Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sierra Club says Trump Administration's Panther population estimates are inflated

The Trump Administration's Fish and Wildlife Service
is reviewing the status of the Florida Panther.
The Trump Administration's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether or not to keep the Florida Panther's endangered status under the Endangered Species Act. But Sierra Club attorneys say the government's flawed population estimates are far too high.

Many developers and ranchers want the big cat taken off the endangered list.

The Florida Panther has been on the federal endangered list since the list began in 1967. There were only 20-30 panthers in the mid-1990s, when Texas cougars were brought in to mate.

Sierra Club in comments said the best available scientific information shows that the Panther population was at most 139 in 2015. It also says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's estimate of up to 230 panthers is based on incorrect methodology and according to the best available scientific information, there is only one panther population, not the two required for downlisting. Meanwhile, in 2015 and 2016, 84 were killed, mostly on roads. So far, 22 panthers have died this year, 17 by vehicles.

The Sierra Club's official comments  detailing why the Florida Panther should not be downlisted can be read here.

Here are four reasons why we must continue to classify the Florida Panther as endangered:

1.     The size and distribution of the Florida panther population is insufficient to downlist the status of the subspecies to threatened.

2.   Vehicle collisions are a major threat to the Florida panther population.

3.   The effects of continued habitat loss and fragmentation are even more severe than previously acknowledged.

4.   Research indicates that crowding due to habitat limitations may be reducing kitten survival and placing a limit on population growth

Further reading: 

Don’t let Governor Scott’s South Florida Water Managers Throw Our Water Away!

Join the effort:  Don’t let Governor Scott’s South Florida Water Managers throw away water needed for drinking, Everglades Restoration and agriculture!

Poster, Army Conservation Project
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Organizations and businesses from the Panhandle to the Keys are joining together to send the Governor a clear message:  Deep Injection Wells within the Lake Okeechobee Watershed are contrary to Everglades Restoration.

The below sign-on letter is being distributed now to gather more signatures from organizations and businesses so that the letter can be sent to Governor Scott before the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board takes its plan to flush away billions of gallons of fresh water in Deep Injection Wells (DIWs) any further.

A deep injection well

TO SIGN THE LETTER: Send your organization (or business) name, and the name and title of the representative signing for your organization/business, directly to by close of business on Wednesday, September 6.

Please also forward this sign-on opportunity to any other organization or business you know that may be interested in getting involved.  You can also access the letter here.

For background:

State may pump stormwater below ground - 2/2/2017:
New Everglades fix calls for flushing water deep underground - 2/15/2017:
Deep injection wells would waste water and money | Opinion - 7/5/2017:

SIGN-ON LETTER (as of 9 am 8/31/17)


Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

RE:  Deep Injection Wells within the Lake Okeechobee Watershed are contrary to Everglades Restoration

We, the below-signed organizations and businesses committed to the restoration of America’s Everglades and the protection of all of Florida’s water resources write to express our concerns and opposition to the use of Deep Injection Wells (DIWs) within the Lake Okeechobee Watershed as part of Everglades Restoration.  The US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) appropriately decided not to consider Deep Injection Wells (DIWs) as part of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project (LOWP), instead suggesting a regional study that would consider their system-wide Everglades impacts.   However, in response to the Corps’ decision, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board voted on June 8, 2017, without any advance public notice or opportunity for meaningful stakeholder input, to go forward with a plan to develop DIWs to dispose of billions of gallons of fresh water and to cover the entire cost with public state tax dollars.

Our concerns include the following:

The use of DIWs is inconsistent with the goals of Everglades Restoration. DIWs are not a component of any project in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). DIWs do not help restore the flow of clean water through the Everglades ecosystem.

DIWs would divert state dollars needed to implement other Everglades restoration projects, including the acquisition of land both north and south of Lake Okeechobee to restore wetland habitats and to eventually send clean water south to the Everglades, Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay.

DIWs in the LOW would permanently remove billions of gallons of freshwater from the regional water budget.  Florida has faced drought conditions several times in the past few years and is likely to again and again.  Once disposed of, the water would be unavailable for ecosystem protection and Everglades restoration during dry and drought conditions. This freshwater is also needed to replenish rivers, wetlands, and the aquifer for millions of Floridians, and to lessen the impacts from rising sea levels and fight saltwater intrusion that pollutes and shuts down potable water wells.

