Tuesday, August 27, 2019


For Immediate Release:
August 27, 2019
Contact: Cris Costello, 941-914-0421, cris.costello@sierraclub.org



TAMPA - On Tuesday, numerous statewide and regional organizations made a strong stance against the toll roads discussed at the launch of Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) M-CORES task forces meeting. Groups present at the Tampa Convention Center included the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Florida Springs Council, Florida Conservation Voters, Progress Florida, Save the Manatee Club, Sierra Club, Bear Warriors United, Extinction Rebellion, Sunshine Citizens, Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida, and Our Santa Fe River, all citing the innumerable negative impacts these tollways would have on Florida’s taxpayers, health, economy, and environment. Many in opposition sported “no roads to ruin” stickers.

Mark Ferrulo, Executive Director for Progress Florida: “We are not interested in just making this horrible proposal less offensive, or getting a “better” route for these toll roads. Our collective aim is to stop this toll road boondoggle in its tracks.”

Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director said: “The three new toll roads would lead to massive development in one third of the State, bringing millions of new homes into Florida's nature coast and rural heartland. They would be as destructive to Florida's environment as the building of the canals that drained the Everglades in the first half of the 20th century. The Florida panther and countless other endangered species would move towards extinction due to a drastic reduction of wildlife habitat, increased urban pollution, and countless road collisions from millions of new cars on a massive network of new roads connecting to the toll roads”

“From the tone of this first task force meeting, it is as if the three corridors are already a done deal. This is not the case” said Lindsay Cross, Florida Conservation Voters’ Government Relations Director. “Any policy touting long-term vision for Florida deserves much more than a 13-month planning period. With our community of concerned citizens and partners, we will continue to oppose this rushed process and ensure the voice of the public is heard loud and clear.”

Sarah Gledhill, Center for Biological Diversity’s Senior Florida Field Campaigner said: “From what we saw today, this task force process is designed to be a rubber stamp. We learned that none of the three task forces will be involved in the decision to choose the route. How can any task force member give an informed thumbs-up to a new road without knowing the path it will take? It is a big tax-payer-funded rubber stamp."

“We cannot conceive of a path that would not seriously impact and fragment critically endangered Florida panther habitat which could jeopardize the survival and recovery of the Florida panther. There is no acceptable path” said Julianne Thomas, Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Senior Environmental Planning Specialist.

Ryan Smart, Executive Director of Florida Springs Council stated: “Our state is in the thick of a water quality crisis that threatens our health and economic future. These new roads would imperil important forests, springs, aquifer recharge areas, and wetlands essential to flood control and water quality treatment from the Georgia border to Florida Bay.”

“Each of the toll roads would cause permanent destructive impacts across a wide swath of public conservation lands, critical wetlands, recreation areas, and wildlife habitats” said Jim Tatum from Our Santa Fe River (OSFR). “Dozens of state parks, wildlife management areas, refuges, reserves, and preserves, many of which are Florida Forever acquired lands, are threatened by this project. Accompanying urban sprawl would further devastate and forever fragment habitat, isolate wildlife corridors, and contribute to deforestation and harm to Florida lakes, rivers, streams, bays, and springs.”

NO ROADS TO RUIN talking points:


Thursday, August 22, 2019

Be there Tuesday, August 27, to say "NO" to the toll roads debacle!

Despite overwhelming public opposition, the legislature passed, and Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill to create three new major toll roads that will destroy large swaths of Florida’s last remaining rural lands, pollute waterways, and threaten endangered wildlife including the iconic Florida manatee, black bear, and panther. 

We’re not done fighting to stop these costly and disastrous “roads to ruin”, and we need your help.

A group of task forces, formally known as M-CORES1, will meet on Tuesday, August 27th in Tampa to begin developing recommendations for the Florida Department of Transportation to move this boondoggle forward. We need to be there to show community opposition!

Here are the hearing details:
Toll Road Task Force Meeting
Tuesday, August 27th, 8 am-8 pm 
Tampa Convention Center

There will be multiple opportunities for public input. At the meeting, you may make a comment:

  • In writing or digitally at a comment station
  • Verbally to an on-site court reporter
  • Publicly during the scheduled public comment period from 4:45-8 pm public comment session.  

Get the agenda here.

RSVP here.  When you arrive we will have talking points and other materials for you.

Make no mistake; we are not interested in just making this horrible proposal less disastrous or getting a “better” route for these unneeded and destructive toll roads. We aim to stop this new toll road debacle in its tracks.

