These hot August days provide a great time to stay indoors and get informed about the latest water news, write letters to your elected officials and talk to your friends about getting involved in your efforts to protect Florida’s waters. Here’s a few items that will surely capture your interest and we thank you in advance for any help you can offer with your emails, phone calls and letters.
Here’s a list of issues that we are either working on or watching here at Florida Clean Water Network and more about them below:
1. Deep water horizon disaster is still killing the Gulf and the RESTORE Council’s new spending guidelines do NOT include your access to the process!
2. Industry is making progress swaying EPA on push for nation-wide cancer lottery.
3. The Florida Springs Institute released it’s Wakulla Spring Restoration Plan.
4. DEP continues push to weaken water quality standards for nutrients.
5. Congressman Steve Southerland leading industry effort to weaken the CWA wetlands program.
6. And yet another delay and study for the Caloosahatchee River.
1. Deep water horizon disaster is still killing the Gulf –
There seems to be plenty of information and data available about the ongoing effects of the Deep Water Horizon disaster and none of it is good. At the August meeting of the Florida Association of Counties Gulf Consortium, a presentation was offered by Dr. Andy Shephard on behalf of Dr. William Hogarth. His focus was on the ongoing pressure from the oil industry to expand into the Eastern Gulf of Mexico (Florida), the recovery (or not) from the disaster, and what is the latest that is known about the effects of the massive oil spill. He reminded us that there are over 4,000 existing oil and gas facilities on the offshore shelf/slope at this time. The oil companies are constantly pushing for expansion to known oil reserves off the coast of Florida. PLEASE TAKE EVERY OPPORTUNITY THAT YOU HAVE TO LET YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS KNOW HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS!!!
As for the fate and transport of the oil that was spilled from BP’s well blow-out, BP’s research indicates that 25% of the oil is still out there. Remember that BP does not agree with the US EPA about the amount of oil that was spilled in the first place, so this is probably not accurate. The oil is likely to be all the way to the Dry Tortugas. That assumption is based on the incidence of abnormal fish lesions found on red snapper, eels, etc. The eels have higher concentrations than most other species because they mostly live down deep in the crevices where the oil concentrates.
Dr. Shephard said that the chemical constituents in the dispersants is now known and can be found in the FOSC report as well as the amount released, etc. He said that new scientific papers recently released find that the dispersants are not terribly toxic but broke up the oil in such small pieces that it is more available for consumption of a wide range of sea-life. Scientists are able to prove that the oil they are finding in fish livers is from the BP well. Turtles and dolphins are diseased from the oil and the total strandings continue to increase over time.
The coral beds are coated with brown growth that covers the coral and smothers it to death. The overall effects of the BP disaster will likely persist for decades.
The Florida Governor’s Oil Commission made a number of good recommendations which are mostly being ignored by the State of Florida. He predicts that the Eastern Gulf will likely get deep-water drilling.
The Chair of the Consortium, Commissioner Grover Robinson from Escambia County reminded everyone that the best defense is a good offense. He pointed out that the strongest and most effective argument that we have had with the US government against drilling off of Florida’s coast is that those waters are heavily used by the military. Oil drilling would be incompatible with the military’s mission.
The rest of the meeting was informative. In the other Gulf states, the state governments are directly taking authority to seek funds under the RESTORE ACT for the economic and environmental recovery from the BP spill. In Florida, the 23 coastal counties took control of that role (probably a good thing) and will develop a State Expenditure Plan for the way Florida’s share of the RESTORE funds will be spent. DEP still has it’s hand in the pot and will have a strong voice in what projects get chosen, unfortunately.
Since the meeting the Treasury Department has released its rules for RESTORE Act funding. The most striking information that I gathered from the discussion was the fact that Louisiana and Mississippi both have their restoration plans completed. Texas and Alabama may have theirs ready too – that wasn’t discussed. In Florida, the FAC is still working on selecting a consultant to put a plan together. It appears that process will take a few more months. Each county has to develop their list of proposed projects and the funding will be distributed through a competitive process.
The Gulf Restoration Network is working to make sure that the people who have been affected the most through their way of life and livelihoods have a voice in how the RESTORE funds are distributed. You can follow their work and get involved with their effort by going to the following GRN website discussion: http://www.healthygulf.org/blog/gulf-restore-council-shuts-out-public
2. Industry is making progress with EPA on push for nation-wide cancer lottery.
You all remember the big victory we enjoyed in April 2013 when we were able to convince the Florida Environmental Regulation Commission (ERC) to reject DEP’s proposed cancer lottery for Floridians. For 20 years we have been pushing DEP and EPA to adopt pollution limits on cancer-causing chemicals that are dumped into Florida’s waters. When we got the issue before the ERC for their consideration in 2013, Florida DEP developed a new “Monte Carlo” methodology for calculating acceptable cancer risks from these carcinogens which would have resulted in increased amounts of toxins that could be legally dumped. We dubbed this pseudo-science a “cancer lottery” and when the ERC actually understood the consequences – they sent DEP back to the drawing table.
