As horrified people watch dead manatees, marine mammals, fish and hundreds of sea turtles wash up on Florida’s southwest coast, politicians are tripping over one another to express concern.
But a look back eight years ago shows that three key state leaders – Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and Attorney General Pam Bondi – fought bitterly against stricter limits for the very pollution now sliming South Florida. And they started with a letter written just 10 days after they were elected.
Their opposition was ideological; In the November 2010 letter of objection to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, they complained that setting pollution limits for sewage, manure and fertilizer runoff would be an “onerous regulation” by an “overbearing federal government.”
It would also, they argued, interfere with the ability to squeeze every last dollar out of the cash cow that is the Sunshine State.
“We are very concerned about the cost of this onerous regulation to Floridians,” the letter said. “Businesses across Florida are struggling and our unemployment rate is nearly 12%.”
It’s not clear how they thought keeping poop out of the public’s water would make unemployment worse, but whatever. They whined on:
“We each ran on the platform of fiscal responsibility and heard from numerous constituents about concerns of an overbearing federal government that’s placing burdensome regulations on Florida’s families and employers.”
It makes one wonder what their Republican supporters living on waterfront estates fouled by the rotting stench of dead fish think about pollution regulation now. Red tide is a natural occurrence, but the polluted agriculture runoff the government is pumping to the coasts from Lake Okeechobee super-charges it.
In 2010, Scott, Putnam, and Bondi even claimed that pollution limits could “increase the price of utilities, food and other necessities for Floridians.”
In fact, the “burdensome regulations” the EPA was proposing were modest, because monied interest groups like home builders, industrial agriculture, and utilities were already applying heavy pressure in Washington to get the EPA to back off.
The EPA’s proposed pollution limits were lame, but at least they were a start. In fact, Florida was to be the first state in America to set limits for sewage, manure, and fertilizer runoff. It was a solution a long time coming. Rather than let polluted runoff foul public waters, the reasoning went, why not require it to be cleaned up at the source? We have the technology.
Everyone could see at the time that runoff from America’s industrial agricultural operations was a plague across America, spawning a massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, turning lakes and rivers fluorescent green with toxic algae from coast to coast, making people sick, and even killing pets and livestock. In regulatory circles, they prefer to call sewage, manure and fertilizer “nutrients” – it sounds like it’s actually good for you.
The polluters hired Tallahassee PR man Ron Sachs’ firm to puff up the narrative that setting pollution limits would Cost Too Much, and they trotted out various loyalists in the Legislature and state government put lipstick on that pig. A fake “clean water” coalition sprung up, made up of the very industries opposing the pollution safeguards.
Even the Southwest Florida Chamber of Commerce – whose members include the beachfront businesses and hotels now screwed by green slime and rotting grouper – toed the polluter line.
“The Chamber is concerned,” reads a 2010 release, “that many of the proposed regulations will impose additional economic hardship to an already struggling Florida economy.”
In the end, Gov. Scott got his Department of Environmental Protection to convince the EPA that Florida should set its own regulations for sewage, manure and fertilizer. This, in a state where Scott had eviscerated environmental agencies with cutbacks that slashed enforcement and tossed aside many state scientists with long experience.
Documents uncovered in a court case later showed that Florida polluter lobbyists wrote the DEP’s rules, which are the “limits” we have today. We can all see how well that’s working.
In one of the most brazen moves, Bondi and Scott filed legal action in 2014 to block cleanup of Chesapeake Bay. If you’re thinking WTF, I’ll let Florida author and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen explain it:
“Why would the state of Florida try to obstruct the cleanup of public waters hundreds of miles away from our own?” Hiaasen wrote, “Because Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott are complete tools.
They aren’t suing on behalf of the citizens of Florida; they’re suing on behalf of big agricultural and development interests that don’t want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enforcing clean-water laws anywhere.
Among the lobby groups trying to dismantle the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint are the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Home Builders and those famously civic-minded folks at the Fertilizer Institute. They want us to trust them to regulate their own pollution, and to hell with the EPA.”
This might all be just a stroll through the Wayback Machine if not for the fact that Putnam is running for governor and Scott is running for U.S. Senate. Scott recently declared a State of Emergency over the algae outbreak (because waterfront-dwelling Republicans might vote.) Among other things, it kindly provides loans to counties struggling with toxic green slime.
Maybe Sarasota County could use the money. They had workers and tractors on the beach yesterday, scooping up thousands of pounds of deceased marine creatures.
“Tourists weren’t scattered on Venice Beach Wednesday morning, but hundreds of dead fish were,” reported the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “Visitors piled into the parking lot, got out of their cars, started hacking, coughing and sneezing, and then quickly left the beach, which had become a tableau of death.”
Visit Florida, y’all!