FCC News Brief - June 18, 2019

Read Justices reject challenge to FPL solar project - “The state Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a business group’s challenge to a decision that allowed Florida Power & Light to recoup money from customers for a series of solar-energy projects. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the Florida Public Service Commission, which in 2017 approved FPL’s plan to recover the costs of the projects through base electric rates. The Florida Industrial Power Users Group, which includes large commercial electricity customers, challenged the approval, contending, in part, that the projects would not be cost-effective. But Chief Justice Charles Canady, in a 16-page opinion, pointed to a 2016 settlement agreement that set base rates for FPL. Part of that agreement allowed FPL to go back to the Public Service Commission to seek increases for solar projects.Canady wrote that the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, which frequently is involved in utility regulation cases at the Public Service Commission, declined to take part in the 2016 base-rate settlement with FPL. “FIPUG (the group’s acronym) was given an opportunity to review and challenge the provisions of the settlement agreement yet chose to take no position on the settlement agreement,” Canady wrote. “By failing to object to the settlement agreement’s provisions on the cost-effectiveness criteria and the base rate recovery mechanism for the (solar) projects at the time the settlement agreement was before the (Public Service) Commission and by failing to appeal the commission’s final order approving the settlement agreement, FIPUG has waived its right to challenge these provisions…” Jim Saunders reports for the News Service of Florida.

Read State plans workshops to find land for gopher tortoises - “A series of workshops aimed at preserving more land for gopher tortoises kicks off Tuesday in Levy County. The regional workshop at the Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve near Yankeetown will run from 9 a.m. to noon, organized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. Local government officials and private landowners will learn about gopher tortoise conservation, according to a press release. The purpose of the series is to foster support for gopher tortoise conservation by informing attendees on how to establish a gopher tortoise recipient site. Ideal habitats for the tortoises include land with minimal tree canopy and plenty of low-growing plants, according to the FWC. There are also financial incentives for those who tend to habitat management. Gopher tortoises are a keystone species, meaning other animals in its ecosystem depend on them. Florida has designated them as threatened due to habitat loss. Both the tortoise and its burrow are protected under state law. Developers often have to pay to relocate the tortoises. A Gainesville developer recently paid more than $100,000 to relocate three of them. The FWC plans to hold the workshops annually. The Yankeetown workshop is at 1001 SE Old Road Road. It is free, but space is limited. Registration is required through Eventbrite by following this link: www.bit.ly/2RrbL33. With development booming statewide and habitat in short supply, finding a new residence for a single gopher tortoise can cost builders $750 to $1,250 in today’s market…” Kyle Wood reports for the Ocala Star-Banner.

Read Thousands of gallons of sewage spill in Sarasota County - “Thousands of gallons of raw sewage spilled during three incidents in Sarasota County over the past weeks, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection reports...About 6,500 gallons of sewage was discharged and contained in a swale. Sarasota County crews recovered about 6,000 gallons using a vacuum truck and spread lime on the affected area. On June 11 at about noon a pump station failed, spilling about 1,000 gallons of sewage at Riverview High School off Proctor Road. The station was repaired by Sarasota County crews and the area was cleaned up. The sewage, which was absorbed into the ground, did not enter any body of water, according to the county. On June 16 grease blocked a sewer pipe in the 1600 block of Siesta Drive at about 10:30 a.m. While city of Sarasota workers cleared the pipe, about 1,000 gallons of sewage overflowed from a manhole at Siesta Drive and Old Oak Drive. Some of the sewage entered the stormwater system, which empties into Sarasota Bay. The area was cleaned and water samples were taken to test for harmful microorganisms.” Staff Report from the Herald-Tribune.

Read Government watchdog says state, DEP misleading public about drinking water quality - “Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, released a report last week that says more than half of the state's drinking water facilities have violations that aren't being reported to the public by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP. "There’s not but a couple of explanations: either they didn’t have the data and they’re making these numbers up or they have the data and the data really doesn’t bear out what they’re claiming," said Jerry Phillips, a former DEP attorney who compiled the PEER report. DEP says about 95 percent of facilities are compliant and that Phillips and PEER have miscalculated the data.  Phillips said fewer than 42 percent of drinking water facilities are actually in compliance with laws meant to protect drinking water...The report says DEP is making false and misleading statements to the public regarding drinking water and has exaggerated claims of historically high compliance levels. Phillips said DEP in 2011 changed the way it looks at violators, that the state uses a new approach to make the numbers look better…” Chad Gillis reports for the Fort Myers News-Press.

