Wednesday, March 25, 2020

PRESS RELEASE: COVID-19 threat underscores the need to end pre-harvest sugar field burning

For Immediate Release
March 25, 2020
Contact:  Patrick Ferguson,, 954-288-4234

Belle Glade, FL – As sugar growers in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area continue to pre-harvest burn their sugarcane fields in the midst of the Covid-19 threat, today Sierra Club urged Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried to start the phase out of the yearly 6-8 month burn season with a ban on burns within a 27-30 mile buffer zone.  This is not a new request; the Stop the Burn Campaign has been demanding an end to the toxic, outdated practice since 2015 and first asked Commissioner Fried for the buffer zone around populated areas as a first phase of a future complete ban at a protest in Belle Glade on November 23, 2019.  The Covid-19 threat is an obvious underscore to the urgency of the demand for action:        

March 25, 2020

Commissioner Nikki Fried
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Plaza Level 10, The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0800

RE:  Stop the Burn and Covid-19

Dear Commissioner Fried:

In a press conference on October 1, 2019 you said “keeping Florida’s residents, communities, and environment safe is my number one priority.”  You also announced a new 80-acre buffer zone to protect wildlands from pre-harvest burns.  The Stop the Burn Campaign refuses to accept that people living in the Glades are less worthy of protection than are wildlands or less worthy of protection than the residents of Wellington.  But as of today they remain unprotected.  In fact, the new measures announced in October 2019 did nothing to keep the residents in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area safe and healthy.  They are still choked by black snow while residents in Eastern Palm Beach County are protected by burn wind restrictions. 

Per the Florida Forest Service’s active burn tracking tool, ash plumes often travel well over 20 miles; in fact we have identified ash plumes as long as 26.21 miles long on the Forest Service website.  As you and your department consider and implement measures to protect Floridians from Covid-19, you must not forget your stated priority.  Pre-harvest sugar field burning is a constant threat to respiratory health in the Glades for 6-8 months a year, and the added risk of Covid-19, on an already vulnerable population during the burning season, is the perfect impetus for you to finally institute the first phase of the end to pre-harvest sugar field burning right now –  a 27-30 mile buffer around homes, schools, streets, and churches.
A 27-30 mile buffer around Moore Haven, Clewiston, South Bay, Belle Glade, Pahokee, Indiantown and other impacted communities will be a first step toward providing those Florida citizens the protection to which they have a right but have been denied for generations.

We understand that the eventual complete ban of pre-harvest burning in the future must be effectuated in a series of phases; the Covid-19 threat requires that phase one begins right now.

A comment posted on our Stop the Burn Campaign Facebook Page by a resident of the Glades who suffers from COPD, paints a vivid picture:  They are telling people not to leave their houses because of the virus. This is what I go through every year during sugar cane burning season every year. I can’t even come out of my house every time they burn year after year. Unreal! What people are feeling right now with this virus, It’s how I feel every time they burn sugar cane around here.”

The following highlights the reality in which residents, and especially those with pre-existing respiratory conditions, find themselves as they endure exposure to toxic sugarcane burning pollution on top of the threat of Covid-19:

      “The coronavirus is deadly enough. But some experts suspect bad air makes it worse.”
      “Air pollution likely to increase coronavirus death rate, warn experts”
      “Air pollution increases coronavirus vulnerability, experts say”

To truly prioritize the health and safety of Glades residents, you must take the steps to institute a 27-30-mile buffer zone now.  The sugar industry already “green harvests” when it is convenient for the industry itself; it is now time for the sugar industry to green harvest within 27-30 miles of human populations whether or not it is convenient, because Glades lives matter. 

We expect bold leadership from you Commissioner.  We expect you to protect the health, safety, and welfare of Florida’s most vulnerable communities first.  Institute the first phase of a ban on pre-harvest sugar field burning and you will be true to your promise and be the catalyst for a brand new, improved economic future for the Glades.  Stand back and let the burning continue and you will be remembered as yet another politician who pays lip service only to your most vulnerable constituents.


