FCC News Brief - May 21, 2019

Quote of the Day: “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” - Robert Swan

Read Legislature dropped the ball on toxic green algae - “Earlier this month the Florida Legislature wrapped up its 2019 session without passing one bill to protect Florida waters from toxic blue green algae. What began as a promising year ended in bitter disappointment. Our elected officials put the polluters’ interests over those of Floridians. Meanwhile, our St. Johns River is suffering from widespread harmful algal blooms — fueled by nutrient pollution — from Lake George to Racy Point north of Palatka. Toxins produced by the blooms can affect your liver and nervous system; recreational contact can also cause rashes, nausea, diarrhea and respiratory stress. State agency data indicates this is just the beginning of what could become a much larger toxic algae outbreak on the St. Johns River. This type of algae can acquire unlimited nitrogen for growth from the atmosphere — and high levels of phosphorous are fueling its expansion. Unfortunately phosphorous levels are elevated in the St. Johns River from its headwaters all the way to Jacksonville. Why? It is partly due to the runoff of South Florida’s sewage sludge that is being disposed of in the St. Johns River’s upper basin. Sadly this is no surprise: it is why we have been advocating for the last year for reasonable and responsible environmental protections from sewage sludge. We thank state Sen. Debbie Mayfield and state Rep. Erin Grall for their efforts to pass urgently needed legislation to address this serious problem. Unfortunately their proposed legislation was hijacked by the polluters’ lobbyists, and all of the potential relief and protections were lost. So the disposal of sewage sludge on farmlands adjacent to our river continues unabated while toxic blue green algae threatens our economy and our health. Floridians deserve better. Florida’s waters deserve better…” Lisa Rinaman writes Opinion for the Florida Times-Union

Read Florida panthers are endangered and protected. But more are being shot than originally thought- “Mark Cunningham found another one in February. The University of Florida veterinarian X-rayed the carcass of a Florida panther that had recently been killed by another panther in Hendry County. The X-ray showed a bullet fragment in the dead cat, indicating that yet again someone had shot Florida's state animal. Since 1978, 36 Florida panthers have been shot by people wielding pistols, shotguns or rifles, Cunningham told a conference on veterinary forensics meeting at a St. Pete Beach resort earlier this month. Of that number, 13 panthers have been killed, he said, and another two were so severely injured they had to be permanently removed from the wild and kept in captivity...Wounding or killing a Florida panther violates federal law because it's an endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which investigates crimes involving endangered wildlife, has kept a lid on much of the information regarding the number of panthers that have been shot, the circumstances under which they were killed and in some cases even the location where those shootings occurred. Beyond offering a reward in some cases, the federal agency has not asked the public for assistance in solving these crimes, as some police agencies do with unsolved murders. "It really does seem that once a panther has been shot, it goes into a Fish and Wildlife Service investigation file and it's very hard to find out whatever happened to it," said Elizabeth Fleming of the Defenders of Wildlife Florida office in St. Petersburg. She serves on the federal panther species recovery committee…” Craig Pittman reports for the Tampa Bay Times.

Read Janet Cruz, Darryl Rouson defend controversial toll road votes- “At around the same time Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he signed the controversial toll roads bill, two Tampa Bay area Democrats were defending their votes in favor of it. Sens. Darryl Rouson and Janet Cruz both voted in favor of a bill (SB 7068) that serves as a launch point for three new tolled highways. Environmental groups statewide opposed the bill claiming it was bad for natural habitats and unnecessary to alleviate traffic congestion.“At the time that I voted for the bill that seemed reasonable,” Cruz said during a Tampa Tiger Bay luncheon recapping the Florida Legislative Session, according to video taken by WMNF. Cruz said her support was merely to study and evaluate the usefulness of the proposed project. The bill will set aside $45 million to begin planning the three new highways. One would extend the existing Suncoast Parkway 150 miles north to the Georgia state line from its current terminus north of Tampa Bay. Another would create a 150-mile expressway from Polk County to Naples. The third a shorter span, would add an east-west spur from the Suncoast Parkway. “Look, I don’t like toll roads and I know that the environmentalists are upset about the possibility of this, but the last time that people had to evacuate the state … I saw people with their cars on the side of the road because they didn’t have access to gas, stranded there with their families,” Cruz said...Rouson agreed with Cruz’s concerns about emergency evacuations... But Rouson also reminded opponents of the project that this year’s bill does not make it a done deal. “Nothing in the bill obligated the road to be built right now and quite frankly some of the leadership that pushed this bill won’t be around when the task force returns its recommendations and it comes back to the legislature for appropriation,” Rouson said…” Janelle Irwin Taylor reports for Florida Politics.