We’re already working with allies to build a diverse coalition that will use our collective power and take a very hard line against these “roads to ruin.”  Stay tuned for more soon.

Stopping these tollways will take all of us working together; the task forces charged with developing a plan are stacked with representatives from industries who stand to gain financially from carving up what remains of unpaved Florida.  Check out this 8/21/19 Tampa Bay Times Editorial.

Please join us on Tuesday, August 27 to show up and speak out against Florida’s “roads to ruin.”

These “roads to ruin” are a recipe for out of control urban sprawl that will further strain our state’s water resources, contribute to climate change, and wreak havoc on rural communities, wildlife and wild land. Together we can stop this boondoggle.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Changes needed to revised plan for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project

August 19, 2019

Dr. Gretchen Ehlinger
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District
P.O. Box 4970
Jacksonville, FL 32232-0019

RE:  Comments on the Revised Draft PIR and EIS for Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project

Dear Ms. Ehlinger:

Sierra Club submits the following comments on the Revised Draft Integrated Project Implementation Report (PIR) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) with the goal of seeing the LOWRP Optimized Tentatively Selected Plan (TSP) drastically improved. Sierra Club believes that ecosystem restoration projects in the Lake Okeechobee Watershed are essential for the following reasons: (1) for the health of the Lake Okeechobee ecosystem and its watershed; (2) to improve the quality, timing, and quantity of freshwater flows to the northern estuaries; and (3) for the redirection of freshwater from the lake to where it is most needed, south to the Everglades and Florida Bay.

1. While we support the wetland restoration of the Paradise Run and Kissimmee River Center sites, which would restore about 4,800 acres to wetlands, we urge SFWMD and USACE to not miss the opportunity to restore more wetlands. As stated in the Revised Draft PIR/EIS, “about 330,000 acres of wetlands have been lost in the LOWRP area” and “more wetland acres restored would generally be better” (Appendix E, Attachment B). The Lake Okeechobee West site has a high restoration potential. We cannot accept leaving out this excellent restoration site from further consideration just because it is not in “better ecological quality.” We urge SFWMD and USACE to modify the Optimized TSP to include this site, which would restore 2,800 additional acres of high value wetland habitat. The restoration of more wetlands will also provide additional opportunity for water quality improvements.

2. The goals of the CERP component referred to as "Lake Okeechobee Watershed Water Quality Treatment Facilities (OPE)" included not only wetland restoration, but also stormwater treatment areas to "retain phosphorus before flowing into Lake Okeechobee" (CERP Yellow Book, p. 9-4). The CERP Yellow Book makes it clear that an essential aspect of Everglades restoration is the inclusion of water quality features.  USACE must reconsider and include water quality features that are essential to Everglades restoration and improve the health of Lake Okeechobee. The USACE’s stated current policy of not cost-sharing on water quality features runs counter to CERP’s goals of restoration and therefore must be reconsidered and modified.  If the federal government does not cost-share, whether because of administrative policy or legislation, it is still incumbent upon the state to provide a locally preferred alternative that includes water quality features.

3. The Wetland Attenuation Feature (WAF)  must be modified and modeled as a water quality feature, such as a Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) and/or a Flow Equalization Basin (FEB). This will help in significantly reducing nutrient loading to Lake Okeechobee and thereby also reduce the level of nutrients discharged to the northern estuaries. Reducing the level of nutrients into Lake Okeechobee is essential to Everglades restoration; it must not be omitted from this important CERP project. Nutrient loads to Lake Okeechobee must be reduced and LOWRP can be designed to provide such a reduction.  Therefore, we urge USACE and SFWMD to modify this feature so it provides what the ecosystem needs, clean water for the heart of the Everglades.

4. We strenuously oppose the use of Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells in CERP as they are contrary to the goals of restoration of the Lake Okeechobee watershed and the Everglades. ASRs would waste hundreds of millions of dollars of public funding that are needed for actual ecosystem restoration.  The proposed eighty ASRs will be a form of permanent artificial “life support”, creating a watershed ecosystem stuck in an Intensive Care Unit.

5. More shallow surface water storage is required. The Optimized TSP lacks the meaningful and long envisioned shallow storage needed in the Lake Okeechobee watershed.

Thank you in advance for your attention to the above. We look forward to providing additional input on an ongoing basis as the project proceeds.


Diana Umpierre, AICP
Organizing Representative, Sierra Club
136 S. Main Street, Unit A
Belle Glade, FL 33430
(561) 983-8655

A pdf of this letter can be found here.

