Monday, April 27, 2020

PRESS RELEASE: 200+ Organizations Call on Ag Commissioner Fried to End Pre-harvest Sugar Field Burning

For Immediate Release
April 27, 2020
Contact:  Patrick Ferguson,, 954-288-4234
Florida Council of Churches, Everglades Coalition, Miami Climate Alliance, and Florida Clinicians for Climate Action join Glades’ institutions to demand change

Belle Glade, FLTwo letters were sent to Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried today to urge her to begin the phase-out of pre-harvest sugarcane field burning.  The letters, one from the 60-plus member organizations in the Everglades Coalition, the other signed by businesses, non-profits and religious institutions in and around the Glades, the Florida Council of Churches, Florida Clinicians for Climate Action, and the Miami Climate Alliance – representing well over 150 organizations, churches and businesses and over 100 doctors, nurses and public health experts, both identify the Covid-19 threat as an underscore to the urgency of the Stop the Burn Campaign’s cause.
April 27, 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 Now

Dear Commissioner Fried:

We, the below-signed organizations and businesses, urge you to take action now to stop the toxic practice of pre-harvest sugar field burning.  You already know the facts:

        Over 400,000 acres of sugarcane is grown in the EAA, where the pre-harvest field burning season lasts 6-8 months (October-March/April/May).
        Pre-harvest sugar field burning is estimated to release over 3,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants a year including carcinogenic pollutants like Formaldehyde, Benzene, and Acenaphthylene.
        Pre-harvest sugarcane burning also releases greenhouse gas emissions, contributes to the pollution of nearby waterways through atmospheric deposition, and increases rates of soil subsidence that threaten the long term viability of agriculture within the EAA.
        Medical research has linked exposure to pre-harvest sugar field burning pollution to a wide variety of health issues including respiratory disease, cancer, kidney disease, and poor infant health outcomes; those most at risk are children and the elderly.
        Current wind-based sugarcane burning regulations deny burn permits if winds are projected to blow the toxic smoke and ash plumes toward the more affluent Eastern Palm Beach County and Eastern Martin County communities near the coast while burn permits are currently approved with minimal/ineffective protections provided when the wind blows toward the predominately African-American and Latinx residents of Western Palm Beach County, Western Martin County, Hendry County, and Glades County.
        The EPA’s Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool show the Glades communities rank on average in the 80–100 percentile risk range for both cancer and respiratory health impacts as compared to the other EPA region, state, and national census block groups.
        The Florida sugar industry already “green harvests” small amounts of sugarcane each year when it is convenient for them. 
        The Florida industry is behind the times:  Sugarcane growers in Louisiana, Brazil, Australia, Zimbabwe and elsewhere in the world are already switching from pre-harvest burning to modern, sustainable, green harvesting and benefiting from the utilization of sugarcane trash (leaves and tops) as an added resource and/or source of income.
        A switch to green harvesting will not only improve public health and protect the environment but will also provide new economic opportunities for communities in and around the EAA and the industry itself; this has been exemplified in every nation around the world where the switch has been made.

We are appalled at the discriminatory nature of the current burn permitting regulations and know that you, as Commissioner of Agriculture, have the both the authority and the responsibility to protect Floridians from this type of outdated agricultural practice that so endangers the health and economic well-being of so many in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).

In a press conference on October 1, 2019 you said “keeping Florida’s residents, communities, and environment safe is my number one priority.”  But as of today Florida residents living in and around the Glades remain unprotected.   In addition to the smoke and ash they endure, these residents are put at further risk by Covid-19.  As you and your department consider and implement measures to protect Floridians from Covid-19, you must not forget your stated priority. 

Per the Florida Forest Service’s active burn tracking tool, ash plumes often travel well over 20 miles.  The Covid-19 threat 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 must be effectuated in a series of phases; the Covid-19 threat requires that phase one begins now.