Read A big idea with little detail- “Well, we’re getting a couple new superhighways in our neck of the woods. Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed SB 7068, aka the toll road bill, into law. At least we know exactly what we’re going to get for our money, right? Oh, except for how much it will cost. Except for where the routes will run. Except for how we will pay for the multibillion-dollar pricetag. Except for how much environmental damage will be done to Florida’s most vital remaining watersheds. Yep, except for those things, we’re good...Growth necessitates more roads. But shouldn’t they be where growth is actually occurring, where gridlock is a daily fact of life? Instead, these roads will open some of the best rural land in Florida to rooftops and asphalt and unfettered sprawl. Rural North Florida — including Marion County — surely would welcome new jobs and economic development. But these are “limited access” toll roads. There is no track record of roads carved into nowhere producing an economic boom. Exhibit A: Interstate 10 through the Panhandle...Then there are the task forces. Galvano made a big deal out of the fact that the task forces would include real environmentalists and scientists. Great idea, Senator. Of course, not to be cynical, but whatever the task forces find and report will be largely irrelevant to whatever is economically and politically expedient. History is, sadly, on the side of that argument. Over and over. Maybe DeSantis can hold their feet to the fire. More than 75 groups — from environmental to public policy to agriculture — opposed this bill because it lacked details and they fear it will create willy-nilly sprawl (I know, I know, such a thing is hard to imagine in Florida) and will put further pressure on Florida’s already-degraded springs, rivers and lakes. Their fears are well-founded, given the environmental and growth management record of the Republican majority that has given us such lax environmental regulation that we have a new season of algae blooms already appearing across the state. The St. Johns River is the latest algal bloom hotbed…” Brad Rogers writes Opinion for the Ocala Star Banner.

Read Refreshing the Rainbow River- “Dunnellon High School student Meagan Siegfried walked away with the Most Unique Item Retrieved award on Saturday at the annual Rainbow River Cleanup. Meagan, 17, found a prosthetic right leg, complete with a blue deck shoe, as she scoured the shoreline in a canoe about 2 1/2 miles down river from Rainbow Springs...The Siegfrieds were among an estimated 150 volunteers who participated in the annual event, which is sponsored by Rainbow River Conservation Inc., a Dunnellon-based nonprofit focused on improving and protecting the Rainbow River and surrounding ecology...About 400 million gallons of water flow from the springs daily, according to Rainbow River Conservation literature. Mike Dennis, a retired iron worker who has lived in the Dunnellon area for 16 years, piloted his pontoon boat on the river during the cleanup. He remembered being on the river in the 1960s with his parents and seeing bright green grass on the riverbed. These days, he sees dark vegetation and far fewer turtles...A few days before the cleanup, there was action on another front to protect the river. Rainbow River Conservation, Inc. and some individuals filed a petition seeking to invalidate the minimum flow rule that the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) has proposed for the Rainbow River system. “The petitioners allege that by not accurately recognizing the current over-consumption of groundwater from the Rainbow Springs recharge basin, and therefore not properly regulating future withdrawals, the rule will harm this world class spring and diminish its enjoyment and use,” the group wrote in a news release. This challenge is the sixth filed this year by a group that is part of the statewide Florida Springs Council, the release says. The council’s legal fund is assisting. “The proposed Rainbow River Minimum Flow rule specifies that the minimum flow can be 5% less than the average ‘natural flow’ from the period 1965-2015,” the release says. “However, not only does the rule not specify how the 5% reduction is to be applied, but the District’s hydrologic model severely underestimates the actual groundwater withdrawals.” Rainbow River Conservation member William Vibbert is among the individual petitioners. They point to “declining spring flow” over time, less natural flushing, and increased “nitrate nitrogen levels” causing growth of “filamentous algae…” Andy Fillmore reports for the Gainesville Sun.

