Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin report for the Washington Post- “Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who relentlessly pursued President Trump’s promises of deregulation at the Environmental Protection Agency, resigned Thursday after a cascade of controversies over his lavish spending, ethical lapses and controversial management decisions finally eroded the president’s confidence in one of his most ardent Cabinet members. Pruitt’s reputation as a dogged deregulator and outspoken booster of the president allowed him to weather a litany of ethics scandals in recent months, including questions about taxpayer-funded first-class travel, a discounted condo rental from a D.C. lobbyist and the installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in his office...On Thursday, President Trump called Pruitt’s top deputy, Andrew Wheeler, to inform him that he would be taking the helm of the agency, according to an individual who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter...The departure marked a precipitous fall for Pruitt, who during his roughly 16 months in office took steps to reverse more than a dozen major Obama-era regulations and overhauled key elements of the agency’s approach to scientific research. For months he had ranked as a personal confidant and influential policy adviser to the president, commiserating with Trump over negative stories and indiscreet aides while praising the commander in chief for his intelligence and political acumen...Most prominently, he pushed Trump to announce a U.S. withdrawal from the landmark Paris climate accord. He not only questioned the science of climate change but also the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is the primary contributor to global warming.” Read Scott Pruitt steps down as EPA head after ethics, management scandals.
From the Naples Daily News Editorial Board - “At the halfway point of 2018, the same question remains for Southwest Florida’s environment that existed when the year began: Can government agencies move as quickly to protect our natural resources as events occur to degrade them? Better protecting our environment by moving forward on Everglades restoration and other water management initiatives was one of seven community priorities our editorial board identified for 2018. Halfway into the year, we’re encouraged by some movement. Yet the lingering question is whether it’s fast enough. Case in point is recent reports of nasty green algae once again blooming in Lake Okeechobee and connected waterways along the state’s east coast and Southwest Florida. Some blame releases from Lake Okeechobee; others point to pollutants from watershed to the lake’s north, west, and east. Pick your position. Either way, it’s defiling our natural resources and damaging Florida economically as images spread of state waters that are anything but crystal blue…” Read Midyear report: Slow path on environmental protection.
Emilee Speck writes for ClickOrlando - “Southeastern longleaf pines were the backbone of the Industrial Revolution. That building boom, continued development and many other factors is what conservation groups say caused the longleaf pine forest population to dwindle down to less than five percent of its original landscape...The Florida Department of Agriculture and several conservation organizations are collaborating with landowners in a new effort to restore the crucial habitats created by longleaf pines that are home to thousands of plants, birds and other species. It's part of a larger project from Virginia down to Florida to restore the pines. This spring the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Florida Forest Service sent out a call to Florida landowners of more than 5 acres in 25 counties offering up to $10,000 per year if they plant longleaf pine seeds and maintain the trees. The Nature Conservancy is providing some of the funding for the program through a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant and has a goal to restore and grow the longleaf pine forests to 8 million acres in the next seven years. They have 3 million acres to go. ‘It’s not the trees in and of itself that we care about, it’s the habitats,’ said TNC wildlife biologist Cheryl Miller, who manages the Tiger Creek Preserve. Gopher tortoise, red-cockaded woodpeckers, indigo snakes, salamanders, quail and turkeys all use habitats in longleaf pine forests — and that’s not even brushing the surface or the insects…” Read How Florida landowners can get paid to restore longleaf pine forests.