Industry, including the pulp and paper industry (like the Koch brothers, International paper, etc.) read the handwriting on the wall which said – “the people of Florida will not let you kill our rivers and estuaries and contaminate our fish without a major battle” and took their cancer-lottery campaign to the state of Idaho. Meanwhile industry has been steadily pushing the US EPA to adopt the roulette-table approach to regulating toxics and during the Bush EPA era, a white-paper was released by EPA which supported this approach. Now, EPA has released yet another white paper that offers further support and encouragement for polluters that dump their carcinogens into our waters and air. The new white paper proposes the use of the”cancer lottery” approach as the basis for a slew of agency decisions on air, water, waste and other pollution policies. Chemical companies, General Electric, pesticide companies and big agricultural corporations have submitted comments strongly supporting EPA and asking for even broader use of the risk lottery for regulating chemical releases to the environment.
Here’s a story you can read on the subject: http://insideepa.com/Risk-Policy-Report/Risk-Policy-Report-10/27/2009/industry-urges-epa-to-expand-use-of-probabilistic-model-to-iris-studies/menu-id-1098.html
WHAT CAN WE DO? Contact your Congressional representative and Senators Nelson and Rubio and let them know that we DON’T WANT ANY CANCER CAUSING CHEMICALS IN OUR FISHING AND SWIMMING WATERS!!! There’s really no reason to argue over “methodologies”. Just say no to dumping carcinogens in our swimming and fishing waters!! Companies dump these chemicals in our waters to save money on proper disposal of their waste. Our rivers and estuaries and our air are not industrial sewers. We should not allow corporations to use them as sewers.
3. Wakulla Springs report –
The Florida Springs Institute has just released its latest comprehensive report on Wakulla Springs. The report is quick reading, full of good information and offers sound recommendations for restoring the vitality and health of Florida’s highest instantaneous flowing spring in Florida. Over the past 100 years the flow has been reduced by 85% and is loaded with nitrogen from human sources. This report explains the progress that has been made in recent years and makes good recommendations for further improvements that are necessary to restore this important resource. To read the full report go to: https://howardtodumfloridaspringsinstitute.wildapricot.org/Resources/Documents/2014.08%20V2%20Wakulla%20Restoration%20Plan.pdf
4. DEP continues push to weaken water quality standards – nutrients
Taking full advantage of EPA’s lackluster passion for implementation and enforcement of the Clean Water Act as well as disastrous litigation outcomes, the Florida DEP continues to set nutrient criteria for Florida’s coastal waters that will ensure impaired waters for decades to come. We don’t recommend that you waste your valuable time attending the public meetings that DEP is required to hold. If you can possibly understand the voodoo science being used, it will only depress you. So what can we do to protect our waters from massive doses of nutrients? Get involved on the local and regional level for better ordinances that regulate the use of fertilizers and septic tanks. At this point in time, you WILL have better luck working with your local government than you will have with a state or federal agency.
The 2015 legislative session will purportedly take up state water policy. While Florida is in desperate need for new water policy, and the incoming Speaker of the House, Representative Crisifulli says he is eager for the debate, we will have an uphill battle to get new policies that actually offer protection for our springs, rivers, estuaries, wetlands, etc. You have probably been reading about Governor Scott and numerous state senators and representatives taking vacations at the King Ranch in Texas – no doubt getting well briefed by the sugar industry and many other polluters on their upcoming legislative priorities. There is an excellent opinion piece in the Tampa Bay Times today about how these “vacations” are likely to affect our state policies. You can read about it at: http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-stacked-deck-on-florida-water-policy/2194239
You may remember the legislation about 4 years ago that was supposed to start a statewide program to address malfunctioning septic tanks. It was an example of good state policy. That legislation was repealed shortly thereafter and a study was funded by the legislature to basically look at how sewage travels in the ground from septic tanks and what can be done short of having septic owners spend a few hundred dollars every 5 years to get their tanks inspected and/or pumped. The consulting firm hired by the Department of Health has requested a one-year extension of time to produce a final report for the legislature with recommendations. That means no report and no recommendations until the 2016 legislative session.
Florida Clean Water Network is working on a statewide report on septic tanks that should be released before the end of September. We hope that you will look forward to reading it and will use it to help convince your legislators that we need to regulate septic tanks better and be more careful about where we allow new ones to go. Stay tuned for this important report.
5. Steve Southerland leading industry effort to weaken the CWA wetlands program –
For anyone who lives in Congressman Steve Southerland’s district it will come as no surprise that he is on a soapbox for developers and other wetlands destroyers. Southerland, R-Panama City, was joined at a news conference by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam as well as state business, industry and agriculture leaders in support of his recently filed Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act (H.R. 5078). Claiming that Florida can do a better job with state laws than the Clean Water Act requirements would provide, Southerland’s bill is reacting to recent clarifying rules by the US EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers regarding what is and is not considered to be “waters of the US” and therefore subject to regulations and protections.