According to estimates presented by SFWMD in February 2017, implementation of DIWs would cost or exceed the cost of $1 billion dollars.  Annual operation and maintenance costs will raise the actual budget for DIWs beyond SFWMD’s construction projections.  That is a significant amount of public state funding diverted to a project that will offer no beneficial uses of water to people or the environment, particularly south of the Lake.

According to information presented during Project Delivery Team (PDT) meetings, there is relatively little geologic information in the LOWP area. In fact, according to a 2007 desktop-study prepared for SFWMD, “the presence of appropriate hydrogeologic conditions for development of injection wells is less certain in areas north and immediately east of the Lake Okeechobee. Most of the areas considered for locating injection wells have little existing data regarding hydrogeologic conditions of the Boulder Zone or its confining layers. This report also states that “the transmissivity of the Boulder Zone is highly variable. It is related to the thickness and lateral extent of the cavernous zones and the related intensity of fracturing. In areas near the Lake, the transmissivity of the Oldsmar formation cannot be confidently estimated without testing.”     It is very risky to depend on DIWs in this region; the state would be gambling taxpayer dollars on a project that may fail to provide its expected benefits.

There are valid concerns over vertical cross-contamination from upward migration of injected untreated water to the overlying Upper Floridan aquifer, especially given the uncertainties about the hydrogeology at this depth and location.  The upward migration of DIW water can contaminate the Upper Floridan Aquifer which is being used as a source of potable water supply in many regional water supply utilities.  Groundwater contamination clean-up in the Upper Floridan would be cost-prohibitive.

Injected water from DIWs has been found to move laterally into the nearshore ocean reefs causing pollution and harmful algal blooms.  Whether or not this might displace water that could create harmful seepage of ground water and fresh water into surrounding oceans has yet to be answered.

While DIWs (approximately 180) are currently being used to dispose of wastewater or wastewater byproducts in Florida, DIWs have never been implemented at the scale and density being considered by the SFWMD; nor have they been used to dispose of fresh surface water.  The long term implication of disposing of such large amounts of untreated water into the Boulder Zone is unknown.

The disposal of freshwater from the surface ecosystem via DIWs will not help the natural carbon sequestration (capture) processes that come from protecting and restoring wetland habitats, such as mangroves.

The operation of DIWs will be energy-intensive, requiring pumps that run on fossil fuels to pump millions of gallons of water per day, per well, for an unpredictable number of days to months per year. This operation would increase the release of carbon into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.

The best solution to significantly reduce and ultimately eliminate harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the northern estuaries during extreme weather events is to speed up the long term restoration of the Everglades ecosystem.  We urge you to ensure that public state tax dollars are invested in Everglades restoration projects that are fully vetted, are consistent with CERP, do not jeopardize our public drinking water supply, and do not waste the state’s precious fresh water resources.


Anglers for Conservation
Rodney Smith, President

Aquatics for Life
Susan Steinhauser, President

E. Allen Stewart III P.E., Manager
Chris Maroney, Director

Calusa Waterkeeper
John Cassani

Camelot Technology Integration
Gayle Ryan, Owner

Catalyst Miami
Gretchen Beesing, CEO

Center for Biological Diversity
Jaclyn Lopez, Florida Director, Senior Attorney

Center for Earth Jurisprudence
Margaret R. Stewart, Esq., MPA, LL.M., Associate Director

Citizens for an Engaged Electorate
Barbara Byram, Co-Founder

Clean Water Action
Kathleen E. Aterno, National Managing Director

Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Marisa Carrozzo, Senior Environmental Policy Specialist

“Ding” Darling Wildlife Society
Michael J. Baldwin, Vice-President

Earth Ethics, Inc.
Mary Gutierrez, Executive Director

Emerald Coastkeeper, Inc.
Laurie Murphy, Executive Director

Environment Florida
Jennifer Rubiello, State Director

Florida Clean Water Network
Linda Young

Florida Native Plant Society - Conradina Chapter
Carol Hebert, President

Florida Water Conservation Trust
Terry Brant, Legislative Chairman

Florida Wildlife Federation
Manley K. Fuller, President

Food & Water Watch
Jorge Aguilar, Southern Region Director

Friends of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
Elinor Williams, President