Aerial view of Lake Okeechobee and parts of its watershed
Credit:  ESRI Scene Viewer

Friday, August 16, 2019

Sierra Club FL to FLDEP: VW Diesel Scandal $$ Should Go to Zero Emission Electric Buses, NOT More Diesel

Sierra Club FL Chapter Comments to FLDEP on its draft plan for how best to spend FL's $166M from the VW Diesel Scandal. FL is the last state to issue its plan, lagging behind all the other states now using their funds to help school boards and transit agencies buy zero emission electric buses. VW, now transitioning to manufacturing only EVs by 2026 in Chattanooga, is making amends for falsifying emissions testing by spending up to $14.7 billion to remediate its excess NOx emissions, buying back vehicles ($10.03 billion), installing EV charging stations, and  awarding states $2.7 billion towards NOx reduction programs via the Environmental Mitigation Trust.

August 16, 2019

John Dawson, Deputy Director
Division of Air Resource Management
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
3800 Commonwealth Blvd, MS93
Carr Building, Room 215
Tallahassee FL, 32399–3000

Delivered via Email: VWMitigation@FloridaDEP.gov

Dear Deputy Director Dawson,   

On behalf of Sierra Club Florida and our 40,000 members and supporters, let us express our appreciation for the work performed by the staff of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) on the State ofFlorida Beneficiary Mitigation Plan. We have been engaged with FDEP staff from the beginning, participating in all public input sessions as well as the public survey conducted last year. We look forward to seeing the plan’s funds used towards relieving our residents from the harm of smog generated by NOx spewing-vehicles. 

We are glad to see school, transit and shuttle buses receive 70% of the VW settlement money and that the maximum 15% was allocated for electric vehicle supply equipment.

We appreciate the Governor’s recently announced commitment to installing charging stations along the Florida Turnpike. However, the plan must provide additional details on how funds will be spent on this initiative, such as information on cost shares, segments served, and type of charging supported.

We found that the "Public Input" and "Areas with a Disproportional Share of the Air Pollution Burden" sections to be informative. However, the "Overall Goal of Florida's Mitigation Plan",  "Eligible Mitigation Actions", and "Emissions Benefits" sections lack clarity and require additional review to clearly outline FDEP's intent to the public.

The major points that Sierra Club Florida would like to see addressed in the plan are the following:

             Clarification on whether eligible units will be replaced with electric powered units and a commitment to funding only electric powered units for transit and school buses. We request that FDEP clarify its definition of alternative and legacy fuels by defining diesel and diesel-hybrid fuels as legacy fuels, rendering them ineligible for funding under the settlement
Asthma is the #1 reason any kid misses
a day of school. They need zero emission
electric buses, not more dirty diesel. 

             In "Emissions Benefits Estimate Based on Selected Eligible Mitigation Actions", diesel buses are included an example. There are two major problems concerning the inclusion of diesel buses in this analysis Several relevant cost factors are missing from the analysis, leading one to erroneously conclude that diesel buses would achieve the lowest cost per ton of pollutants removed. However, consideration of the full range of relevant cost factors indicates  that electric buses provide the lowest cost per ton of pollutants removed.

             Figure 13 analyzes expenses for diesel and electric buses. However, it includes only information on capital expenses and not operating expenses. This ignores the primary financial difference between the two modalities and can lead the reader to mistakenly conclude that diesel buses eliminate more NOx per ton than electric buses. Total Cost of Ownership analyses of electric, diesel and electric transit buses show that an electric transit bus is more economical than diesel or diesel-hybrid buses, due to substantially lower lifetime fuel and maintenance expenses. Because of these factors, zero-emission electric buses are the most cost-effective means of reducing NOx emissions. Proterra, an electric bus manufacturer that boasts the highest number of transit service miles in the United States, now estimates electric bus fuel costs to be less than one-third of that of a diesel bus ($9,680 electric vs. $30,000 diesel). Proterra also cites a maintenance expense rate of $.55/mile for electric vs. $1.00/mile for diesel, which would amount to $22,000 for electric vs. $40,000 for diesel for after  40,000 miles. Such factors, completely omitted in the draft plan, change the conclusion of how to remove the greatest Tons Per Year for the dollar. We recommend that FDEP either add another chart which adds such comparative operating expenses in a more comprehensive manner, or delete any reference to diesel as anything other than as a legacy fuel.
PSTA now runs 2 electric buses in
downtown St. Pete, with 4 more on
the way to Pinellas County.