The news is frightening:

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


All Faiths Unitarian Congregation, Fort Myers FL                                                   
Reverend C.J. McGregor, Minister 

Aquatics for Life 
Susan Steinhauser, President 

Ascension 33, Inc.
Shanique Scott, President

Balance For Earth, Inc.
Dylan Hansen, President 

Climate Reality Project, Boca Raton Chapter
Holly Lichtenfeld, Co-Chair 

Common Ground Project Florida
Tess Martin, State Director 

Farmworkers Association of Florida
Antonio Tovar, Interim General Coordinator

Fitz Productions LLC
Tom Fitz, Owner

Florida Council of Churches
The Rev. Dr. Russell L. Meyer, Executive Director 

Florida Clinicians for Climate Action
Dr. Cheryl Holder and Dr. Ankush Bansal, Co-Chairs 

Florida Poor People’s Campaign 
Dan Jones, Member, State Coordinating Committee

Glades Community Organization, Inc.
Gloria VanBrocklin, Office Manager

GreenFaith FL 
Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo, Florida Organizer 

Her Queendom Ministry, Inc.
Kina Phillips, President 

Indianwood Home Owners Association
Larry Guariniello, President 

Lee County Chapter Climate Reality
Ariel Hoover, MA, Chair 

Emily Gorman, Steering Committee Chair 

Peace Justice Sustainability Florida 
David Gibson, Organizing Coordinator

People for Protecting Peace River, Inc.
Brooks Armstrong, President 

Sisters of The Blessed Sacrament, Belle Glade, FL
Sister Laura Cavanaugh and Sister Anne Meehan

The Connection Partners, Inc.
Sharon Joy Kleitsch, Founding Partner


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Double down on requests for Governor DeSantis to VETO SB 410!

Late last week, Sierra Club Florida lobbyist, Dave Cullen, received a call from a staff member of the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget to discuss SB 410 Growth Management. The staff member noted that the Governor has not yet received the bill and it is unknown when he will, however the Governor wants to hear from both sides.

To date, Sierra Club Florida has requested the Governor veto this bill by delivering our letter, sponsoring and delivering a multiple organization sign on letter, and issuing an advocacy alert to members and supporters. We thank all of you who have heeded this call to action. But now is not the time to let up- we need to make sure he hears from us! 

Please call Governor DeSantis at 850-488-7146 and urge him to veto SB 410. If you can’t get through, please send him an email and, if you can safely, a hard copy by regular mail. He could be sent the bill at any time and could sign it when he gets it.

Email the Governor at and be sure to include in the subject line: “Please veto SB 410”

To mail your letter:
Office of Governor Ron DeSantis
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

Our original alert can be found here

For those wishing a more detailed analysis, please see below.  Thank you for all you do for Florida's environment!


 Why SB 410 should be vetoed:
  • In section 1 of the bill, SB 410 expands the number of city comprehensive plans that must defer to preexisting development orders by changing the threshold from adoption of the plan January 1, 2019 to plans effective by that date. Since effective dates necessarily come after adoption to allow the state land planning agency to issue notice or for a challenge to the plan to be resolved, this language now includes plans that were adopted in 2018 instead of only those adopted in 2019 or later. The bill retrospectively deprives all these municipalities and their residents of the ability to self-govern in favor of speculative development. Developers are already protected by the Bert Harris Act and can sue if a comprehensive plan “inordinately burdens” their property rights. 
  • Section 1 of the bill also will gut county-wide land use protections inside city limits in sixty of the state's sixty-seven counties unless and until the municipalities adopt their own matching regulations. Land use affects all residents and choices by cities having downstream effects on unincorporated areas must not be imposed on residents outside of city boundaries. For example, Alachua County's Low Impact Development regulations would no longer apply in the county's cities and towns unless each adopted their own regulations.
  • In Section 7 of the bill, SB 410 provides that if a local government fails to meet a 14-day deadline on utility permit applications, the permit is automatically granted. This penalty is excessive and unjust. If an activity requires a permit, it should never be granted just because of a paperwork delay. Fourteen days may not be a realistic timeframe to determine whether a complex permit application for a major project is complete: one or more site visits may be required and assertions must be double-checked. Also, there are other ways to incentivize timely processing of applications without imposing a bad project on an entire community because it takes more than ten working days to process an application. Solutions might include reducing the permit fee by a certain amount for each week past a (reasonable) deadline or granting the applicant more time for subsequent relevant filings. 
  • There is an opportunity cost to allowing the development of land. Ecosystem services Floridians depend on for clean air and water and for the mainstays of our tourism heavy economy are lost to the state when land is poorly used. Growth management is needed to balance the desire of business to maximize profit with the value of natural resources to the community as a whole and with the rights of other residents. The past ten years have seen most growth management law overturned.  Vetoing this bill will help preserve the little that is left.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020