Friends of the Everglades
Alan Farago, President

Friends of Warm Mineral Springs, Inc.
Juliette Jones, Director

Geranium Lane Farm, Ft. White, FL
Diane Buxton, Owner

Clayton Louis Ferrara, Executive Director

Izaak Walton League of America
Jared Mott, Conservation Director

Izaak Walton League of America - Florida Division
Michael F. Chenoweth, President

Last Stand
Mark E. Songer, President

Lobby For Animals
Thomas Ponce, President/Founder

Martin County Conservation Alliance
Tom Bausch, Director

National Parks Conservation Association
Cara Capp, Everglades Restoration Program Manager

Nature Coast Conservation, Inc.
DeeVon Quirolo, President

Our Santa Fe River, Inc.
Pamela I. Smith, President

Progress Florida
Mark Ferrulo, Executive Director

Progress For All
Tim Canova, Chair

Progressives Northwest Florida (PNWFL)
Dr. Carolynn Zonia, Activism Committee

Rebah Farm
Carol Ahearn, Owner

Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation
Rae Ann Wessel, Natural Resource Policy Director

Santa Fe Lake Dwellers Association
Jill McGuire, President

Save the Manatee Club
Dr. Katie Tripp, Director of Science and Conservation

Sierra Club
Frank Jackalone, Florida Chapter Director

Solutions to Avoid Red Tide (START)
Sandy Gilbert, Chairman

South Florida Audubon Society
Grant Campbell, Director of Wildlife Policy

South Florida Wildlands Association
Matthew Schwartz, Executive Director

Spectrabusters, Inc. 
Debra Johnson, Board Member 

Stone Crab Alliance
Karen Dwyer, Ph.D., Co-founder

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation
Edward W. Tamson Ph.D., Florida Representative

Treasure Coast Democratic Environmental Caucus
Paul Laura, Chair

Tropical Audubon Society
Erin Clancy, Director of Conservation

Urban Paradise Guild
Pete Gonzalez, Director of Policy & Chairman

Withlacoochee Aquatic Restoration (W.A.R.), Inc.
Dan Hilliard, President

Waters Without Borders
Randall Denker Esq., Co-Founder & CEO

WE CAN U & ME, Inc.
Allen's Underground, LLC
Robert M. Allen

Women's March Florida
Natalia Duke, Environmental Policy Director

Women's March Central Gulf Coast Florida
Jayne Arrington, Chair

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Broward mayors recognized for committing to 100 percent clean energy

Dania Beach, Fla. – On Friday August 25, Sierra Club Florida and U.S Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston) recognized the mayors of four South Florida cities for taking a courageous lead in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting public health in the global fight against climate change.  
Broward Mayors Tamara James, City of Dania Beach; Josh Levy, City of Hollywood; Greg Ross, Cooper City; and Daniel Dietch, Town of Surfside Mayor in Miami-Dade signed The Sierra Club’s Mayors for 100% Clean Energy Declaration supporting a vision of 100% clean and renewable energy in their cities.

Mayors (left to right) Tamara James, City of Dania Beach; Josh Levy, City of Hollywood; Greg Ross, Cooper City; and Daniel Dietch, Town of Surfside, with U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director Frank Jackalone behind them.

Congresswoman Schultz lauded the mayors for filling a leadership vacuum.

“The current occupant of the White House has taken a cowardly path by siding with polluters and failing to protect our state, this nation and future generations from the harsh effects of climate change,” said Wasserman Schultz. “Florida’s current governor has been proven to be just as weak in confronting this harsh reality. Fortunately, Florida’s mayors are showing what courageous leadership looks like by tackling this global challenge.”

Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director Frank Jackalone said South Florida’s local leaders will need to counter the imminent threats sea level rise poses. “Seventy percent of climate change causing emissions comes from our cities, which is why cities are the place to start in addressing climate change,” said Jackalone. “If the cities take leadership on clean energy then the counties will follow, if the counties take leadership ultimately the states will follow, and if the states take leadership ultimately the federal government will follow.”