             Electric bus manufacturers have faced objections concerning the comparatively high up-front cost of electric buses. To assuage these concerns, the industry has devised strategies to reduce capital expenses of electric buses to a level comparable with new diesel buses. Chief of these initiatives is offering to lease the electric bus batteries. In doing so, the expense of the battery is converted from a large capital expense into an operating expense that is paid for in affordable regular payments. .  Through this initiative, the operating costs and Total Cost of Ownership of electric buses remain lower than diesel and diesel-hybrid buses (see attached powerpoint slides provided by Proterra). BYD, a supplier for other Florida transit agencies, also offers similar battery lease options, as do other manufacturers. Like Proterra’s initiative, these programs curb capital expenses while keeping operational expenses and the Total Cost of Ownership of electric buses lower than diesel and diesel-hybrid alternatives.

             While the electric school bus industry does not yet operate in Florida, we reasonably expect  them to produce electric school buses with similarly affordable Total Costs of Ownership. Expense factors that describe the low operating cost of electric buses should be included in any determination of how FDEP might best meet its criteria of identifying mitigation projects that achieve the lowest cost per ton of pollutants removed.

             For the State to obtain the greatest benefit from the plans funds, the Emission Benefit section should recognize that the greatest reduction of NOx emissions, and the greatest benefit to the public, are received when local governments and other applicants provide a cost share partnership with the State on these projects.
Florida's smoggiest county, Hillsborough,
on one of its all-too-frequent smoggy days. 

             It is not clear whether replacing school, transit and shuttle buses outside the five Air Quality Priority Areas in Florida would be eligible for consideration. Would transit agencies and school boards be able to respond to RFIs if they are located outside of the five designated Air Quality Priority Areas in Florida?

             As with Figure 13., Appendix E on page 60 should be replaced with a graph that more accurately compares the replacement of existing diesel buses with electric buses. It appears that the current exhibit is discussing replacement of diesel engines with newer diesel engines. It also repeats the same table to document both school and transit buses. Operating expenses should be provided for any and all comparative information, here and elsewhere.
Our abundant FL sunshine converts tailpipe emissions into
O2 - ground level ozone, a.k.a. smog. 

             We recommend modifying the protocol for acquiring eligible replacement units for school, transit and shuttle buses to include only electrical vehicles. A number of states have developed plans that specifically direct these funds to replace diesel school, transit and shuttle buses with electric school, transit and shuttle buses. Other alternative fuels, such as i.e. propane and Compressed Natural Gas, do not deliver either the operating cost savings or the reduction in NOx emissions that zero emission electric buses provide. Electric vehicles are the vehicles of the future, and the Sunshine State should be a leader in electric vehicles.
Tallahassee's Star Metro transit agency
was the 1st in FL to use electric buses.
Star Metro will go 100% electric by 2035,
part of the City's Ready for 100% Clean
Energy for All commitment. 

             Include a general or aspirational timeline for the encumbrance of the funds.

             While reduction of pollutants other than NOx from diesel engines is not explicitly one of the criteria chosen by FLDEP, it is worth noting that several other states have considered non-NOx pollution co-benefits in their VW investment decisions. For example:

             Colorado’s mitigation plan establishes a goal to “[m]aximize the trust’s air quality benefits in Colorado, including reductions of NOx, greenhouse gases, and other pollutants.” (Colorado Proposed Beneficiary Mitigation Plan: Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche Clean Air Act Settlements (Aug. 28, 2017), at 8, available at https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/AP_VW_Beneficiary_Mitigation_Plan.pdf .)
             The District of Columbia notes that “[t]he principal air pollutants of concern in the District are NOx, fine particles (PM2.5), ozone, greenhouse gases (GHG), and air toxics” and that, “[a]lthough the VW Settlement is primarily focused on reducing NOx emissions, the District has also decided to consider reduction of PM2.5, GHGs, and air toxics in developing this spending plan.” (DC Department of Energy and Environment (2017) The District’s Draft Spending Plan For Volkswagen Settlement Funds, at 2, available at https://doee.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ddoe/page_content/attachments/The%20District%27s%20Draft%20Spending%20Plan%20for%20Volkswagen%20Settlement%20Funds%20%28Draft%20Beneficiary%20Mitigation%20Plan%29.pdf .)
             Minnesota expressly targets emission reductions in three categories: NOx, PM2.5 and GHGs. (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota’s Volkswagen Settlement Beneficiary Mitigation Plan – DRAFT (Feb. 2018), at 13, available at https://www.pca.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/aq-mvp2-32a.pdf .)