Patrick Ferguson
Sierra Club Organizing Representative, Stop Sugar Field Burning Campaign
PO Box 2347
136A S. Main St, Belle Glade, FL 33430 

March 25, 2020:  View from Moore Haven Bridge

50 Organizations & Businesses to Governor DeSantis: Veto the misnamed "Clean Waterways Act"

March 24, 2020

The Honorable Ron DeSantis
Plaza Level 05, The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399

RE:  Veto SB 712
The Florida Legislature has passed CS/CS/SB 712, known as the “Clean Waterways Act,” which will soon be sent to your desk.  This bill is an endorsement of the status quo which has led to our current water quality crisis. It does nothing to reduce nutrient pollution to Florida’s springs. Florida’s waters are polluted because our regulatory system is broken and those in charge of protecting our waters are unduly influenced by polluters and their lobbyists. Far from fixing these problems, CS/CS/SB 712 is a symptom of them.
CS/CS/SB 712 relies on an ineffective water quality restoration program called Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs). BMAPs for Outstanding Florida Springs have already been shown to be unable to achieve water quality goals.  The Florida Springs Council and several springs advocacy groups are in active litigation against the Florida Department of Environmental Protect over these failed plans.  As passed, CS/CS/SB 712 is based on a program that is designed to fail at achieving water quality goals.
CS/CS/SB 712 does nothing to prevent even one pound of agricultural pollution, the predominant source of nutrient pollution to Outstanding Florida Springs, from reaching our groundwater.  It requires DACS to confirm that producers are implementing current best management practices, even though the Department of Environmental Protection has acknowledged in a court filing that current best management practices are not useful for achieving water quality goals.  By law, as long as agricultural producers implement these ineffective practices, they are automatically assumed in compliance with water quality standards. CS/CS/SB 712 does not require the adoption or implementation of improved best management practices for agricultural producers, even though the need for such practices is almost universally recognized and many of Florida’s impaired waters cannot recover without them.
CS/CS/SB 712 continues to allow foul sewage sludge from South Florida to be transported north and dumped into areas where it pollutes the headwaters of the St. Johns River and other important waterways.  It weakens efforts to regulate sewage sludge application and includes loopholes which will delay stronger protections indefinitely.
Ironically, while CS/CS/SB 712 relies exclusively on a broken and failed regulatory system to protect water quality, it preempts local governments from filling the vacuum left by a lack of leadership at the state level and addressing environmental issues in their own jurisdictions.
The shortcomings of CS/CS/SB 712 are many and various.  We have provided specific recommendations for amendments and explanations of the need for these amendments to legislators, Secretary Valenstein, and Chief Science Officer Frazer to no avail.
Because this bill does literally nothing to protect or restore Florida’s springs we ask you to veto CS/CS/SB 712 and demand that the Legislature return next year to pass bold effective water quality legislation before it is too late. If signed into law, CS/CS/SB 712 will only make our water quality problems worse in the long run. It provides political cover for a Legislature that refuses to make the tough choices necessary to address this crisis.  And it guarantees another half-decade, or more, of inaction towards meaningful and effective water quality laws.
No one will remember what bills were signed, or how much money was proposed, when Florida’s waters are more polluted in five years than they are today.  Instead, the legacy left by CS/CS/SB 712 and those who championed it as a solution to our water quality crisis will be another generation of polluted waters.
Apalachicola Riverkeeper
Georgia Ackerman, Riverkeeper and Executive Director

Aquatics for Life
Susan Steinhauser, President

Broward for Progress
Laurie Woodward Garcia, Co-Leader

Center for Biological Diversity
Jaclyn Lopez, Florida Director

Citizens for an Engaged Electorate
Barbara Byram, Co-Founder
Collier County Waterkeeper
Colleen Gill, Waterkeeper

Deep Spring Farm
Leela Robinson, Owner

Democratic Club of On Top of the World
Bob Troy, Director

Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida
Janelle J. Christensn, PhD, President

