Friday, January 26, 2018

Sierra Club hosts 33rd Annual Everglades Coalition Conference focusing on inclusion, equity, and sending water south

Everglades Coalition Conference brings 
new voices to the table
The 33rd Annual conference, hosted by Sierra Club, focused on inclusion,
equity and sending water south

Carl Hiaasen, Bill Nelson and Bob Graham topped some of the big names at the Everglades Coalition conference this year in Stuart, but the real showstoppers were people you may not heard of. Activists like Kina Phillips, Betty Osceola, Steve Messam and Antonio Tovar. They are bringing a long-underrepresented voice to the Everglades movement. They are Glades residents, indigenous tribe members, and farmworkers; those who fight air and water pollution daily.

Belle Glade sugar field burning
activists with Susana Reyes
More than 300 people attended the conference, hosted by the Sierra Club, which brought together scientists, policy makers and the public.

Sierra Club National Board of Directors Vice President Susana Reyes, from California, spoke about the Club's plans to take on the Trump Administration and increase the diversity of the environmental movement.

The conference was a showcase for the Sierra Club, its volunteers and staff and its Florida campaigns. Sierra Club's Our Wild America Florida staff manager Cris Costello moderated the panel on diversity, inclusion and equity featuring speakers from Belle Glade, Glades County and the Miccosukee and Seminole Tribes. Costello began by saying "This session represents what we hope is the beginning of a dialogue with the front line communities, those most directly affected by the hardships associated with an un-restored Everglades, in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area."  The intent was to provide each of the panelists the opportunity to introduce their tribe or community to the conference attendees, and thereby start not only a conversation but also the building of  relationships. 

Dr. William Louda discusses health impacts of
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)
A separate panel on Saturday morning was focused on the environmental justice campaign to end pre-harvest sugar field burning, which disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). The panel covered the following topics: scope of preharvest sugar field burning in Florida and the many benefits of green harvesting the alternative to pre-harvest burning  (Sierra Club organizing representative Patrick Ferguson), the science documenting the negative impacts pre-harvest burning causes to both public and environmental health, (Dr. William Louda, Professor at FAU) how pre-harvest sugar field burning negatively impacts the quality of life for Glades community residents along with the importance of using one’s voice to speak out against injustice, (Kina Phillips Stop Sugar Field Burning Campaign Leader) and the health issues affecting migrant farm workers from industrial farming practices similar to pre-harvest sugar field burning along with the intimidation they receive which prevents them from publicly speaking out (Antonio Tovar Farmworkers Association). 
This year's conference cover.

The coalition also featured elected officials. Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston) and Brian Mast (R-Stuart) spoke to the Friday dinner audience, showing bipartisan support for the River of Grass. Senate President Joe Negron, who won an award for his legislation to build a reservoir in former sugar fields, also spoke.

The Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir was a major topic at the Conference. It's an industrial-scale, high walled version of what is needed to send water south to the Everglades. Everglades advocates are not happy about the reservoir's design, and right before the conference they approved a letter to the Governor (click here.) asking him to consider other better options to provide the needed clean water.

A large number of people came from the Stuart area, ground zero for guacamole-thick algae. The River Warriors and, groups dedicated to eliminating polluting water from Lake Okeechobee and storing and cleaning it south of Lake Okeechobee before it reaches the Everglades, were in full force.

Award winner Betty Osceola with Sierra Club
Everglades Organizer Diana Umpierre
Betty Osceola, a member of the Miccosukee Tribe and a long-time water quality activist, won the John V. Kabler Grassroots Organizing Award. Her most recent victory was leading the effort to stop the River of Grass Greenway, a 76-mile long, 14-ft wide paved pathway that would have destroyed wetlands and other critical habitat from Naples to Miami

Senator Bob Graham, who helped convene the very first Everglades Coalition conference, said deep well injection is "a very bad idea."

Senator Bill Nelson held the line on offshore oil drilling and educated people on the Everglades.

Author Carl Hiaasen railed against the legislature, Rick Scott and Donald Trump. He also encouraged Everglades advocates to keep up the fight.

Best-selling author and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen with
Sierra Club National Board of Directors Vice President Susana Reyes
Sierra Club Florida Chair Mark Walters and Director Frank Jackalone

Senator Bill Nelson with Sierra Club Florida
Board member Alyssa Cadwalader

U.S. Representative and former Governor Charlie Crist

Belle Glade activist Kina Phillips and Sierra Club Florida
Co-Conservation Chair Darryl Rutz

Governor Bob Graham with Miami Group Excom member Linda Benson and
Florida Sierra Club Excom  member Stephen Mahoney
Photo by Kathy Teas.

Betty Osceola and Stan Pannaman

Kina Phillips and Antonio Tovar

Senator Bill Nelson and Sierra Club Beyond Coal Organizer Gonzalo Valdez
Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Steve Messam
and Kina Phillips

Sierra Club volunteers and staff