             The public health benefits of reducing NOx and other pollutants, along with the economic benefits of lower Total Cost of Ownership creates a compelling case for allocating 70% of these funds solely for electric school, transit and shuttle buses as the most cost-effective means of achieving the goals of the settlement.

Thank you for your consideration of these points. If you have any questions or we can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Phil Compton, Senior Organizing Representative
Deborah Foote, Government Affairs & Political Director
Grant Gelhardt, State Chapter Executive Committee Member
Sierra Club Florida

1400 FL Sierra Club members added their names to our request that FLDEP use these one-time-only funds to help
our schools and transit agencies do their part to clean up our air with clean, quiet zero emission electric buses.
If you were one of them, thanks! 

PRESS RELEASE: Sierra Club demands full review of the EAA Reservoir design


August 15, 2019
Contact:  Diana Umpierre, Sierra Club, 954-829-7632, diana.umpierre@sierraclub.org  


Alternatives for Water Storage, Treatment, and Conveyance South are Way Past Due

Belle Glade, FL—The recently released review of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Storage Reservoir by William J. Mitsch, Director of the Florida Gulf Coast University's Everglades Wetland Research Park, draws attention once again to the fact that the current project design is seriously lacking. 

Statement by Sierra Club Organizing Representative Diana Umpierre:

“A full review of the EAA Storage Reservoir design is immediately required and South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) must aggressively identify alternatives for water storage, treatment, and conveyance south.

Sierra Club has been challenging South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) since 2017 to make full use of the resources provided by state law to design a cost-effective reservoir project in the Everglades Agricultural Area that maximizes potential benefits and ensures the conveyance of clean water south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.  The current design is a staggering betrayal of the expectations created by the legislation (SB 10) signed into law in 2017.   

The South Florida Water Management District has never engaged in a concerted effort to ensure a larger project footprint to boost the project’s water treatment capacity; in fact no alternatives were ever presented that address the concerns that restricting the project’s size limits its ability to achieve optimum performance.

Dr. Mitsch’s review underlines the need to ensure that the project design is consistent with the intent and letter of the law, presents the optimal configuration to reduce discharges to Florida’s coasts and deliver clean water to the Everglades and Florida Bay, and provides these benefits cost-effectively.

SB10 required SFWMD to analyze the "optimal configuration” (subparagraph (5)(b)(1) of Florida Statute 373.4598) of the reservoir and SFWMD was not limited to acreage already in public ownership.  We need land, close to 100,000 acres, to truly restore the Everglades ecosystem and protect residents from toxic harmful algae – both around Lake Okeechobee and in the northern estuaries.  For two decades everything but what is actually needed has been the focus.  Dr. Mitsch’s review gives the District another reason to finally make land acquisition their top priority.

It makes no sense to spend $2 billion on a reservoir with a questionable design that is highly unlikely to provide the desperately needed benefits.  Too many people have rushed to promote the implementation of the current design.  Claiming victory, accepting less than what we truly need, will not ensure the restoration of the Everglades. We need to continue to demand the land needed to make restoration a reality.”



Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Northern Everglades Basin Management Action Plans "new approach"?

August 13, 2019

Sara Davis
Environmental Manager
Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
2600 Blair Stone Rd., MS 3565
Tallahassee, FL 32399-2400

Re:  Feedback on approach to update Northern Everglades Basin Management Action Plans

Dear Ms. Davis:

Sierra Club offers the following comments regarding the FDEP’s draft approach to updating the three Northern Everglades Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs), which was shared at the public stakeholder meeting on July 30, 2019. While our comments below are aimed at the Lake Okeechobee’s BMAP, they are also applicable to the BMAPs for the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries.

