.

Sierra Club's Frank Jackalone closed the Summit by reflecting upon how much stronger the movement against Big Sugar has grown since last year’s Big Sugar Summit. With the launching of new teams, new petitions, and the inclusion of new perspectives into the movement, the summit ended in an atmosphere of optimism for the future where everyone left knowing the movement is growing stronger and all present had taken a big stand against Big Sugar.

To join our sugar campaign, send an email to with your phone number, address and area of interest.

-- Patrick Ferguson, Organizing Representative, Sierra Club

Watch: Trying to find a solution to algae problem, WPTV NBC Channel 5, West Palm Beach

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sierra Club, Flint Riverkeeper, and Gulf Restoration Network file Federal Lawsuit to Block Construction of Massive Fracked Gas Sabal Trail Pipeline

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

 Groups file Federal Lawsuit to Block Construction of Massive Fracked Gas Pipeline in Alabama, Georgia and Florida
Pipeline Project Threatens Drinking Water for 10 Million People

ATLANTA, GA – Today, Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), Flint Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its issuance of three Clean Water Act permits that would allow construction of the 515-mile Florida Southeast Market Pipelines Project, including the Sabal Trail pipeline. This project would transport fracked gas across 699 waterbodies, lakes, rivers, and streams and harm 1,958 wetland systems in three states: Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. 

In addition, the project would include five compressor stations contributing significant amounts of air pollution. That station would rest in the midst of a predominantly African-American neighborhood, which includes two large subdivisions, a mobile home park, schools, recreational facilities, and a church. Despite widespread local opposition to the project, state and federal agencies are continuing to proceed.

If built, the fracked gas pipeline would extend throughout Florida and southern Georgia over an area that provides drinking water to approximately 10 million people. Pipeline construction alone poses a threat to local water resources as the process threatens to release hazardous materials and drilling mud into the aquifer, polluting the drinking water, and resulting in rapid transmission of drilling mud over great distances.

GRN, Flint Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club alleges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to provide proper notice and public participation. The lawsuit further charges that the planned pipeline fails to avoid, minimize or mitigate the adverse environmental impacts. Proponents contend Sabal Trail will supply gas for future gas plants proposed in Florida, including the Duke Energy Citrus Combined-Cycle Plant and the Florida Power & Light Martin Energy Center. Yet groups question the purpose and need for this pipeline for gas plants and other potential uses.  More fracked gas infrastructure is unnecessary in light of alternative sources of clean, low cost, low risk energy like wind and solar.

“Communities in Florida and Georgia have clearly stated that they do not want this dangerous fracked-gas pipeline polluting their water or their neighborhoods. We have collected 25,000 signatures in opposition to the pipeline, but the Army Corps is just not listening,” said Johanna DeGraffenreid with Gulf Restoration Network. “The public has continually been left out of the decision making process for this project and that is unacceptable. Our water and communities are too important to risk for an unnecessary pipeline.”

As stated by Steve Caley, Legal Director at GreenLaw, “the Floridan Aquifer, one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world which supplies drinking water to millions of people in the southeastern United States, has a close connection to the water bodies and wetlands that will be negatively impacted or destroyed by the Southeast Market Pipelines Project.  Given the threats this Project poses to this critical water supply, the Corps’ failure to follow clearly established law by transparently evaluating and disclosing for public review and comment how those negative effects will be mitigated is particularly egregious.”

“The Corps robbed the public of their right to comment by not making the mitigation plan available for review during the public comment period,” said Jim Hecker, Environmental Enforcement Director at Public Justice, which is representing the groups.  “The Corps assumed that mitigation can offset all of the project’s impacts, but that key assumption was never scrutinized during the permit review process.”

“Essentially what happened is the Corps stated FERC addressed mitigation while FERC stated the Corps would do it. As a result, neither agency analyzed the issue and the public had no chance to review and comment on it,” said Eric Huber, managing attorney for the Sierra Club. “To make matters worse, the Corps was aware of several less damaging routes but did not choose them, causing unnecessary destruction to wetlands through the heart of southern Georgia and Florida.”

“Florida does not need more fracked gas infrastructure or gas plants,” said Frank Jackalone, Director of Sierra Club Florida. “The state already has the worst gas over-reliance problem in the country. It's time to solve that problem by capturing the tremendous economic and environmental benefits of clean energy including energy efficiency, solar, wind, and battery storage.”

GRN, Flint Riverkeeper and Sierra Club are represented by Jim Hecker at Public Justice in Washington, DC and Steve Caley at Greenlaw in Atlanta, Georgia.

Jonathon Berman, Sierra Club,
Raleigh Hoke, Gulf Restoration Network,
Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, Sierra Club,


About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. For more information, visit

Sierra Club | 2101 Webster St., Suite 1300 Oakland, CA 94612 |

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Just released! Full agenda for Big Sugar Summit 2 on Aug. 20, 2016 in West Palm Beach. Register now!

Here's the FULL AGENDA for Big Sugar Summit 2 
in West Palm Beach on Sat., Aug. 20, 2016.

Register by clicking HERE. Hurry, seating is limited!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Praise for Senator Negron's Plan to Buy the Land and Send the Water South


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Florida Senator Joe Negron
Today, Florida Senate President-designate Joe Negron announced a plan to restore the Everglades by buying 60,000 acres of sugar land in the Everglades Agricultural Area to store water and send it south using Amendment 1 money to finance the state’s contribution.

Statement by Sierra Club Florida Director Frank Jackalone:

We applaud Senator Negron’s bold leadership to truly find a solution to the algae crisis and help restore America’s Everglades. Senator Negron’s plan proposes a significant amount of land for the water storage and treatment needed to protect our communities and to restore the natural flow of the Everglades from Lake Okeechobee south to Florida Bay while replenishing our aquifers.

This proposed purchase will leave most of the farm land in the Everglades Agricultural Area intact while adding thousands of well-paying construction jobs. It will keep Lake Okeechobee from spilling over during the rainy season and protect the lives of those who live next to the Herbert Hoover Dike. At the same time, it will provide an additional 120 billion gallons of water storage that will protect our coasts from massive marine die-offs and the unprecedented threats to human health from nutrient-loaded Lake Okeechobee discharges.

Sierra Club will review all aspects of Senator Negron's proposal as details materialize, but this appears to be a major breakthrough. 

Circled in RED:  Senator Negron 
proposed  two areas south of Lake 
Okeechobee to store excess  water
before moving it to the Everglades.
We urge Governor Scott and the Legislature to adopt Senator Negron’s plan to end this crisis and to immediately join the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as sponsors of the planning process for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee. Following Senator Negron's lead, Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature can restore the Everglades, end the algae crisis along our coasts, and build a stronger economy in the Glades communities.