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, patrick.ferguson@sierraclub.org, 954-288-4234
** PRESS RELEASE**
200+ ORGANIZATIONS CALL ON AG COMMISSIONER FRIED TO END PRE-HARVEST SUGAR FIELD BURNING
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.
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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.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/03/15/smoking-air-pollution-coronavirus/
        “Air pollution likely to increase corona virus death rate, warn experts” https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/17/air-pollution-likely-to-increase-coronavirus-death-rate-warn-experts
        “Air pollution increases corona virus vulnerability, experts say” https://www.foxnews.com/science/air-pollution-increases-coronavirus-vulnerability-experts-claim

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.

Sincerely,

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


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