  • An overdependence on computer models versus actual monitoring data under the current BMAP makes the underestimation of nutrient pollution loads into Lake Okeechobee extremely likely.
  • Many sources of nutrient pollution are not properly addressed by the BMAP, including class AA biosolids, excess fertilization, the use of aquatic herbicides (lack of harvest of vegetative material), and legacy nutrients.
  • We agree with the recommendation to add more monitoring to gain better understanding of the nutrient loads where data is lacking; this monitoring must be comprehensive, detailed and recurrent, and used to re-calibrate water quality models more frequently.
  • While we are encouraged to see a recommendation for more monitoring of total nitrogen, a numerical goal is needed.  It is way past overdue for a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) to be established for nitrogen in Lake Okeechobee.
  • Monitoring should also aim to identify nitrogen by species to better pinpoint sources of nitrogen pollution and the appropriate water restoration measures.
  • The BMAP update must include the entirety of the Lake Okeechobee watershed to fully account for all loads into the lake. Dr. Gary Goforth, PE has determined that the current BMAP ignores nutrient loads from about 23% of Lake Okeechobee watershed. A true accounting of the entire load is absolutely necessary. 
  • An updated BMAP must include a complete plan that achieves the TMDL with a hard deadline and suitable, aggressive consequences if not met. This hard deadline must reflect the urgency of our water quality crises. Accountability and enforcement must be hallmarks of an updated BMAP. There currently is no reliable mechanism to determine which BMPs are working and where stronger measures are needed and too little enforcement to ensure all landowners are held accountable. FDEP must include an annual assessment to ensure compliance.
  • Appropriate performance measures must be established to accurately identify trends, hot spots, and deficiencies.
  • An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; to prevent pollution from compounding, a regulatory framework is needed that holds individual landowners accountable for pollution leaving their property.
  • Far stronger requirements are needed for permits issued in the Lake Okeechobee watershed. The FDEP approach must include more meaningful and enforceable permit regulations, and address shortcomings in the regulation of ERPs and the treatment of reclaimed water.
  • Projects must be identified to clean up legacy nutrient pollution entering and within the Lake.
  • Sufficient land must be acquired; the restoration of Lake Okeechobee and the broader Everglades ecosystem requires the ecological services that nature does best. Large swaths of wetland restoration, other surface water quality, and surface storage projects must be included. Currently planned projects by SFWMD are not sufficient. Larger volumes of water must be stored and treated before entering Lake Okeechobee.
  • Opportunities must be sought for BMAP land acquisition projects in the Lake Okeechobee watershed that will also add to the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in part to “protect, restore, and conserve the headwaters, groundwater recharge and watershed of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee region, which will improve water quantity and quality in the Everglades watershed” (https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Everglades_Headwaters/about.html)
  • The use of ASRs is contrary to Everglades restoration and must not be considered for archiving surface water TMDLs.  Pumping nutrient pollution beneath the ground is not a solution.
  • A truly effective BMAP will require a commitment to consistent and sufficient funding for all agencies involved.

The new approach for the Northern Everglades Basin Management Action Plans does not change in any substantial way the status quo and therefore is unacceptable.  It is time to stop passing this crisis on to another administration and another generation.

Thank you in advance for addressing the above.


Diana Umpierre, AICP
Organizing Representative
Everglades Restoration Campaign
Sierra Club
PO Box 2347 / 136A S Main St, Belle Glade, FL 33430
(561) 983-8655

cc: Thomas Frick, Director, Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration, FDEP


A pdf version of this letter can be found here.

Blue-green algae along the south rim of Lake Okeechobee caused by nutrient pollution.
Photo taken 8/8/2019 by Diana Umpierre.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Tenth Florida City Commits to 100 Percent Clean Energy

Satellite Beach becomes first Brevard County city to join the Sunshine State's renewable movement

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

SATELLITE BEACH, FL -- Tonight, the City Council of Satellite Beach unanimously passed a resolution committing the city to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy for the entire community by 2050 and for municipal operations by 2022. Satellite Beach becomes the first city in Brevard County and the tenth city in the state to commit to powering their entire community with 100 percent clean, renewable sources of energy, like solar and storage.

The City will begin developing a plan immediately to achieve both goals. The resolution emphasizes inclusion and transparency in the planning process which will establish interim milestones, budget estimates, equity metrics and financing mechanisms with community residents and stakeholders over the next two years.

Satellite Beach joins a growing group of Florida cities that includes  Orlando, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Tallahassee, and Gainesville among others, and becomes the 133rd city in the U.S. to commit to this goal.