Amy Bennett Williams reports for Fort Myers News-Press - “Same place. Same faces. Worse problem. Almost two years to the day, Sen. Bill Nelson sat overlooking the Caloosahatchee, offering his thoughts on the water catastrophe then gripping the southern part of the state to many of the same bureaucrats, elected officials and advocates who filled a meeting room at the Fort Myers City Pier building Thursday. It was the Orlando Democrat's first stop on a trip across the state to talk water quality with residents and officials, much as he'd done in 2016 The difference then, though, was that the St. Lucie River on Florida’s east coast was dealing with a much worse case of slime than the Caloosahatchee was. This year, the Caloosahatchee has caught the brunt of the toxic blue-green algae bloom. Water managers use both rivers to carry off dark, polluted water from Lake Okeechobee when its levels get high enough to threaten the safety of residents living below the aging Herbert Hoover Dike...And as then, the Orlando Democrat promised to help spearhead fixes for the crisis. ‘Its solution is (to) either quit dumping so much water from Lake Okeechobee,’ he said, ‘or clean what comes out of it.’ Though several projects to help with those goals are in the works, none of them will be ready to help this year. Two reservoirs are planned to store extra water and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to repair Lake O's dike, so water managers won't need to keep levels low to avoid a breach.” Read Bill Nelson comes to Fort Myers to talk about water woes: toxic algae and Lake O releases.
Dominic Arenas writes for Audubon News - “One of the nation’s foundational conservation laws turns 100 today. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which was passed on July 3, 1918, states that it is unlawful to kill, hunt, sell, or possess most native species of birds in the United States without a permit. In addition to explicitly protecting more than 1,000 species, the MBTA has also provided a critical incentive for industries, whose activities may pose a hazard to birds, to take actions that reduce those risks. But despite the law’s success at protecting dozens of bird species from extirpation or extinction, the MBTA faces two new threats from the federal government. Late last year, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) introduced the so-called Cheney Amendment, which includes language that would permanently amend the MBTA to no longer cover incidental takes, or non-deliberate infractions of the MBTA. Since the law is a strict liability statute, violations can occur regardless of whether actions were intended or not. At the same time, the Department of the Interior stated that it would no longer enforce incidental takes, thereby blocking its application to all industrial hazards, including oil pits, transmission lines, and oil spills. The reinterpretation of the MBTA under the administration’s new policy—and the Cheney Amendment, should it become law—ends accountability for actions that kill millions of birds…Seventeen former leaders from the U.S. Department of the Interior submitted a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that repudiates the reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. "We respectfully request that you suspend this ill-conceived opinion and convene a bipartisan group of experts to recommend a consensus and sensible path forward. We would be pleased to work with you, involving the public, toward this end.” Among those who signed onto the letter were two Deputy Secretaries at the Department of the Interior, five former U.S. Fish and Wildlife directors, and seven former migratory bird management chiefs that served from Nixon through Obama… ” Read After 100 years, widespread support affirms the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Rebecca Beitsch reports for Pew - “Florida and Georgia have been arguing about the water that flows into the Apalachicola Bay for three decades, about as long as Tommy Ward and his family have been selling oysters from the bay. Florida says Georgia draws more than its fair share of water from the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers before they fuse to create the Apalachicola River. Georgia uses the water to supply thirsty Atlanta and the vast farmland south of the metropolis. But its disruption of the freshwater flow has increased the salinity of the bay and the number of oyster-eating predators, which are able to thrive in saltier water. The result: The virtual collapse of the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay...To increase water flow into the bay, Florida in 2013 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to cap Georgia’s water usage at 1992 levels, when the population of metropolitan Atlanta was about half what it is today. Georgia says that its water usage is not responsible for the environmental and economic decline of the Apalachicola Bay...During a week filled with U.S. Supreme Court-related news, many overlooked the significance of the ruling the court issued last week in the Florida-Georgia dispute: Taking a rare — if not unprecedented — stance, the court seemed to suggest that in water disputes between states, the health of an aquatic ecosystem can be considered alongside drinking-water and farming concerns. Florida’s odds did not look good as its case was headed to the Supreme Court. Ralph Lancaster, the special master appointed by the court to oversee most hearings in the case, said that though the bay had been affected by overuse of water upstream, it wasn’t clear that capping Georgia’s water use would solve the problem…” Read As state ‘water wars’ get salty, oysters get a say.