Read DEP, DeSantis dodge questions on IP pollution- “By the time of this writing, multiple officials from the State of Florida — including the governor’s office — had failed to answer at least two important questions that deserve direct and honest answers. How has a four-year procedural delay on International Paper’s (IP) pollution permitting from the Department of Environmental Protection’s benefited citizens in Escambia County? And how has it protected the environment?...The Cantonment paper mill is one of Escambia County’s most infamous generational polluters. Over the decades, its discharges have plundered creeks and laid waste to life in upper Perdido Bay. And throughout the years, the state of Florida has permitted it. IP’s 2010 pollution wastewater permit was supposed to expire in 2015. But it did not. Why not? Because the DEP has failed to take "final agency action" on the application for renewal. As a result and under state rules, the state's ongoing four-plus-year delay (a delay more than three times longer than the DEP’s own average timeline for similar processes) has allowed one of the largest legacy polluters in Escambia County’s industrial history to simply keep polluting with an average discharge of about 24 million gallons a day. So the most important questions remain. How has DEP’s four-year delay benefited the citizens of Escambia County? And how has it protected the environment? The answers to those two questions are crucial. Because of DEP’s delay has not helped citizens, and if it has not protected the environment, then isn’t that a clear and absolute failure of the department’s central mission?...” Andy Marlette writes Opinion for the Pensacola News Journal.

Read ‘Life or Death’: Beachgoers protest offshore oil drilling, call for environmental stewardship - “More than 150 beachgoers, activists and elected officials joined hands at noon Saturday on the shore of Miami Beach to call for more environmental stewardship and to protest against offshore oil drilling and fossil fuels. “What we’ve got are a bunch of people who care about the world, and we’re standing together along the water to say, ‘This is our beach, this our world.' To say yes to clean renewable energy,” said Sam Van Leer, president of the non-profit Urban Paradise Guild. The international “Hands Across the Sand” event happens annually at beaches across the East and West coasts and in several other countries. The movement started in Florida after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. This year’s event occurred as the Trump administration has tried to expand offshore oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Last year, the president began approving requests by oil companies to conduct seismic testing, the practice of blasting air guns at the ocean floor to search for oil. Scientists and animal rights activists consider the exercise harmful to tens of thousands of dolphins, whales and other marine mammals...Lauren Metz of North Miami Beach attended the event with her husband. She said protests like the Hands Across the Sand gathering are important for making climate change and the rising seas part of the everyday conversation. “That’s what’s most important now. Just to really talk about it,” she said.” Sam Turken reports for WJCT.

Read Following backlash, Osceola County reverses decision on coal ash- “The Osceola County Commission has reversed a decision to allow coal ash to be dumped at a private landfill, in response to concerns from residents. Following a meeting on Monday, commissioners voted to request that Waste Connections of Osceola County, LLC cease receiving coal ash from Puerto Rico at the JED Landfill. "During the meeting, significant public testimony was presented expressing concerns with the presence of toxins in the ash and the potential of both environmental damage and human illness," read a statement from Osceola County Chairwoman Cheryl Grief. "Due to these concerns, the Commission believes it is in the best interest of the public that the waste not be brought to the county.” The county confirmed that the landfill had already accepted 44,000 tons of coal ash since the deal was approved on April 1.  As part of the agreement, the end date for the importation of any coal ash was scheduled for December 31, 2019. The county was to have made $2 on every ton of ash dumped at the landfill. The commission is requesting that Waste Connections cease accepting thes material from Puerto Rico immediately.” From Fox35 News.

