Monday, October 25, 2010

EPA taps Florida's Hankinson as director of Gulf restoration panel

John H. Hankinson Jr., a Florida native and former regional U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, was named Monday as executive director of the new federal Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order earlier this month establishing the task force, which will coordinate restoration programs and projects following the BP oil spill last summer. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, a New Orleans native, was named as chair of the task force, which will hold its first meeting in Pensacola on Nov. 8.

Hankinson is chairman of Audubon of Florida and served as regional EPA administrator from 1994 to 2001. He previously was in charge of land acquisition at the St. Johns River Water Management District and was a staff director at the Florida House of Representatives.

“I spent my childhood on the Gulf and I am proud and honored to have the opportunity to carry out the president’s commitment to restoring this vital ecosystem,” Hankinson said in a statement, issued by the EPA, in which Jackson announced the appointment.

Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday praised Hankinson's selection.

"John understands the strong link between Florida’s economy and the Gulf, especially for our tourism and seafood industries. Nothing is more important to Florida’s future than cleaning up any oil that remains in the Gulf of Mexico,'' the governor said in a statement.

Information about the Nov. 8 task force meeting will be announced later, the EPA said. The president's order establishing the task force is available by clicking here.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Photo provided by Audubon of Florida. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Friday, October 15, 2010

Federal official defends Gulf oil spill reporting

MISSOULA, Mont. -- NOAA Administrator Jane Lubcheco on Friday defended as "consistent" her description of the fate of oil spilled last summer in the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, an oil industry representative told environmental journalists that the nation must continue deep-water oil drilling as an important economic driver in the Gulf region.

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank in April, causing more than 200 million gallons of oil to gush into the Gulf of Mexico until July 15, when the leaking well a mile beneath the surface was capped. The spill caused waves of oil to wash ashore near Pensacola and caused beach tourists to cancel vacation plans across Florida.

On Friday, Lubchenco was on a panel at the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference at the University of Montana to discuss lessons learned. In August, NOAA released a report showing that about 50 percent of the oil had been collected, burned or dispersed while another 50 percent remained in the environment or had been evaporated or dissolved.

White House Advisor Carol Browner, former secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation from 1991-93 and a former U.S. EPA administrator, told television audiences in August that 75 percent of the oil from the spill was gone.

Asked at the SEJ conference how that misrepresentation had been spread in the media, Lubchenco said, "There has been a lot of confusion about a lot of things different people said about it. I have been consistent in saying exactly what I just told you."

Some of the dispersed oil remains as microscopic droplets. But she said the water with the dispersed oil looks like drinking water and that there isn't an "undersea lake of black oil" that has been described in some press coverage.

"But dispersed and dilute (oil) does not mean benign," she cautioned. "That could still have very serious consequences to the small creatures and medium-size creatures in the ocean. That is what we remain very concerned about."

Doug Rader, chief oceans scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, said that the worst-case fear of oil being delivered by the Gulf Loop Current into the Florida Keys, Cuba and around to the Atlantic coast had not been realized during the oil spill.

"I'm not trying to suggest that we actually dodged the bullet, because I don't think we did," he said. "I think the total impact, as Dr. Lubcheco suggested, has yet to be fully written. There are plenty of out-of-sight, out-of-mind ecological elements that took it on the chin."

The oil industry has been examining its practices to ensure that another such oil spill does not occur, said Kyle Isakower, vice president of policy analysis at the American Petroleum Institute.

"Clearly things went horribly wrong," he said. "This served to spur the oil and gas industry to reassess our activities. It has created an acknowledgement on behalf of the industry that we must improve."

But Isakower also said that deepwater drilling must continue. The Obama administration earlier this week lifted a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the western Gulf of Mexico, prompting criticism from Florida Gov. Charlie Crist who said such offshore drilling remains a threat to Florida's coast.

The oil industry, Isakower said, has created a start-up company with $1 billion to be used for oil spill containment.

"It is essential from both an economic and energy security standpoint that we resume operations in the Gulf," he said.

Panel moderator Mark Schleifstein, a reporter at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, opened the discussion by saying that journalists deserved blame rather than praise for failing to report on the risk of oil drilling before the spill.

"The one thing (Hurricane) Katrina taught a number of people (including journalists) … was that ignoring residual risk -- you do only at your own peril," Schleifstein said. "Just like with the levee system of New Orleans, we ignored residual risk (of oil drilling) in the offshore community."