Read Congress wants to know when Trump will fill all the vacant positions at Interior- “Congress is demanding answers about a staggering amount of vacancies in President Trump's Interior Department.  About a half-dozen high-level positions in the department sit vacant. And only 47 percent of top positions — ones that require confirmation from the Senate — have been filled within a department that manages 500 million acres of surface area nationwide...The vacancies are drawing scrutiny from both parties. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, took up his concerns with Trump himself about the administration’s habit of relying on officials who have not been vetted by Congress....Vacant positions include the director of the National Park Service, responsible for overseeing about 85 million acres of recreational areas and historical landmarks...The lack of a Park Service leader is troubling to Senate Energy Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “When you think about it, what was the big initiative at the end of last year? Let’s do something with park maintenance,” Murkowski told The Post in February. “Would sure be great to have the head of the parks in order to execute this initiative.” There is also no director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency making massive changes to the way it implements the Endangered Species Act. Among the several changes that worry conservationists is a proposed end to the practice of extending strict protections to plants and animals regardless of whether they are listed as endangered or threatened. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management also does not have a permanent director, a position appointed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Until recently, the agency had been working on its own major plan to open both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling…” Dino Grandoni reports for the Washington Post.

Read Is St. Augustine turf grass an invasive pest plant? - “The fifth extinction wiped out the dinosaurs. Scientists say we humans have started the sixth extinction. What are we doing to our planet to cause this?  One major factor, among many, is our use of chemicals, including fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to support and beautify our lawns (e.g., St. Augustine turf grass).  In 2005, American lawns covered 63,000 square miles. That would cover all of Florida, and more. Turf grass is our most irrigated crop (three times more than corn, and we do not even eat it). The primary purpose of turf grass is to make us look and feel good. University of Florida’s Institute of Food & Agricultural Science provides good advice on how to create a Florida-friendly landscape. St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum), native to the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean, is listed as a “Florida-friendly plant” – and the most common lawn grass in Florida. But it isn’t friendly. Invasive species have been defined by a number of scientists and organizations, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (1999 Presidential Executive Order 13112): “An invasive species is defined as a species that is: 1) non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration; and 2) whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”...In Florida, 64 percent of our drinking water goes to irrigation; rising to 88 percent in the summer. We are running out of drinking water. Of all Earth’s water, only 1 percent is fresh and available. For our survival, it’s cheaper to pay people not to have a lawn…” Richard Baker writes Opinion for the Treasure Coast Newspapers.

Read Residents updated on water contamination from fire college - “In November, Angela Faith Hunter bought a home in the country near Lowell where she could grow vegetables and raise chickens. But what Hunter and her husband, Neal, found out later was their well water contained high levels of compounds tied to certain cancers and other maladies. Those compounds, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), were in fire-retardant foam used at the nearby Florida State Fire College at 11655 NW County Road 25A. At least 14 wells, mostly residential, showed levels high enough that the Florida Department of Health installed filtration systems. Dozens more tested positive for some contamination but were below the federal limit of 70 parts per trillion. Those residents didn’t get filtration systems...The DOH tested more than 100 wells in the area surrounding the fire college after the college’s well tested above the limit last August. The results showed the compounds moved mostly northeast from the college, with the highest concentration about three-quarters of a mile away…. The compounds have been on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s radar for almost 20 years. The compounds were once ubiquitous. In addition to fire-retardant foam, they were part of non-stick cookware, used to stain-proof fabrics and rugs and even to keep grease from soaking into pizza boxes. While no longer in wide use, the compounds do not biodegrade…” Carlos E. Medina reports for the Ocala Star-Banner.