Mayor Tamara James, City of Dania Beach, described the various sea level rise issues affecting the coastal city of Dania Beach like beach erosion and flooding. “It's very important to take strides locally to save and preserve our future," said Mayor James. In light of the sea level rise challenges her city faces, Mayor Taylor said she looks forward to working with other cities and elected officials to “being part of the solution and not part of the problem.”

Mayor Josh Levy, City of Hollywood, covered some of the sea level rise challenges facing the coastal city of Hollywood in addition to his optimism that emission reduction technologies are now available to help create real climate change solutions. “I’m excited solutions are coming from industry, it’s coming from residents, it’s coming from our cities. Those of us who understand the impacts to ourselves, our economies, and our lives are taking leadership to ensure we all move as one and together to continue to have a world that is livable for generations to come” said Mayor Levy.

Mayor Greg Ross, Cooper City, spoke about sea level rise issues affects us all in South Florida including the Western Broward County town of Cooper City whose drinking water is threatened by ongoing saltwater intrusion into South Florida’s fresh water aquifers. Regarding climate change Mayor Ross said “you can count on one thing, not that it will happen, but it is happening right now. We have to address it, and when I say we, I mean local mayors.”

Mayor Daniel Dietch, Town of Surfside, said “addressing climate change is a leadership issue, not a partisan issue.” He reiterated that local leadership on climate change issues can guide the nation as a whole towards a more sustainable economy and future.

Sierra Club staff and volunteers pose with U.S. Representative Wasserman Schultz and the participating Mayors at the conclusion of the press conference

The mayors joined a growing body of
150 mayors throughout the country who are addressing climate change by providing for lower energy costs, improved public health, and new stable clean energy jobs for the residents of their cities.

Other Florida mayors who have signed the Mayors for 100% Clean Energy Declaration include:

Rick Kriseman-St. Petersburg
Willie Shaw-Sarasota
Phillip Levine - Miami Beach
Jeri Muoio - West Palm Beach
Richard Kaplan  - Lauderhill
Phil Stoddard - South Miami
Eugene Flinn - Palmetto Bay
John Adornato - Oakland Park
Harry Dressler - Tamarac
Buddy Dyer - Orlando
Michael Ryan - Sunrise
Lamar Fisher - Pompano Beach
Judy Paul - Town of Davie
Cary Glickstein - Delray Beach
Derrick Henry - Daytona Beach
Gary Resnick - Wilton Manors
Frank Ortis - Pembroke Pines
Joy Cooper - Hallandale Beach
Joe Ayoub, Safety Harbor
Julie Ward Bujalski, Dunedin
Leslie Babonis, Marineland
Linda Provencher, Flagler Beach
Stephen Emmett, Beverly Beach
Milissa Holland, Palm Coast

-- Patrick Ferguson, Sierra Club Organizing Representative

U.S. Court of Appeals Rejects FERC's Approval of Sabal Trail Pipeline

In Major Climate Decision, D.C. Circuit Rejects Federal Approval of Sabal Trail Pipeline