"We had the opportunity to write stories well in advance of this disaster about the potential residual risk," he said. "And to be honest, we blew it. There was no washing away (oil) washing up on shore from this event -- from any newspaper in the United States."

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Florida closes on scaled-back Everglades purchase

The South Florida Water Management District on Tuesday closed on the purchase of nearly 27,000 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land in a scaled-down version of the once-massive Everglades restoration project.

Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008 first proposed the purchase of 187,000 acres, which the district agreed to buy for $1.3 billion. But the economic downturn caused the state to twice scale back the purchase while critics, including the New York Times, suggested that the deal was payback for U. S. Sugar's support for Crist.

Crist and environmentalists maintained that the deal was a historic step forward for the Everglades, allowing the state to buy key parcels of land to restore flow between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades' "River of Grass." Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has supported the revised deal but her Republican opponent for governor, Rick Scott, spoke out against it in August.

The water management district on Tuesday completed the purchase for the 26,791 acres for $197.3 million. The governor said in a statement Tuesday the deal creates a brighter, more secure future for the Everglades.

“Today’s land purchase creates significant opportunities for Florida’s environment," Crist said. "With these 26,800 acres, we are one step closer to making our dreams of true restoration for the Everglades a reality."

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mimi Drew along with representatives of the South Florida Water Management District, the Earthjustice law firm and the Everglades Foundation also heralded the deal.

But U.S. Sugar's rival, Florida Crystals, said the purchase won't help the Everglades because the district doesn't have enough money to complete restoration projects. Florida Crystals executives have been raising money for Scott, who supports sticking with the earlier Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan that didn't include the U.S. Sugar land buy.

"Buying land doesn't solve anything for the Everglades," said Gaston Cantens, vice president of corporate relations at Florida Crystals. "They haven't built a single project."

(Photo provided by the South Florida Water Management District. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Argenziano quits Florida PSC to support Alex Sink for governor

Nancy Argenziano announced Tuesday she is resigning from the Florida Public Service Commission to support Democrat Alex Sink in her race against Republican Rick Scott for governor.

Argenziano -- who was elected as a Republican state senator -- told reporters she is resigning to speak out against what she considers to be a "catastrophe" facing the state if Scott is elected. State law prohibits commissioners from endorsing or supporting political candidates and causes, she said.

If Scott is elected, Argenziano said there would be no balance of power or check on the Republican-led Legislature. And she said Scott was scheming to raise electric rates on residential customers effectively by seeking to lower commercial rates and increase utilities' earnings.

"I do not know that I can effectively portray the immensity of the danger of a marriage between the clowns, cowboys and crooks of the current Republican-led state Legislature and Rick "the Fifth Amendment" Scott," she told reporters, reading from a prepared statement.

Argenziano was scheduled to leave office in January because she was passed over for re-appointment by the PSC Nominating Council in June. But she said her speaking out is not because of "sour grapes," rather she is angry at the corruption that she sees with the influence of utilities over the Legislature and the PSC.

Scott campaign spokesman Joe Kildea responded to Argenziano's endorsement by saying, "It's amazing that anyone would publicly support CFO Sink as reports are simultaneously emerging about her authorizing felons to work in the insurance field and access the sensitive and personal information of Floridians."

The Sink campaign issued a statement saying, "Alex Sink is proud to receive the endorsement of a proven consumer champion with a record of standing up for Floridians." Sink herself told reporters that the authorizing of people to work in insurance was required by state law.

Argenziano spoke to reporters for 45 minutes, firing criticism at, among others, the Republican Party of Florida, Senate President Jeff Atwater, incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, PSC Commissioner Lisa Edgar and Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton and chairman of the PSC Nominating Council.

A spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida had no immediate comment nor did a spokesman for Atwater. Haridopolos declined to comment through a spokesman in the Senate president's office.

Later Tuesday, Argenziano said she also was endorsing "for equally good reasons" Gov. Charlie Crist, running as an independent for U.S. Senate, along with Democrats Dan Gelber for attorney general and Loranne Ausley for state chief financial officer.

Argenziano pointed out that she was giving up three months of her $130,036 annual salary to speak out against Scott and the Legislature. She said she will return to her home in Citrus County but added that she has no employment plans.