Duval Audubon Society
Jody Willis, President

Alisa Coe, Staff Attorney

Emerald Coastkeeper
Laurie Murphy, Executive Director

Englewood Indivisible
Jane Hunter, Leadership Team

Florida Paddling Association
Jill Lingard, President

Florida Poor People's Campaign
Dr. Carolynn Zonia, Leadership Team

Florida Springs Council
Ryan Smart, Executive Director

Florida Water Conservation Trust
Terry Brant, Legal & Legislative Chairman

Friends of the Wekiva River
Mike Cliburn, Secretary

Friends of Warm Mineral Springs
Juliette Jones, Director

Gullah/Geechee Nation
Queen Quet, Chieftess

Healthy Gulf
Christian Wagley, Coastal Organizer

Hernando Environmental Land Protectors
Charles Morton, President

Hillsborough Democratic Environmental Caucus
Russell Conn, Chair

Ichetucknee Alliance
John D. Jopling, President

IDEAS for Us
Clayton Louis Ferrara, Executive Director

Indivisible Clay County
Sandy Goldman, Chair

Indivisible FL13
Cynthia Lippert, Organizer

Indivisible St. Johns
Mary Lawrence, Founder

Indivisible Venice
Debra Schyvinck, Leadership Team

League of Women Voters Florida
Judith Hushon, Natural Resources Chair

Lee Weber Distribution
Lee Weber, Owner

Lobby for Animals
Thomas Ponce, President

Martin County Conservation Alliance
Donna Melzer, Chair

Miakka Community Club
Becky Ayech, President

Our Santa Fe River
Mike Roth, President

Pine Lily Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society
Karina Veaudry, President

Rainbow River Conservation
Burt Eno, President

Rebah Farm
Carol Ahearn, Owner

Santa Fe Lake Dwellers Association
Jill McGuire, President

Save Orange County, Inc.
Dr. Kelly Semrad, Vice Chair

Save the Manatee Club
Anne Harvey, Esq., Acting Director of Conservation and Advocacy

Sierra Club Florida
Frank Jackalone, Chapter Director

Silver Springs Alliance
Chris Spontak, President

South Florida Wildlands Association
Matthew Schwartz, Executive Director

Space Coast Audubon
Matt Heyden, Conservation Chair

Speak Up Wekiva, Inc.
Chuck O'Neal, President

Stone Crab Alliance
Karen Dwyer, PhD., Co-founder

Visions Unlimited Productions, Inc.
Leslie Harris-Senac, Owner

Wakulla Springs Alliance
Robert Deyle, Chair

Withlacoochee Aquatic Restoration
Dan Hilliard, President

Friday, March 20, 2020

Sierra Club Florida & Working Around Covid-19

From:  Sierra Club Florida Chapter
To:  Sierra Club Florida Members & Supporters
Subject:  Working around Covid-19

Thank you for supporting Sierra Club Florida!  You may have received a message from Executive Director Michael Brune about Sierra Club’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19). In his words:The COVID-19 pandemic is a social and economic justice issue, as well as a health crisis. Protecting our community is our number one priority, and we recognize that we have a social responsibility to be good actors in keeping others safe, too…  While voluntary social distancing may be necessary to protect our health, it is increasingly important that we come together to work through this crisis.”

During this trying time, we know there will be many different ways our members and supporters cope.  For some, this is a time to rest and take care, and we fully understand that many may want to remove themselves from the work of the Sierra Club for the duration. For others, this may be a time to engage in community and advocacy online or over the phone just as always, or to an even greater extent (to fill the time alone provided by social distancing).

We have refrained from sending action alerts until now in order to give staff and volunteers a break while they adjust to the new reality, but now we will get back to the work of the Sierra Club as much as we can, depending on emails, social media, teleconferences, webinars, and good old fashioned telephone calls to get the word out, get actions taken, and to maintain the community we have here in Florida.

For those who may not have the time or space to engage in these online actions for a time, we ask that you remain patient with us as we continue to send out action alerts to continue our work to protect Florida’s one-of-a-kind environment.

For those who want to engage over email/social media/phone during this time -- stay tuned.  You will soon see back in your inbox both ways to engage virtually (stay connected) during this difficult time and action alerts regarding critical environmental issues.  The first will be directed at moving Governor DeSantis to veto bad bills passed by the House and Senate.