Steve Davis writes Opinion for the Sun Sentinel - “ Once a 50-mile-wide “River of Grass” extending from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, the Everglades is now divided by canals and levees into units we know as Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and the Water Conservation Areas. Now half its original size, the remaining Everglades ecosystem still encompasses more than 2.5 million acres and consists of a variety of habitats that are adapted to extremely low nutrient levels and a range of flooding conditions by either freshwater or saltwater. Scientists have been investigating what is likely to happen to the Everglades when those flooding patterns are altered by rapid rates of sea-level rise. Many people assume that as sea level rises, mangroves will gradually migrate landward, replacing freshwater sawgrass near the coast. This landward migration of mangroves and other coastal habitats is well documented, and there is strong evidence that this process has been exacerbated further by water management activities, which reduce freshwater flow from the Everglades to the coast...In the 1920s, canals were dug into Cape Sable to drain the freshwater marshes but instead facilitated saltwater intrusion. By the time aerial photography became widely available in the 1930s and 40s, much of this freshwater marsh had disappeared, converting to open water rather than a mangrove forest. Research by Dr. Hal Wanless of the University of Miami suggested that saltwater accelerated the breakdown and collapse of these freshwater marshes on Cape Sable. His work inspired scientists from Florida International University led by Dr. Tiffany Troxler, the Everglades Foundation, Everglades National Park, and the South Florida Water Management District to develop experiments focused on understanding how and why peat soil collapses...When such drastic ecological changes occur so rapidly, it is difficult to predict what chain of events will follow. However, we know that we are accelerating peat collapse and shaping the future coastline of the Everglades under the current system of water management. Until we restore the flow of freshwater to Everglades National Park, we are short-circuiting the natural transition to mangroves and possibly increasing South Florida’s future coastal vulnerability.” Read Sea level rise threatens to eat away the Everglades.
William C. Schillaci reports for the EHS Daily Advisor - “In a memo, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has informed his regional administrators that he has directed the Office of Water to begin rulemaking to curtail the Agency’s regulations for implementing Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. Pruitt states that the proposal should, at a minimum, seek to eliminate the EPA 404(c) authority to prohibit discharges of dredged material to all or part of an area both before a Section 404 permit application has been filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and after the Corps has issued the permit. In other words, EPA’s 404(c) authority—also called veto authority—would be confined to the relatively narrow time frame when the Corps is reviewing and processing the permit application. While the existing 404(c) regulations have been in place for about 40 years, the EPA has exercised its veto authority only 13 times, 11 of which were under Republican presidents. ‘This long-overdue update to the regulations has the promise of increasing certainty for landowners, investors, businesses, and entrepreneurs to make investment decisions while preserving the EPA’s authority to restrict discharges of dredge or fill material that will have an unacceptable adverse effect on water supplies, recreation, fisheries, and wildlife,’ wrote Pruitt…” Read Rewrite of EPA Veto Authority Ordered by Pruitt
From Our Readers
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Upcoming Environmental Events
July 11, 6:00 pm – Attend River Rising: Town Hall Series in Jacksonville to learn about rising waters in the St. Johns, how decades of dredging has increased water levels and storm surge, and what Jacksonville and coastal communities need to do to become more resilient. For more information, click here.
July 11, 6:00 pm - Live in Sarasota County and want to go solar? Now's your chance! Neighbors across the area have formed the Sarasota Solar Co-op with the help of Solar United Neighbors of Florida to make it easier to save money on the purchase of solar panels, while building a community of local solar supporters. RSVP for free information session here.
July 14, 10:30 am - Live in Miami-Dade County and want to go solar? Now's your chance! Neighbors across the area have formed the Miami Summer Solar Co-op with the help of Solar United Neighbors to make it easier to save money on the purchase of solar panels, while building a community of local solar supporters. RSVP for free information session here.
July 19, 6:00 pm - Live in Pinellas County, south of State Road 60 and want to go solar? Now's your chance! Neighbors across the area have formed the St. Pete Summer Solar Co-op with the help of Solar United Neighbors of Florida to make it easier to save money on the purchase of solar panels, while building a community of local solar supporters. RSVP for free information session here.
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