TALLAHASSEE, FL. (April 15, 2020) – Sierra Club Florida has released its Florida Legislator Scorecard for 2020. Designed to give a snapshot of legislators’ votes on the environmental bills for which Sierra Club Florida dedicated considerable time and resources, it also includes “thumbs up and thumbs down” award winners noting those legislators who either championed or actively worked against the environment.

Republicans almost unanimously voted against Sierra Club’s environmental priorities by:

·        preempting local regulation of over-the-counter drugs and cosmetics to the state; specifically aimed at ending Key West’s ban on the sale of sunscreens containing octinoxate or oxybenzone as they are harmful to coral reefs. (SB 172)

·        continuing the assault on growth management by requiring that each local comprehensive plan include a new private property rights element which adds no additional property rights protection for individuals and could cost as much as $100,000 depending on the size of the community. It subjects more municipalities to development orders superseding comprehensive plans and further limits the authority of county governments to manage growth within their borders and could clear the way for high-density development in designated rural areas. (SB 410)

·        making it harder for citizens to put initiatives to amend the State Constitution on the ballot. Includes (1) increasing the required number of signatures before the Supreme Court looks at the language of the petition, (2) requiring that signatures would have to come from 1/2, instead of 1/4, of the state’s congressional districts, (3) invalidating an elector’s signature if a petition gatherer’s paperwork is not in order, (4) reducing the “shelf life” of signed petitions to a single year, (5) charging the petition sponsor for all printing and signature verifying costs, and (6) allowing any citizen to challenge a petition gatherer’s credentials. (SB 1794)

·        requiring DOT to create a master plan for EV charging stations along state highways. But the bill also makes it easier for utilities to use conservation easements on agricultural property for linear facilities, including oil and gas pipelines. (SB 7018)

“Thumbs Up” awards were given to Democratic Representative Anna Eskamani, who voted with the Sierra Club 100% of the time, and 14 of her Democratic colleagues, who supported 85% of Sierra Club’s positions.

“Florida House Democrats were the champions for Florida’s environment this session,” said Sierra Club Florida’s Chapter Director, Frank Jackalone. “But only Rep. Eskamani withstood the political pressure and opposed the weak “Clean Waterways Act.” (SB 712)

“Thumbs Down” awards were given to Rep. James Grant for his continued assault on citizen initiatives and growth management and Rep. Spencer Roach and Sen. Rob Bradley for arguing that Key West’s ban on sale of sunscreens harmful to the coral reef was an assault on skin cancer prevention.

Deborah Foote, Director of Government Affairs for Sierra Club commented, “The Florida legislature continues to thwart the will of its citizens by taking away local control and handing it over to developers and other moneyed interests. The upcoming election is the only way to reverse this abysmal trend. We need to elect pro-environment legislators if we want clean water, open spaces, and a healthier way of life.”

Sierra Club Florida hopes the Scorecard will raise awareness on how legislators vote on the environment. “Despite full knowledge of our degraded waters and rampant development, the legislature capitulated to industry and did very little to make things better,” said Jackalone.

The full Scorecard may be viewed by clicking here.

A chapter of the national Sierra Club, Sierra Club Florida is made up of volunteer leaders and civic activists representing over 240,000 members and supporters from all over the state.


Thursday, April 9, 2020

Please call Governor DeSantis and ask him to veto Senate Bill 172!

