Florida’s water quality catastrophe: taxation without representation

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Florida taxpayers and voters should be nauseated by the toxic slime puking from Lake Okeechobee onto both Florida coasts. Tourists certainly are. It takes an even stronger stomach to listen to Florida Governor Rick Scott’s non-responsive answers on who bears responsibility for the state’s worst environmental catastrophe: the state does.

Social media sites like Bullsugar.org and SWFL Clean Water Movement, are filled with photos and videos of toxic blue-green algae coating iconic real estate with visually compelling disgust. That algae is being linked by scientists to brain disorders in humans, like Alzheimer’s. That algae is tied to horrendous skin infections resistant to standard antibiotic treatment. All of this is adding up to a massive problem for Florida’s tourism-dependent businesses, silence from the Florida Department of Health, and evasions by Gov. Rick Scott.

Yesterday, Gov. Scott feebly answered the media in Palm Beach, not far from Martin County where local commissioners listened to a crowd of furious citizens. According to a WPTV report, “He (Scott) didn’t take any blame for the growing problem, saying the problem lies with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He said the Corps wasn’t being a “good partner” and needed to spend the money to improve infrastructure around Lake Okeechobee so there isn’t a constant need to remove water. “The state, as you know, doesn’t have any control over Lake Okeechobee. The federal government has got to put the money in to be able to hold more water there when we have a rainy year like we have now. It’s 100% controlled by the federal government,” the governor said Tuesday.” (“Florida Gov. Rick Scott aware of algae problems, blames feds”)

Let’s parse Gov. Scott’s comments. What the governor means is that Lake Okeechobee needs its levies reinforced because otherwise with high rainfall events, there is a threat of breach and flooding downstream residents. If he were honest, he would acknowledge that while the responsibility for maintaining Lake O hardware belongs to the federal government, the responsibility for the software, the state’s water quality regulation, monitoring and enforcement, belongs to the state of Florida.

That is what Gov. Scott won’t say and that’s what makes his blame-shifting so transparent: permitting and enforcement of water quality is strictly Florida’s responsibility.

Long ago, the nation’s top environmental agency, the U.S. EPA, “delegated” the administration of water resources to the state of Florida. In the interval, at each and every point in time that the EPA sought to bring Florida back into line on water quality problems, the agency has been attacked by the GOP.

Let’s name names: Gov. Rick Scott and his predecessors including Jeb Bush, Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam and his Republican predecessors, Senate president Joe Negron and his predecessors (Ken Pruitt, John Thrasher), Attorney General Pam Bondi and her predecessors, Representative Matt Caldwell and his predecessors (Jimmy Patronis, Gaston Cantens, Marco Rubio) — all worked overtime on behalf of Lake Okeechobee polluters like Big Sugar and Big Ag interests north of Lake Okeechobee.

Don’t forget: the Florida Congressional delegation bears enormous responsibility for pressuring against EPA involvement in Florida’s water quality catastrophe. For Gov. Scott to “blame the feds” is just plain bullshit.

The U.S. EPA has been so hammered by right-wing extremists representing polluters, the agency is not just ghost-like in Florida; its top staffers would just as soon wash their hands of Florida entirely as read about the devastated St. Lucie or Caloosahatchee Rivers.

What would you do as a civil servant aiming for retirement if, for thirty years, every time you piped up your voice about awful foot-dragging by Florida on water quality standards — narrative instead of hard numerical criteria — Big Sugar picked up the phone and berated a member of Congress whose campaign they had funded?

Democrats bear responsibility for pay-to-play politics and the devastating impacts on protecting the environment, but to be fair to Florida’s bedraggled Dems, it has been a very long time since they had any influence over the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency that could but won’t make polluters pay for the costs of their pollution.

The mainstream media should not let Gov. Scott or his designated hitters get away with blaming the feds. “The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has the primary responsibility to establish the State NPDES program priorities that are consistent with national NPDES goals and objectives.” (“National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Memorandum Of Agreement Between The State of Florida and The U.S. EPS Region 4”, Nov. 30, 2007.) That’s from a memorandum signed by the then-Florida Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection Mike Sole, now a senior executive for Florida Power and Light that the state of Florida recently let off the hook for contaminating water resources of a national park.

NPDES is the National Pollutant Discharge System, and if Florida had tough, numeric water quality standards tied to tough best management practices on farmland tied to NPDES permits it enforced, Florida taxpayers and voters might have more than a crock of shit to bathe in this Fourth of July weekend, the day when Americans stood up against taxation without representation.