Friday, June 22, 2018
Opinion

Carl Hiaasen: Big Sugar's slime flows north to Florida's Capitol

The paid soldiers in Gov. Rick Scott's war on the environment are aligning to block state efforts to purchase any farm lands south of Lake Okeechobee, which means Floridians can look forward to more summers of slime.

Nightmare algae blooms, vile and job-killing, are destined to be one of Scott's legacies. Next June, when the St. Lucie estuary again turns puke-green and the oyster beds die, the light-footed governor will be nowhere in the vicinity.

Neither will the tourists.

The blooms are caused by billions of gallons of fresh water that are pumped from Lake O during the rainy season. Loaded with phosphorus and other pollutants from surrounding areas, the lake discharges are mainlined toward both Florida coasts, bringing ruin to saltwater habitats.

Senate President Joe Negron, who lives in Stuart — basically Slime Central — wants the Lake O outflows diverted, cleaned in reservoirs and sent south to the Everglades.

The plan, supported by many scientists and conservation groups, would require purchasing 60,000 acres from agriculture. Only eight years ago, U.S. Sugar embraced such a concept, calling it a "monumental opportunity to save the Everglades" and struck a deal to unload 187,000 acres.

The company infamously reneged, and it owned enough lawmakers to kill the deal. It definitely owns the governor, who'll need Big Sugar's money when he runs for the U.S. Senate in 2018.

As Senate president, Negron is one of the most powerful figures in Tallahassee. He'll need all the clout he can muster for this battle, to which he arrived late and as part of the problem.

Negron has displayed little resistance as his party's leaders have subverted Amendment 1, which 75 percent of voters approved in 2014 for the purchase conservation lands. And he was all-in last year when the Legislature and governor neutered water-quality laws to allow agricultural corporations to monitor their own pollution on the honor system.

Negron now needs Amendment 1 funds to buy farm acreage for conversion to reservoirs. He's under heavy hometown pressure from Treasure Coast residents, who are getting clobbered financially by the algae outbreaks.

Meanwhile Big Sugar has mounted a PR campaign framing Negron's land-purchase plan as an attack on farming and the communities near Lake Okeechobee. This is industry-scripted melodrama; not all cane acreage is highly productive.

Opposition to Negron's plan also comes from the South Florida Water Management District, which at one time relied on actual experts on water management. Real scientists, if you can imagine such a thing! Those were the days.

Since taking office, Scott has loaded the boards of all Florida's water districts with lawyers, developers, Realtors, agricultural and industry advocates. Funding has been cut, and experienced staff members canned.

For instance, the previous executive director of the South Florida water district had worked in that field for two decades. He was replaced by lobbyist/lawyer Pete Antonacci, who'd formerly worked as Scott's special counsel in Tallahassee.

It is Antonacci now leading the district's fight against Negron's cleanup plan. Last week he told a Senate committee that buying more land to hold Lake Okeechobee's overflows would only slow down current restoration projects.

He also said state and federal authorities should focus cleanup efforts north of Lake Okeechobee, such as replacing residential septic tanks with sewers.

That is, almost word-for-word, Big Sugar's position — yet it's coming from the chief of a state agency that's supposed to act in the interests of all Floridians.

Eight million people are affected by the decisions of the South Florida Water Management District, but Rick Scott has turned it into a naked political lobby for the sugar barons, who are already rich from government crop subsidies.

Big Sugar is one of the biggest donors to the governor's PAC, so it's no shock to see him sell out. He's been doing it since Day One.

Ironically, Negron, too, has benefited from the calculated generosity of the sugar industry, which over the years has showered him and his political action committees with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Unlike the governor, though, Negron owes his seat to constituents in one geographic district. Unlike the governor, Negron can't hop on his jet and vanish when there's a manmade environmental catastrophe in his backyard.

He's got to come home and face the folks whose lives are upended by it.

And those folks don't want a repeat of last year's nightmare. They want all that lake water pumped south through the glades, not to the coasts.

Which leaves Negron uncustomarily at odds with Scott and Big Sugar. How hard he fights will show what he's made of, and where his true loyalty lies.

The green that runs through Tallahassee is a different shade than algae, but it's just as slimy to the touch.

© 2017 Miami Herald

Comments
Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

It turns out the U.S. Supreme Court has a better grasp of the economic realities of the 21st century than Congress or the Florida Legislature. The court ruled Thursday that states can require online retailers to collect sales taxes even if the retail...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Published: 06/21/18
Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Good job, Jeff Sessions! It seems the attorney generalís misguided attempts to revive the unpopular and unjust federal war on marijuana may be having the exact opposite effect ó prompting a new bipartisan effort in Congress to allow states to legaliz...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBIís handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but itís also suppression

The Supreme Courtís ruling last Monday to allow Ohioís purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they havenít voted, Ohioís purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18