Senate Bill 172, through state preemption, bans local regulation of over-the-counter drugs and cosmetics- a direct attack on the City of Key West’s coral reef protection ordinance which bans the sale of sunscreen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, effective January 1, 2021. This is despite the fact that there is a widely accepted body of science which shows these two chemicals damage the health and reproduction of coral reefs, making them more vulnerable to bleaching, disease, and death.

Last session Governor DeSantis stood up for home rule and defended the authority of local governments when no compelling state interest exists. Once again the state legislature has overreached to pass a statewide preemption in response to a single local ordinance that is well grounded in science and local support.

Please call Governor DeSantis at (850) 488-7146 and ask him to veto SB 172 to protect home rule and the imperiled Florida Reef!

On January 30th, Governor DeSantis unveiled Florida’s Coral Reef, a new awareness campaign and website created by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and twenty-five partner organizations, including NOAA, Florida State Parks, the Coral Restoration Foundation, and others. The website urges the public to “Check sunscreen active ingredients. Some chemicals commonly found in popular sunscreens have been shown to negatively impact marine life.”

Additionally, NOAA and the National Park Service urge consumers to avoid these chemicals; and bans are already in place in Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Bonaire, and Palau.  

Coral reefs in southeast Florida have an asset value of $8.5 billion, generating $4.4 billion in local sales, $2 billion in local income, and 70,400 full and part-time jobs. These also are imperiled. Florida and the federal government currently are spending millions of taxpayer dollars to try and restore the Florida Reef.

If safe alternatives to these chemical sunscreens are affordable, effective, and widely available, why would the legislature pass such a bill?  It’s simple. Supporters of the bill include Associated Industries for Florida (AIF), The Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Retail Federation (FRF). These organizations repeatedly seek to use preemption strategy to curb progressive legislation at the local level (think plastics, minimum wage, vacation rentals, occupational licensing, etc.). They heap hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations to the sponsors of these bills through various PACS. Make no mistake; this bill is not, as the sponsors claim, about protecting people from skin cancer.

Call Governor DeSantis at (850) 488-7146 and ask him to not capitulate to industry and to protect the Florida Reef by vetoing SB 172!

Please call Governor DeSantis and ask him to veto Senate Bill 410!

SB 410 is a bill that will further weaken Florida’s already crippled growth management laws that attempt to provide for the intelligent use of the state’s lands. SB 410 passed both the Florida House and Senate and will go to Gov. DeSantis to become law UNLESS he vetoes it. 

Please call Governor DeSantis at (850) 488-7146 and ask him to veto Senate Bill 410!

This bad bill will:

·       Turn growth management upside down.
·       Steer funding to M-CORES for planning.
·       Require new “property rights” element to be included in all comprehensive plans.
·       Require automatic approval of utility application to use right-of-way if 14-day deadline is not met (regardless of impact on community)

SB 410 continues last session’s corruption of the underlying principle that a comprehensive plan is the law and everything else – permits, zoning, development orders – is subservient to the plan. This benefits developers and robs citizens and communities of the ability to choose what kind of place they want to live in.

The bill also eliminates the applicability of county-wide land use regulations to cities in the county, if the city has adopted its own comp plan. This would affect sixty of the state’s sixty-seven counties and would mean regulations like Alachua County’s Low Impact Development regulation would no longer apply in that county’s cities unless they adopt their own.

And the bill provides that Development of Regional Impact (DRI) agreements can be amended by the same process used to amend development orders. DRIs are projects that impact residents of more than one governmental jurisdiction and have been made weaker and weaker over time. SB 410 just about eliminates them altogether.

Over the past 10 years the Legislature has dismantled Florida’s once praised growth management laws, and this bill continues that destruction. To fully appreciate how problematic this bill is requires some context; check out some examples here.

Please call Governor DeSantis at (850) 488-7146 and ask him to veto Senate Bill 410!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Please call Governor DeSantis at (850) 488-7146 and ask him to veto Senate Bill 1794!