As always, thank you for your time, support, and patience.  We hope you and yours are safe and healthy.

Wishing you well,

SCFL Executive Committee
Alyssa Cadwalader
Craig Diamond
Grant Gelhardt
Stephen Mahoney
Daniel Marien
Steve Wonderly

SCFL Chapter Director
Frank Jackalone

SCFL Staff
Deb Foote
Brooke Alexander
Phil Compton
Cris Costello
Linda Demler
Patrick Ferguson
Raquel Fernandez
Emily Gorman
Ricky Junquera
Michael McGrath
Susannah Randolph
Anthony Schreiber
Diana Umpierre
Gonzalo Valdes
Herman Younger

Wednesday, March 11, 2020


March 11, 2020
Ryan Smart, Florida Springs Council,, 561-358-7191
David Cullen, Sierra Club,, 941-323-2404
Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper,, 904-509-3260


Same old story – same expected outcome

TALLAHASSEE—As of today, the misnamed “Clean Waterways Act” has passed in both chambers of the state legislature and is on its way to the Governor’s desk. 

For more than a month the Florida Springs Council, Florida Waterkeepers, and Sierra Club have been asking Senator Mayfield to “fix” SB 712, but rather than improve the bill and make it more protective of water quality, it was further weakened with the full approval and enthusiastic support of FDEP Secretary Noah Valenstein.

Ryan Smart, Florida Springs Council Executive Director, responded with: Today the Florida Legislature once again sided with Florida's major polluters and landowners, against the interests of the public and our environment. Last year, we saw Democratic and Republican lawmakers overwhelmingly support legislation forcing environmentally and economically damaging toll roads on rural areas throughout Florida for the benefit of billionaire landowners. This year, those same Legislators unanimously voted for SB 712, a "water quality bill" written and approved by lobbyists for Florida's major polluters. SB 712 does nothing to protect Florida's springs, delays reaching water quality goals for decades, gives a free pass to many of Florida's largest polluters, and prohibits local governments from trying to do better.  Make no mistake, a yes vote on SB 712 is a vote for more pollution, not clean water."

Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper, stated:  The land disposal of sewage sludge is fouling Florida waterways and fueling toxic blue green algae. SB 712 weakens efforts to protect our waters by providing polluter loopholes that allow the dangerous dumping of concentrated human waste to further degrade our springs, our rivers, and our waters.  This bill does nothing to address the fact that biosolids generated in South Florida are transported north where they are polluting the headwaters of the St. Johns River. 

Dave Cullen, Sierra Club lobbyist said:  This is more bait and switch from the Legislature.  They can’t bring themselves to regulate agriculture’s manure and fertilizer, the major source of pollution to many basins, so they shift the entire conversation to septic tanks and wastewater treatment plants.  After all, that way they get to wag their fingers at their current favorite scapegoat – local governments.  It also allows them to put the cost of infrastructure onto taxpayers and ratepayers and at the same time completely avoid stopping the worst source of nonpoint pollution at the source.”

Jen Lomberk, Matanzas Riverkeeper, added:  This bill just doubles down on the broken system that got us into this water quality crisis in the first place. Unless our elected officials are willing to stand up to polluters, we can expect to watch our waterways continue to decline.”
Cris Costello, Sierra Club Organizing Manager said:  The last so-called ‘comprehensive’ water bill was passed in 2016, and the environmental community – 52 organizations and coalitions from across the state – asked then Governor Rick Scott to veto it, because then, like today, the bill was only as strong as the state's biggest polluters would allow.  Did the 2016 bill, also praised by legislators in both chambers, get the job done?  No.  We are in worse shape now than we were before that bill passed.  This bill will be the same because it ignores the worst sources of pollution feeding harmful algae blooms, preempts local regulation, and deliberately remains dependent on a broken Basin Management Action Plan system.”