Read Citrus farmers facing deadly bacteria turn to antibiotics, alarming health officials- “A pernicious disease is eating away at Roy Petteway’s orange trees. The bacterial infection, transmitted by a tiny winged insect from China, has evaded all efforts to contain it, decimating Florida’s citrus industry and forcing scores of growers out of business. In a last-ditch attempt to slow the infection, Mr. Petteway revved up his industrial sprayer one recent afternoon and doused the trees with a novel pesticide: antibiotics used to treat syphilis, tuberculosis, urinary tract infections and a number of other illnesses in humans...Since 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency has allowed Florida citrus farmers to use the drugs, streptomycin and oxytetracycline, on an emergency basis, but the agency is now significantly expanding their permitted use across 764,000 acres in California, Texas and other citrus-producing states...The E.P.A. has proposed allowing as much as 650,000 pounds of streptomycin to be sprayed on citrus crops each year...The use of antibiotics on citrus adds a wrinkle to an intensifying debate about whether the heavy use of antimicrobials in agriculture endangers human health by neutering the drugs’ germ-slaying abilities. Much of that debate has focused on livestock farmers, who use 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States...Antibiotics sprayed on crops can affect farm workers or people who directly consume contaminated fruit, but scientists are especially worried that the drugs will cause pathogenic bacteria in the soil to become resistant to the compounds and then find their way to people through groundwater or contaminated food. The other fear is that these bacteria will share their drug-resistant mechanisms with other germs, making them, too, impervious to other kinds of antibiotics. In its evaluation for the expanded use of streptomycin, the E.P.A., which largely relied on data from pesticide makers, said the drug quickly dissipated in the environment. Still, the agency noted that there was a “medium” risk from extending the use of such drugs to citrus crops, and it acknowledged the lack of research on whether a massive increase in spraying would affect the bacteria that infect humans…” Andrew Jacobs reports for the New York Times.


From Our Readers

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Job Openings:

Sustainability Administrator - City of Fort Lauderdale

Marine Science Faculty Position- Florida Keys Community College

Upcoming Environmental Events:

June 10-14, June 24-28, 2019 - Camp Kids in the Woods at the Austin Cary Forest - (Gainesville) - Is your 6th-9th grade child looking for fun adventure this summer?  Consider Camp Kids in the Woods! Campers will conduct various field explorations led by local scientists from forestry, wildlife, and water resources. Highlights include: fishing, handling wildlife, exploring local ecosystems, a trip to a local spring, camping out one night at the Austin Cary Forest, building wildlife nesting boxes, and participating in games and scavenger hunts. After a week of fun in the forest, campers gain a better understanding and deeper appreciation of their natural world and what is required to be a good steward of the environment. Camp Kids in the Woods summer program is a collaborative effort between the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation and the USDA Forest Service. Session 1: June 10-14, 2019; Session 2: June 24-28, 2019. For more information and to register visit: www.campkidsinthewoods.org , or contact the Camp Director, Molly Disabb at kidsinthewoods@ifas.ufl.edu

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Petitions

Save Lake County-Say NO to the Round Lake Road Extension

Tell Florida Lawmakers: Stop Destructive Tollway Bills

Save the Heritage Trees at Martin Luther King Jr. Park - Winter Park

No Fracked Gas in Tampa Bay

Help Save Our Panthers

End collection & removal of tropical marine life from Phil Foster Park

Thinking of going electric? Nextcar Pledge

Another Gulf is Possible

Save the Serenova Tract in Pasco – Say NO to the Ridge Road Extension

Florida Solar Bill of Rights

Protect Florida’s Gulf Coast from Offshore Drilling

Protect Weeki Wachee Springs; Stop the 7 Diamonds Mine in Pasco County

Stop New Phosphate Strip Mining in Florida

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