UPDATE: Thank you to those who quickly responded to our call to contact the Governor to veto SB 1794. Unfortunately, the Governor signed the bill. Now it will be even harder for citizens to put initiatives to amend the State Constitution on the ballot.

 SB 1794 will make it even harder for citizens to put initiatives to amend the State Constitution on the ballot.  The citizen initiative process is enshrined in the Constitution. Don’t let the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida take it away from you!

Please call Governor DeSantis at (850) 488-7146 and ask him to veto Senate Bill 1794!

What will SB 1794 do?
It will make initiative sponsors get at least a quarter of their signatures before the Supreme Court looks at the language of the petition to say if it’s acceptable or not. The law currently requires only 10%. A huge amount of time, money, and effort is needed to get these signatures and this provision is designed to discourage people from even trying. Fully one quarter of an initiative’s budget would be spent before sponsors even know if their ballot language is acceptable.
Signatures will have to come from one half, instead of one quarter, of the state’s congressional districts.
Any citizen could challenge a petition gatherer’s credentials. This means political operatives can file a petition in circuit court against petition circulators, which means time in court, lost time working and less pay, and lots of hassle.
If a petition gatherer’s paperwork is not in order, a legal elector’s signature will be invalidated with no means to cure the defect.
The “shelf life” of signed petitions will be reduced by one half to a single year. Citizen-driven campaigns would be especially harmed as it takes time to collect signatures.
The petition sponsor will be charged for all printing and signature verifying costs. Supervisors of Elections are to charge sponsors of citizens’ petitions the “actual cost” of verifying signatures. For the 2020 election, it takes 766,200 signed petitions to put an initiative on the ballot. That takes time, money, and effort.

Please call Governor DeSantis at (850) 488-7146 and ask him to stop the attack on citizen initiatives by vetoing Senate Bill 1794!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Pasco County Moves Forward with Serenova Habitat Destruction Despite Pending Lawsuit

 April, 7, 2020
Pasco County, FL -- Despite a pending lawsuit that could force the Board of County Commissioners to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to restore wildlife habitats and aquatic resources destroyed during construction of the Ridge Road Extension through the Serenova Preserve, Pasco County has defiantly rejected pleas to stop construction work on the extension within the preserve.  The rejection came after Sierra Club attorneys sent Pasco County a letter on March 24 asking them to cease construction in the environmentally sensitive preserve until the lawsuit was decided.
Sierra Club attorney Heidi Mehaffey of Robert N. Hartsell, PA, cautioned Pasco County that moving forward with further land disturbance or destructive site development, “without allowing this case to filter through the court system would be extremely short sighted and could have disastrous and financial consequences for Pasco County when Plaintiffs prevail on the merits.”
In a letter dated March 25, Pasco County attorneys’ cited Judge Charlene Honeywell’s recent decision to deny the Sierra Club’s motion for an injunction to halt construction during the pendency of the lawsuit. Frederick J. Aschauer, an attorney representing Pasco County, responded, “we acknowledge your position but intend to proceed with construction as allowed by our permits.”
The Sierra Club and longtime Serenova activist Dan Rametta are co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE). The suit was filed on February 6 to challenge the permit recently granted by the ACOE to Pasco County to construct the Ridge Road Extension.
“We have 20 years’ worth of evidence submitted to the judge in this case. We were not surprised that she was unable to sort through it all in the first weeks of the case and grant our motion for an injunction,” said Tim Martin, Conservation Chair for the Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club.  “That being said, the County is recklessly gambling with taxpayer money by moving forward with construction. They’ve already wasted over $13 million on this project, and if they lose this case, will end up wasting millions more to fix the mess they’ve created.”
“In these times of economic crisis, the last thing any government agency needs to do is waste money that could be spent saving lives,” added Dan Rametta.  “Counties are running out of money to fight the pandemic. How can Pasco County risk wasting $134 million to build this boondoggle, and then have to waste even more when they have to deconstruct damage to the Serenova Preserve, at a time when people’s lives are at stake?”
 Contact: Tim Martin,, 727-251-9979
Photos and interviews available upon request.