Gosh – Florida and the Corps of Engineers have done such a great job of protecting wetlands in our state over the past 30 or 40 years – I can’t imagine what the controversy is about! So what can we do?
IT IS ELECTION SEASON!!! ASK YOUR CANDIDATES ON EVERY LEVEL OF GOVERNMENT WHERE THEY STAND ON THIS LEGISLATION AND ON WETLANDS PROTECTIONS IN GENERAL. IF THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT WETLANDS, THAT MEANS THEY CAN’T POSSIBLY CARE ABOUT HEALTHY WATERS, HEALTHY FISH POPULATIONS, FLOOD CONTROL, EROSION CONTROL, ETC. DON’T VOTE FOR ANYONE WHO WON’T BE AN ADVOCATE FOR FLORIDA’S WETLANDS!
6. And yet another delay and study for the Caloosahatchee River –
There are so many abused, polluted-to-death (literally) rivers and estuaries in Florida, it’s hard to pick the one to cry over the most often. At or near to the top of my list is the Caloosahatchee in SW Florida, Lee County. This long beautiful river that now begins as a canal from the filthy shores of Lake Okeechobee has received so much attention over the past 10 years that most people would expect to see some level of improvement and/or agreement on what needs to be done to restore it’s health. Along with the St Lucie, which flows from Lake O on the east side and into the Indian River Lagoon, the Caloosahatchee has been subjected to pollution and life-sucking artificial management practices for so long, that sometimes they are barely alive. While there is plenty of blame to go around, I place most of the blame for the on-going assaults on these rivers on the Florida DEP. Our state agency that purports to have an environmental mission has taken hundreds of millions of dollars and squandered it on endless studies, consultants, public relations campaigns (to make the agency look good and/or to confuse the citizens of Florida). The result is that this misnamed, misguided and miserable excuse for a tax-funded service agency is still stalling and refusing to implement and/or enforce any pollution abatement strategies that have been proposed and/or developed. A TMDL was developed for the river and estuary several years ago, yet DEP has found unlimited excuses to reject its own work and keep looking for some way to convince the world that the Caloosahatchee River pollution is mostly “natural”. hmmmm . . . The latest public meeting that was scheduled for August 28th has been cancelled indefinitely.
Meanwhile Lee County has done some impressive work on cleaning up storm water that eventually ends up in the Caloosahatchee. Yet, they keep permitting new development in wetlands, and they are in the process of burying the Sustainability Plan that stakeholders worked on for so many years and now they are considering allowing a major comp plan amendment to increase density in outlying suburbia. In other words increasing sprawl. They did adopt a fertilizer ordinance and still the Nitrogen levels in the river keep moving upward. The sewage plants are still discharging effluent into the river and a new report just released by Florida PEER shows that both the Central and South sewage treatment plants had 33 quarters of significant non-compliance. Here’s the link to the PEER report: http://news.wgcu.org/post/group-says-floridas-major-wastewater-violators-go-unpunished
WHAT CAN WE DO? Whether it’s the Caloosahatchee, the St Lucie, the St Johns, the Escambia, the Apalachicola, the Fenholloway, or any other river, none of them are getting the protections that were promised in the Clean Water Act. Its the same with our estuaries from Perdido Bay to Florida Bay; from the Indian River Lagoon to Tampa Bay to Pensacola Bay. They are being treated like open sewers with industrial discharges, storm water, human waste and air deposition. YOU CAN ASK THE POLITICAL CANDIDATES THAT ARE SEEKING YOUR VOTES WHAT THEY HAVE DONE TO PROTECT FLORIDA’S WATERS. YOU CAN REFUSE TO VOTE FOR ANYONE WHO ISN’T COMMITTED IN A MEANINGFUL WAY TO BETTER WATER POLICY ON THE STATE AND LOCAL LEVELS. WE MUST ALL DEMAND BETTER LEADERSHIP!!!
The last request I will make in this newsletter, is that you pass this on to as many people as possible. Feel free to cost and paste as you think necessary. It may be too much information for some newbies to the environmental world, but help us educate our fellow Floridians.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and thank you for all that you are already doing for Florida’s waters. Remember that the polluters that are currently controlling our state government have more money than we do, but there are more of us who care and who are willing to speak up and take action for our precious resources. There are so many amazing people working in every corner of Florida to educate the public about what’s at stake; very gifted people giving their time and talents to save our resources for future generations. Every small thing we do to help protect our waters makes a difference.
For all of Florida’s waters,
Florida Clean Water Network
P.O. Box 5124
Navarre, FL 32566