Satellite Beach has a history of environmental leadership, from being one of the first 15 cities in the nation to achieve SolSmart “Gold” designation to establishing the Logos Community Garden at Desoto Park for residents to rent their own growing plots. Recently, the City made PACE funding available to residents from all four providers in the area and established a goal to convert their City Hall and Public Works buildings to 100% solar power by 2022. 
“I’m excited to see Council taking this step affirming the City of Satellite Beach’s commitment to clean, renewable energy.Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign aligns with the city’s sustainability plan and the projects the sustainability board has been working on continuing in the direction of a sustainable future," said Satellite Beach Sustainability Board Member, Dylan Hansen.
“It is a constant source of inspiration to be part of a City that is consistently supporting sustainability as it develops in our community and beyond," said Satellite Beach Environmental Programs Coordinator, Nicholas Sanzone. 
“I just want to say, Satellite Beach has always been a very forward thinking community, and it started years ago with people before our time. It’s a pleasure to be here with these members; It’s just really gratifying to see where we are today, and to see the things we are doing,” said City Council Member Derek Montaro.
“Because Satellite Beach already has a Sustainability Action Plan in place, the city has been well on its way to moving toward a cleaner and healthier community.  The passing of this resolution shows that the Satellite Beach wants to continue to make their community a leader in the fight for a just and equitable transition to 100 percent clean energy.  By committing to 100 percent renewable energy goals, Satellite Beach is paving the way for other communities to follow suit, and we look forward to working with the city to make this transition,” said Leslie Maloney, Vice Chair of Turtle Coast Sierra Club Group.
Brooke Alexander

Organizing Representative, Ready For 100 Campaign

Thursday, August 8, 2019

“Stop the Burn” Campaign Goes to Brazil

Billowing smoke, falling ash, heavy chemical fertilizer, and pesticide applications -- these are some of the realities of large scale sugarcane production here in Florida.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  I had the opportunity to visit Brazil in June to tour the Native Green Cane Project, where pre-harvest sugar field burning and chemical fertilizer and pesticide applications were abandoned years ago and replaced with sustainable, organic production methods. I witnessed a completely different paradigm of sugarcane agriculture in action, one that works with nature rather than against it. I came back with a lot to share about how sugarcane should and can be grown in Florida.

Patrick Ferguson with Leontino Balbo Jr.,
Founder of the Green Cane Project
The Native Green Cane Project was started in 1986 by the Balbo Group, a family-owned company that grows sugarcane in the state of Sao Paulo Brazil under the Native’ Brand name. The project was the brainchild of Leontino Balbo Junior, the Balbo Group Executive Vice President, whose vision led to the development of a revolutionary sugarcane production and harvesting method called Ecosystem Revitalization Agriculture (ERA). ERA at its core is about restoring soil health and biodiversity to replicate natural resilient and regenerative ecosystems where crops can thrive. This focus on strengthening the health of the surrounding ecosystem where their sugarcane is grown has created organic crops with 20% higher yields than conventional sugarcane without the use of any chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

Transforming "Trash" into Treasure

Over 30 years ago Balbo recognized that pre-harvest sugarcane burning wreaked havoc on the surrounding ecosystem: it ruined soils, destroyed animal habitats, and produced toxic air pollution. This inspired him to begin to use sugarcane leaves and tops (often referred to as “trash”) to enrich the soil as mulch, rather than burning it off prior to harvesting, which is still the  practice in Florida; Native Brand farms accomplished this by making a custom-built mechanical sugarcane harvester designed to strip and blow the trash back onto the ground during the harvesting process. This method of harvesting puts 20 tons of trash per hectare back into the soil each year, restoring vital nutrients, especially nitrogen, blocking the growth of harmful weeds, and preventing soil erosion. Between 90 and 120 days after harvest, the trash (and its nutrients) are completely recycled back into the soils. The trash mulching itself became the bedrock of the Green Cane Project’s success story.

Patrick with Fernando Vanzela of Native Brand
with green harvesting in background 
Within 5 years of applying this method, the mulched trash began to generate new biodiversity and a healthier overall ecosystem on their farms which translated into stronger, more resilient sugarcane crops. By the end of 8 years, Native Brand’s organic cane began to produce higher yields than nearby pre-harvest-burned conventional cane fields (that productivity turnaround time is now closer to as little as 3 years due to the experience and knowledge gained using ERA farming methods). By 2007, the success of the Green Cane Project and the benefits of using sugarcane trash as mulch began to influence the entire Brazilian sugarcane industry when the Brazilian government and sugarcane industry partnered to enact the “Green Protocol.” The "Green Protocol" was a long term plan to phase out pre-harvest sugar field burning in Brazil and replace it with the type of green mechanical harvesting pioneered by the Green Cane Project. Now the vast majority of sugarcane is green harvested in Brazil; 97% all sugarcane grown in Native Brand's home state of Sao Paulo is green harvested. In Brazil, pre-harvest burning is considered a backward counter-productive agricultural practice.

