Thursday, July 30, 2020

PRESS RELEASE: Commissioner Fried: Stop Sacrificing Black Lives to Appease Big Sugar

July 30, 2020
Contacts: Patrick Ferguson,, 954-288-4234
Steve Messam,, 989-400-4225


“Stop Sacrificing Black Lives to Appease Big Sugar”

BELLE GLADE—Sierra Club and the Stop The Burn Campaign leadership, a group of local
activists fighting to protect their communities from the scourge of pre-harvest sugar field burning in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area, sent yet another unanswered letter to Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried in an attempt to get her attention to the life and death situation plaguing the Glades due to unrestrained pre-harvest sugar field burning by the politically powerful sugar industry.

The new letter, dated June 22, 2020, drew Commissioner Fried’s attention to the CDC Guidelines released on June 16, 2020, recommending bans on open agricultural burning to protect vulnerable residents from pollution exposure during the Pandemic. The CDC acknowledges the health impacts posed by open agricultural fires and recommends a burn ban to reduce smoke exposure for people with COVID19. The regions most impacted by pre-harvest sugar field burning, namely Western Palm Beach, Hendry, and Glades counties, and Indiantown in Western Martin County, have as of July 29 a total of 4,384 cases of Covid-19. Western Palm Beach County, the most heavily impacted by pre-harvest sugar field burning, currently has 1,571 cases with no sign that the situation is improving. The yearly harvest season officially begins on October 1, when a 27-30 mile no-burn buffer zone would help protect impacted communities from the health impacts exacerbated by the Covid-19 threat.

Screenshot of Glades area zip codes from Florida's COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard

“It is now common knowledge that Black and Brown communities throughout the country are being impacted by COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates. One of many contributing factors is that our communities are exposed to toxic air pollution on account of racist regulatory policies that prioritize protecting more affluent and whiter communities. Sugar field burning in the Glades region is a case in point,” stated South Bay resident Kina Phillips.

“Commissioner Fried has criticized Governor DeSantis for ignoring CDC guidelines stating that ‘the public health of Floridians and our Florida Forest Service personnel is of utmost importance during the Covid-19 pandemic,’ shared her concerns for listening to Black voices, and stated she is supportive of green harvesting -- the no-burn alternative for sugar cane harvesting practiced around the world and elsewhere in the U.S -- but as of yet she has refused to protect her South Florida constituents from this outdated, toxic practice” stated Patrick Ferguson, Sierra Club Organizer. 

This is only the most recent of a series of messages sent to Commissioner Fried going back to November 2019 urging her to use her authority to institute a protective 27-30-mile radius no-burn buffer zone around impacted communities. Former Mayor of South Bay Shanique Scott said:  “COVID-19 is the perfect reason to begin the phase-out of pre-harvest burning, but make no mistake, a temporary ban is not enough.  Our families deserve protection from the scourge of pre-harvest burning every year.”

A long-running request for a meeting between local Glades residents and Commissioner Fried, in-person before the pandemic and virtual since has also been ignored. “This week, we were notified by the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (FDACS) personnel of an impending announcement of new changes to the sugarcane burning regulations. Unless they announce the first phase -- a 27-30 mile no-burn buffer zone around impacted communities -- of a full stop to pre-harvest sugar field burning, it will not be enough” stated Belle Glade resident, Pastor Steve Messam.




Thursday, July 9, 2020

Sierra Club's New Confederate & Colonizer Monuments Position

Sierra Club's stance, adopted yesterday:

This monument in downtown Tampa was removed
3 years ago by the Hillsborough County Commission,
an action supported by Tampa Bay Sierra Club.
The nationwide uprisings against police brutality and in support of Black lives have drawn attention to the proliferation of monuments and markers to Confederates and those who actively promoted the conquering, displacement, subjugation and enslavement of Indigenous People in many public and outdoor spaces in the United States. They memorialize the genocide, slavery, and hatred that resulted in the marginalization of millions in America since European colonizers arrived on our shores. For more than a century, these monuments have sent a message to Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and others with marginalized identities: You are not welcome here. And for too long, we have let them stand. These symbols are constant and threatening reminders of the systemic racism and oppression that have denied marginalized groups the freedom to move and live safely and sustainably. Public spaces — especially our parks, public lands, and schools — are meant to be enjoyed by all, and the glorification of white supremacists through these monuments and markers is demeaning and insulting to those of us who continue to suffer at the hands of brutality, racism and discrimination. As such, the Sierra Club supports the removal of these statues and monuments from all public lands and spaces. We support replacing them with monuments and markers of leaders who dedicated their lives to fighting for freedom and justice for the oppressed.