On February 3, the Florida Springs Council, Florida Waterkeepers, and Sierra Club sent a letter to Senator Mayfield and other legislators asking for 18 amendments to SB 712 that would address the most serious flaws of the bill.  On February 12, in response to public comments made by Chief Science Officer Thomas K. Frazer regarding the bill, the same groups sent a twelve-page letter to Frazer that included a full and documented explanation of the bill’s many failures.  Responses, both formal and informal, from Senator Mayfield, DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein, and the Chief Science Officer failed to refute any of our arguments and continued to ignore the glaring inadequacies of this legislation.


Monday, March 9, 2020

Ban amendment filed that would gut the banning of shark finning- please take action!

This just in... a bad amendment that would gut the banning of shark finning was filed yesterday. We know you're getting a lot of alerts, but session will soon be over (whew!). Please act on this one too!  Call your State Representative and urge them to vote NO on amendment 982733 by Rep. Overdorf. 
The underlying bill, SB 680, bans shark finning (cutting the fins off a shark and dumping it back into the water to drown since it can no longer swim.) It explicitly bans the sale of shark fins in Florida, the import of shark fins to Florida, and the export of shark fins from Florida.The bill also provides that commercial shark fishers with a federal permit issued before Jan. 1, 2020 can continue to sell shark fins in the state and export them from Florida until 1/1/25 - a five year period to adjust to the new law. This bill has been in the process for two sessions and is almost ready to be adopted by both the House and Senate.
But Amendment 982733 by Rep. Overdorf has been filed at the last minute that eliminates the ban on selling shark fins in Florida and the ban on exporting them. Instead, it requires a study by the Fish and Wildlife Commission to determine what potential negative economic impacts on the commercial fishing industry could be caused by a ban on the sale, import, and export of shark fins. The study also would have to identify actions that could be taken to lessen or offset such impacts. Only  after the study is submitted by 12/31/2022 would the legislature be able to consider banning the practice.
Please urge your Representative to vote NO on amendment 982733. Sharks, as apex predators, are essential to the ecology of our oceans and this amendment would allow their senseless slaughter to continue unabated.
Thank you for all you do for our environment!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Legislative Alert: Contact Your Senator and Ask Him or Her to Vote "No" to the Amendment to Senate Bill 712

For the past month, Florida Springs Council, Sierra Club, and Waterkeepers Florida have been urging Senator Debbie Mayfield to fix Senate Bill 712, dubbed the “Clean Waterways Act.”  We offered detailed amendments and produced side-by-side comparisons to prove our case – the bill as written will not clean up Florida’s waters.  However, over that time, instead of getting more protective of our beleaguered waterways, SB 712 has been degraded by polluter interests, much like the waters it is supposed to protect and restore. 

Today, the trend continued; a 77-page amendment by Senator Mayfield would make a weak bill even weaker, even less able to control the pollution that is fueling the toxic algae that threatens our economy and health but more palatable for the state’s polluters:

·        It serves water bottlers by making it easier to get a consumptive use permit from a Water Management District Governing Board (an earlier version of the bill made it harder).
·        It serves utilities by (1) fatally weakening rules regarding the land application of sewage sludge (a.k.a. biosolids) in sensitive watersheds and (2) making reclaimed sewage water a source for public water supply systems without having the proper laws and technology in place to make sure it is safe.
·        It serves polluters by failing to (1) fix the broken basin management action plan program, (2) require agriculture to meet water quality goals, and (3) eliminate preemption on local Rights of Nature laws.

Once again, industry gets their way while our waters and future generations will pay the price.
Up to this point, we have been advocating that SB 712 needs to be improved to earn our support.  In light of Senator Mayfield’s latest concessions, we now have no choice but to oppose her amendment. SB 712 is no longer “not good enough;” it is now ineffective, bad policy.

Please call or email your State Senator now and ask him or her to Vote “No” on Senator Mayfield’s amendment when it is heard on the Senate Floor tomorrow (March 5).  

Tell your State Senator that it contains no positive provisions and only moves us backwards on protecting Florida’s waters. Any Legislator who supports Senator Mayfield’s amendment is voting in favor of polluters and water bottlers and against clean water and the people of Florida.