Since then, many Brazilian sugarcane farms have begun using sugarcane trash in combination with sugarcane bagasse to generate more electricity and ethanol at their mills, but on Native Brand farms, the trash is viewed as far too important for its role in sustaining soil health to be removed for other uses. Native Brand’s pioneering Green Cane Project is an exemplification of “one man’s trash is another man's treasure.”

No Compression, No Chemicals, No Problem 

Micro-wasps bred by Native Brand to combat sugarcane borers
in lieu of chemical pesticide use on their farms
Native Brand tackled another modern agriculture problem, the soil compaction that damages soil aeration, microbial life, and lessens the soil’s ability to retain water. By installing special low impact deflated tires on their harvesters and tractors, they protect their soils from the negative impacts of soil compaction. Native Brand also recognized that chemical fertilizers upset the natural chemical balance of agricultural soils. By using trash mulching and other organic sugarcane production byproducts like vinasse for fertilizer, they eliminated the need for chemical fertilizers, avoided the harmful environmental impacts, and restored the natural chemical balance of the soil. The restored health of the overall ecosystem produced crops more resilient to pests and disease. When needed, Native Brand utilizes biological pest control rather than chemical pest control; one example is the successful use of a micro-wasp breeding program which has proven more effective than chemical treatments at controlling sugarcane borer populations.

Growing Biodiversity Alongside Sugarcane 

Grey-necked Wood Rail in Native Brand sugarcane field 
(Photo Credit: Native Brand)

One of the unforeseen benefits of the Green Cane Project has been the explosion of biodiversity that has been recorded on Native Brand's farms. Research has shown their farms support 23 times more biodiversity than conventional sugar cane farms and 50% more biodiversity than a nearby national park in the State of Sao Paulo. Field surveys conducted on the Native Green Cane Project’s fields and 11,000 acres of forests they maintain on their land as “biodiversity islands,” have found over 340 species, including 49 endangered species

More information on the documented biodiversity on Native Brand farms can be found here.

Both Sustainable and Profitable

The Green Cane Project’s sugarcane cultivation and production is 100% carbon
neutral with soils that act as a carbon sink. In addition to supplying over a third of the world’s supply of organic sugarcane and providing their own mulched trash soil amendments, they also produce bioethanol (including organic carbon-neutral ethanol), molasses, animal feed, bioplastics, as well as enough electricity to process over six million tons of sugarcane per year and  to power a city of more than 540,000 people. Balbo himself has been invited to speak in front of the UN about the success of the ERA farming method, and Native Brand has been declared a sustainability champion by the World Economic Forum. They have received over 16 certifications for quality assurance of their organic, sustainable, and socially responsible products (see full list of certifications here).

See Native Brand’s sustainability profile for more information here.

Growing Healthy Communities and Employees Too 

The Balbo Group has also recognized the importance of taking care of its employees and the surrounding community. During the shift to mechanical green harvesting, no cane cutters were fired; instead, they were all retrained for other jobs on the farm or at the mills. Native Brand provides fair wages, housing, progressive medical, dental and preventative health care services, and employee training that goes well beyond what the Brazilian government requires employers to provide. Native Brand also supports over 200 community institutions annually including: local foster homes, schools, daycare centers, and many local environmental and recycling education initiatives. This commitment to their employees and the community makes Native Brand a champion in social and environmental sustainability.

See more on Native’ Brand’s social programs here.

A Model for Florida to Follow 

Native Brand has not only proven that large scale organic sugarcane farming can be more profitable than conventional sugarcane farming; they have also proven that it can be achieved while also improving the quality of the surrounding communities. I asked if ERA methods could be applied to Florida and was told their experience would suggest that ERA methods could be tailored to any environment with increasing yields being realized as early as 3 to 4 years after implementation.

The communities in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), the Everglades ecosystem, and sugar producers in Florida would all benefit from an end to pre-harvest burning and the adoption of ERA farming methods. We have to ask why our heavily federally supported sugar industry is allowed to continue to employ regressive polluting agricultural practices at the expense of taxpayers?

The Florida sugar industry can become a better environmental and community steward while increasing their profits. It is vitally important for those of us who know better to continue to push the Florida sugar industry to adopt modern sustainable green harvesting.

I will be providing a series of public presentations on what I learned about the Green Cane Project in Brazil and how it can benefit Florida. Please contact me if you are interested in having me present to your local community or group.

For more information:

Green Cane Project Videos:

Native Brand Farm in Sao Paulo, Brazil. 

Patrick, sugarcane trash in hand, on Native Brand Farm in Sao Paulo, Brazil.