What You Should About Sierra Club's Position on This Issue:

  • Sierra Club is committed to fighting back against white supremacy and bigotry while fostering a welcoming and inclusive spaces in the outdoors.
  • Everyone should be able to see themselves reflected on our public lands, both in current use and the history represented. 
  • The outdoors are supposed to be for all to enjoy, and public outdoor spaces should be welcoming.
  • These statues are monuments to slavery and genocide, which make public spaces unwelcoming to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, and they should be removed.
  • Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and others with marginalized identities deserve to feel safe and welcomed everywhere, including in the outdoors, from local green space to national parks.
  • Removing these monuments is an easy and obvious way to make public lands and spaces more welcoming for marginalized communities. 
  • These monuments to white supremacy should be replaced with monuments to people who have dedicated their lives to fight for freedom and justice for the oppressed.
How Was This Position Created? A Note of Thanks from Jackie Ostfeld (she/her), Director, Outdoors for All Campaign; founder & chair of Sierra Club Outdoors Alliance for Kids: Special thanks to ShawntĂ© Salabert (Outdoors for All campaign volunteer lead) and Ian Brickey (Deputy Press Secretary, Outdoors for All campaign) for putting in the lion's share of the work on this. Additional gratitude to so many who helped develop and support the adoption of our stance: Ginny Cramer, Lena Moffitt, Joel Pannell, Rob Vessels, Jayni Rasmussen, Karlie Drutz and many others. Also big thanks to Bruce Hamilton, Michael Bosse, Jesse Simon, Leslie Fields, and Ross Macfarlane for helping to get this over the finish line.

P.S. Exactly what history are we taking down? A helpful survey of the years when all CSA monuments were erected illustrates a correlation with the height of the Klan and acts of white terrorism against black people all across the U.S. (Tulsa 1921, Rosewood 1923, and so many, many more). 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020


Late yesterday afternoon, Governor DeSantis vetoed Senate Bill 410; a bill that would have further weakened Florida’s already crippled laws that attempt to provide for the intelligent use of the state’s lands. The margin of passage in both chambers is not enough to override a veto.

In his transmittal letter, the Governor cited the provision whereby "a county charter provision or comprehensive plan policy adopted after January 1, 2020, may not impose a limitation on lands with a municipality unless the municipality adopts the same limitation. This broad provision preempts charter county powers and unnecessarily risks frustrating the will of the voters in charter counties" as the reason for his veto.

Had SB 410 been signed into law, it would have facilitated, for example, the River Cross  project thereby undoing Seminole County’s longstanding, voter-approved prohibition against intensive development in the county’s rural eastern region near the Econlockhatchee River.

The vetoing of SB 410 doesn't undo the Legislature's dismantaling of Florida’s once vaunted growth management laws over the past ten years, including:

  • Dismantling of the Department of Community Affairs and making it a division of the Department of Economic Opportunity and eliminating the requirement to demonstrate need for development before changing the Future Land Use Map. (2011)
  • Third party language shifting the burden of proof to citizens challenging a license, permit, or conceptual approval. (2011)
  • Whittling away at the Development of Regional Impact process that is designed to protect communities affected by projects outside of their city or county’s jurisdiction, and agricultural enclave language that entitles owners of enclaves to comp plan amendments that result in up-zoning their property. (2012)
  • Language that says natural gas pipelines (which can go from one end of the state to the other) are eligible for expedited permitting and that any challenges to permits for the pipelines have to go through the summary hearing process which diminishes the challenger’s access to due process. (2013)
  • Unjustly shifting the risk of doing business from developers to the public by extending permits (again) and limiting localities’ enforcement to the regulations in place when the permit was issued, despite the fact that conditions may have changed and the public interest will be compromised. (2014)
  • Intimidating local governments by awarding of costs and fees for a suit that involves what may be expressly preempted, and of citizens who are the only parties with standing to challenge the issuance of a permit as inconsistent with the comprehensive plan. (2019)

The Legislature and the Governor have a long way to go before growth management returns to the underlying principle that a comprehensive plan is the law and everything else – permits, zoning, development orders – is subservient to the plan. The current laws benefits developers and robs citizens and communities of the ability to choose what kind of place they want to live in.