Florida’s leaders love our environment, but they love money more

Ginnie Springs. Credit: H. Means, State of Florida

Florida’s leaders must hate Florida.

Oh, they claim to love the place, rhapsodizing on the beauty of our springs, our lakes, our rivers, our forests, our beaches, and our seas. They vow to save the Everglades, turn back red tide, tackle toxic green algae, protect our wildlife, and make sure our water stays clean.

Except when there’s more money in destruction and degradation.

And there’s always more money in destruction and degradation.

Ginnie Springs, once jewel-bright and clear as gin, is due to be continually violated by a company called (with evil irony) Seven Springs. They want to suck as much as 1 million gallons of water from Ginnie every single day and sell it to mega-corp Nestlé.

What does the permit for this cost? A big, fat 115 bucks.

Nestlé will then package the product in a plastic bottle and sell the water – your water, remember, from the Floridan Aquifer – back to you.

Seven Springs wins; Nestlé wins; the bottle manufacturer wins. Losers include: the oceans (where that plastic is likely to end up), Florida’s fragile ecosystems, and you.

As of right now, Florida allows the withdrawal of nearly 5 billion gallons of water per day from our aquifer. The flow in the Santa Fe River and its many springs is down 30 to 40 percent.

That’s critical, possibly lethal. According to Robert Knight, director of the Florida Springs Institute, “Springs that were translucent-blue 25 years ago are now green-brown and most of their plants and fish are gone.”

But in Florida, Nature must be monetized. Our pretend-green governor and the venal characters who run the Legislature now want to ram superfluous toll roads through some of Florida’s last unspoiled wild lands, wreaking havoc on wetlands, forests, and wildlife.

Been out on Highway 19 lately? Splendidly lonely.

The Chamber of Commerce, the asphalt lobby, and rich landowners want these roads. Nobody else does.

More roads don’t relieve traffic; more roads bring traffic. More roads mean more sprawl. And unsustainable development with its noisome by-products: strip malls, big box stores, ruined land, polluted waters.

Humans don’t need these roads. Critters really don’t need these roads. What we all need is a wildlife corridor, unspoiled areas for critically endangered animals such as the Florida panther to thrive.

Here’s something else we don’t need: drilling in the Apalachicola River Basin.

The Florida Department of Environmental Prostitution has issued notice of intent to allow exploratory oil drilling in Calhoun County.

As if West Florida didn’t suffer enough in Hurricane Michael, here comes some Texas oil outfit wanting to sink six wells, more than 13,000 feet deep, imperiling not only the aquifer but the ecosystem of the Apalachicola and Chipola rivers and the eerily beautiful Dead Lakes.

The area has been recognized as an International Biosphere Reserve; it’s a place of enormous biodiversity, unrivaled in North America, home to 1,500 native species of flora and fauna, home as well to the bear, the osprey, the tupelo – the glorious living beings that make Florida Florida.

Yet Florida’s environmental prostitutes are willing to endanger all this for the sake of some oil that may or may not be there.

A thinking person might wonder why, given the climate catastrophe we’re facing – especially here in Florida, Ground Zero for sea-level rise, that the state’s encouraging the fossil fuels industry.

A thinking person might wonder why the Sunshine State is not concentrating on renewable energy sources, like, you know, sunshine.

Those whose job it is to protect this beautiful, vital, treasure are appalled. Apalachicola Riverkeeper warns: “The risk of damage to water quality, biologic, and geologic integrity of the ecosystem from drilling, along with the toxic substances used in drilling wells, far exceeds any benefits that a small number of property owners and an oil company will gain.”

But Florida has always sold itself, inch by blue inch, to those who want only to pillage it, from egret feathers to phosphate to spring water.

The Republicans who control this state want you to think they care about the water, the air, the animals, and the trees. And perhaps they do, a little, maybe the impaired river in their districts, maybe the flooding on their beaches – just not as much as they care about the money that fuels their political power.

Florida’s leaders choose short-term profit over long-term environmental survival. And that’s not sustainable.

Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.