Sabal Trail pipeline under construction in Florida.  Photo by John Moran.
Last week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) attempts to downplay the massive climate impacts of the Southeast Market Pipelines Project, a $3.5 billion project that includes the 515-mile Sabal Trail pipeline. FERC and the pipeline companies argued that even though the project’s purpose is to transport fracked gas through Alabama and Georgia to Florida power plants, FERC nonetheless could ignore the greenhouse gas emissions from burning the gas at those plants.
It’s Not Just the Journey, It’s Also the Destination
In a 2-1 decision, the court agreed with the Sierra Club and its partners that FERC’s refusal to analyze these “downstream” emissions—an entirely foreseeable result of constructing the pipeline—violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The court vacated FERC’s approval of the project and remanded to the agency with instructions to prepare an environmental impact statement consistent with the court’s opinion.
Once the court officially returns the matter to FERC, the pipeline should cease operations while FERC undertakes the new analysis. (Despite the shoddy environmental review, the pipeline was allowed to start operating in June.)
Noting that “[i]t’s not just the journey, … it’s also the destination,” the court rejected each of FERC’s many excuses for ignoring the emissions from burning the gas. The court found:
  • FERC is the “legally relevant cause” of the climate-altering emissions because it has the power to deny a pipeline based on harm to the environment.
  • FERC has estimated that the pipeline will transport 1.1 billion cubic feet per day of gas, and can use this number to estimate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
  • FERC’s vague assertions that “some” emissions may “potentially” be offset by coal plant retirements were so devoid of meaningful information that the environmental impact statement “fail[ed] to fulfill its primary purpose.”
  • Even if the power plants are subject to state or federal greenhouse-gas regulations in the future, such requirements cannot substitute for a proper NEPA analysis (citing a landmark NEPA case from 1971).
The court concluded that FERC “should have either given a quantitative estimate of the downstream greenhouse emissions that will result from burning the natural gas that the pipelines will transport or explained more specifically why it could not have done so.” The court further noted that the environmental impact statement needed to include a discussion of the significance of the downstream greenhouse gas emissions, as well as their cumulative impact. Finally, the court directed FERC to explain, in its new EIS, whether it still maintains that the “social cost of carbon”—a valuable tool that places a dollar value on the harm caused by each ton of carbon emitted—is not useful for NEPA purposes, and why.
The decision is a significant victory for pipeline opponents, with far-reaching consequences for gas pipelines and other fossil fuel projects that require federal approval. And while Trump tweets that climate change is a hoax and cynically attempts to eliminate climate considerations from federal decision making, the court’s opinion—authored by a George W. Bush appointee—signals that the courts will hold agencies to their NEPA obligations.
Environmental Justice
Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards and routinely bear the brunt of harmful impacts from polluting industrial facilities. For pipeline projects, those impacts include pipeline ruptures, construction impacts, groundwater contamination, and noise and air pollution from massive compressor stations.
A staggering 83.7 percent of this pipeline—or approximately 574 miles—runs through or within a mile of environmental justice communities. And the compressor station in Albany, Georgia—a huge industrial facility that would release hundreds of thousands of tons of air pollutants each year—is slated to be constructed in a neighborhood that is more than 80 percent African American (watch community leader Gloria Gaines discuss the Albany compressor station). As members of Georgia’s congressional delegation pointed out to FERC before the pipeline was approved, these communities are already overburdened with polluting facilities.
FERC nonetheless concluded that the project’s impacts would not disproportionately fall on environmental justice populations. While recognizing the “grim statistics” regarding the overburdened nature of these communities, and noting that it is “sensitive to Sierra Club’s broader contention that it is unjust to locate a polluting facility in a community that already has a high concentration of polluting facilities,” the court declined to overturn FERC’s analysis.  
* * *
The Sabal Trail pipeline has already harmed the communities along its path, and the waterways they depend on. Most recently, Florida residents were exposed to a mercaptan leak at the Dunnellon compressor station site. (According to the emergency report, when the pipeline company representative arrived at the scene, he informed emergency responders “that 'this was a new system and they are still learning.'")
These issues, and the D.C. Circuit’s ruling, are a prime example of why FERC cannot be allowed to continue to rubber-stamp dangerous gas pipelines. FERC has consistently allowed pipeline construction to move forward—inflicting environmental damage and taking people’s private property through eminent domain—before the full scope of impacts is understood. (In particular, FERC has sought, with a disturbing degree of success, to keep injured parties out of court while allowing pipeline companies to move forward with construction.)
As is frequently the case, here the pipeline companies are corporate affiliates of the utilities that have contracted to purchase the gas. Instead of sacrificing our communities and environment to build unnecessary pipelines that “set up surefire profits” for pipeline companies at the expense of captive ratepayers, the focus should be on transitioning to clean renewable energy and energy efficiency—especially in the Sunshine State. Forcing federal agencies to grapple with the true climate impacts of dirty fossil fuel projects is a big step in the right direction.
In the news:
Skeptical Courts May Undermine Trump's Energy Project Push (Law360 [subscription required], 8/23/17)
Appeals Court: Energy Officials Missed in Pipeline Review (AP: New York TimesWashington Post, 8/22/17)
Court orders new environmental review for Sabal Trail Pipeline (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8/22/17)
Court Chucks Federal Approval of Sabal Trail Pipeline (Courthouse News Service, 8/22/17)
Listen to Sierra Club attorney Elly Benson discuss the ruling on the Daily Journal’s appellate law podcast.

Image Source: 
John Moran