Read The monarch butterfly migration is amazing. A new public-private partnership proposal might help - “In the vast, big-sky coastal marshes of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge south of Tallahassee, the air is thick with migrating monarch butterflies on certain fall days. Driving through, it’s impossible not to hit some, and when I do, I’m appalled that I’ve just exterminated an insect that may have flown over 1,000 miles to get here...When they get to the end of their northward journey in late summer/early fall, a supercharged generation is born – these monarchs live as long as nine months, instead of the usual two to five weeks. These are the super butterflies that take the long journey south to Mexico. So you know what’s coming, right? News that the monarchs, like so many wild species, are in trouble. They are. But today, let’s talk about more than that. Let’s talk about one controversial approach humans are considering to improve the monarch’s odds. It’s a proposed partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and energy, transmission, and transportation companies as well as state departments of transportation. Private and non-federal landowners would sign agreements to voluntarily improve habitat for migrating monarchs on miles of rights-of-way along roads, railroad tracks, electric lines, and pipelines. In return for the voluntary measures, the landowners who sign the agreements (which are proposed to last 50 years) wouldn’t face penalties or restrictions for harming monarchs if the butterflies do end up on the endangered species list. The agreement was spearheaded by a group of industries including gas and electric transmission and the rail and road industries, facilitated by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Energy Resources Center. One of the biggest problems facing monarchs is that they depend on a specific family of plants – milkweed – for their survival. Researchers say monarchs taste bad when they eat milkweed, and that protects them. When birds or other predators taste the pretty butterflies or striped caterpillars, they learn to associate the nasty flavor with the color pattern and avoid them.The supply of that critical milkweed across the monarch’s migration route is impacted by herbicides, pesticides, and the fact that large natural areas are converted to agriculture…” Julie Hauserman writes for the Florida Phoenix.

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Upcoming Environmental Events:

June 18, 5:30pm - 7:30pm - FDOT Public Meeting for the Central Polk Parkway - (Bartow) - "The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), Florida's Turnpike Enterprise will hold a Public Information Meeting to present the design of Central Polk Parkway, a new tolled Roadway from Polk Parkway (SR 570) at Winter Lake Road (SR 540) to US 17 (SR 35) in Polk County, Florida (Financial Project Identification Number 440897-2, Efficient Transportation Decision Making Number: 8487). There will be no formal presentation. This meeting will allow interested persons an opportunity to learn about the project and provide comments. During the open house, project information will include displays that describe the proposed improvements and opportunities to provide comments. Information about right-of-way needs, and potential environmental impacts will be on display. Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise representatives will be available to discuss the project and answer questions. For more information contact Pam Nagot at pamela.nagot@dot.state.fl.us or 407-264-3043. Visit FDOT’s website for more information.

June 18, 9:30am - Citrus County Board of County Commissioners public workshop - (Inverness) - The Citrus County Board of County Commissioners will hold a public Workshop on June 18, 2019 at 9:30am at the Citrus County Courthouse, 110 North Apopka Avenue, Inverness, Florida to launch the new Citrus County Economic Development Website and receive a presentation by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council (TBRPC) on the Suncoast Parkway 2 Transportation Corridor Land Use Study. For more information, please call 352-527-5537 or visit Citrus County online here.

July 8, 6:00pm - July Earth Ethics Environmental Educational Series - (Pensacola) -Join us at Ever'man Educational Center located at 327 W Garden Street. We will be viewing A PLASTIC OCEAN.  A PLASTIC OCEAN begins when journalist Craig Leeson, searching for the elusive blue whale, discovers plastic waste in what should be pristine ocean. In this adventure documentary, Craig teams up with free diver Tanya Streeter and an international team of scientists and researchers, and they travel to twenty locations around the world over the next four years to explore the fragile state of our oceans, uncover alarming truths about plastic pollution, and reveal working solutions that can be put into immediate effect. We'll discuss what you can do to help reduce your use of plastics! One lucky winner will receive a giftset to jump start a plastic reduced life. Check out the Eventbrite page here, and Facebook Event here. For more information, email earthethicsaction@gmail.com

July 11, 7:00pm - Toxic Puzzle Screening & Environmental Panel - (Orange Park)- TOXIC PUZZLE is a medical and environmental detective story where documentary filmmaker Bo Landin follows ethnobotanist Dr Paul Alan Cox and his scientific team around the world in a hunt for the hidden killer. The pieces come together in a toxic puzzle where cyanobacteria in our waters become the culprit. Are these organisms, fed by human pollution and climate change, staging nature’s revenge by claiming human lives? Join the St. Johns Riverkeeper at the Thrasher-Horne Center for the Arts in Clay County (283 College Dr, Orange Park FL 32065) for a live screening and panel discussion on the issue of toxic algae blooms and the serious short and long-term health effects it’s having on our communities, wildlife, and habitats of our River and what YOU can do to help. For more information and to register, click here.

Do you know of an upcoming environmental event or meeting you would like to include in the FCC News Brief? Send us a quick e-mail and we will include it for you.


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