A spokesman for Crist said the PSC Nominating Council would have to recommend a replacement for the remainder of Argenziano's term. Julie I. Brown, an associate legal counsel for the First American Corp., was named by Crist last month to fill Argenziano's seat in January when her term was set to expire.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Monday, October 11, 2010

State nixes bear workshops because of hunting controversy

State wildlife officials on Monday postponed workshops on black bear management because they said too many people wanted to talk about hunting bears. But it was a state wildlife official who publicly suggested that hunting should remain an option in the future.

The state banned bear hunting in 1994 because of an outcry from animal rights activists, environmentalists and news media that reported on bears being shot in trees where they fled from dogs during legal hunts.

Bears face continuing threats from development and are being killed on roads in increasing numbers while they occupy only 18 percent of their historic range in Florida, according to a draft management report. Still, some residents have raised concerns about there being too many of bears roaming through some rural residential areas and eating from trash cans.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it had intended for a series workshops across the state to focus on the draft plan to ensure "a sustainable and socially acceptable" bear population, according to an agency statement released Monday. Instead, the agency said much of the media attention and comments at the first three workshops has been on the topic of reintroducing bear hunting.

"Although there is significant interest from a wide range of perspectives, each of the workshops ended in debates on hunting rather than on discussions of the plan itself,” said Tim Breault, director of the commission's Division of Habitat and Species Conservation.

David Telesco, Florida's bear management coordinator, told WTSP News that hunting should remain an option in the future for controlling the population. Thirty-one of the 40 states with black bear populations allow hunting, according to the draft report.

Jen Hobgood, the Florida director of the Humane Society of the United States, disagreed in the WTSP report with allowing hunting as a method of controlling interaction with bears and people.

The agency on Monday issued a statement saying it was not proposing to allow hunting because wider stakeholder involvement would be needed to explore that option.

Agency staff will determine how they can bring the focus of the discussion back to the management plan and will hold workshops when senior leadership can attend, Breault said. The agency canceled public meetings scheduled for Tuesday in Naples and Oct. 19 in Perry.

To learn more about the draft report, got to

(Black bear photo courtesy of FWC. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Environment a neglected issue in Florida governor's race

1000 Friends of Florida, a group focusing on growth management issues statewide, sent a questionnaire last month to the eight major party candidates in the state Cabinet races.

The number of responses: Zero, said Charles Pattison, the group's president.

That may be telling about the importance that growth and environmental issues are playing in this year's governor's race. With less than four weeks until the election, neither candidate in the governor's race has said much publicly about those issues.

Voters are telling pollsters that the economy and jobs are the top issue, with the environment and other social issues ranking very low, said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc.

There is some mention of jobs in the governor's race, but the environment is not alone among the issues being ignored, Coker said.

"The governor's race has become nothing more than a food fight," he said. "Nobody is talking about any issues."

Democrat Alex Sink last week quietly released her environmental platform to select groups. Republican Rick Scott has said little about the environment while championing "energy independence" including more nuclear power. And he supports offshore drilling, in contrast to Sink and most environmental groups.

The Sierra Club announced Friday it was endorsing Sink. Even voters who are most concerned about the economy should be able to tell from the BP oil spill how important Florida's environment is to its economy, said Cecilia Height, Sierra Club Florida's political chair.

"You can see how the environment and the economy are intricately linked in that scenario," Height said. "Those [Florida Panhandle residents affected by the oil spill] are still hurting and will be hurting for many, many years to come."

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Scott, with chamber chairman Steve Halverson saying that Scott's experience in creating jobs "is the type of leadership that Florida's economy needs."

People are wanting jobs, not the "latest and greatest environmental regulation," said Adam Babington, the Chamber's vice president for governmental affairs.

Scott has on a few lines on the environmental issues section of his Web site. Regarding the economy, he says he is against "job killing regulations." That kind of talk doesn't provide comfort to growth management supporters, said Pattison, of 1000 Friends of Florida.

The group is concerned about the Florida Department of Community Affairs, whose future was left in question this year when the Legislature refused to reauthorize the agency as part of the "sunset review" process. Sink says she will support the agency, but Scott said in a St. Petersburg Times report on Friday that he favors getting rid of the agency.

"The reason we keep plugging away at it [growth management] is we think there will be a recovery at some point," Pattison said. "We don't want to see mistakes made again that we didn't learn from in the current situation."

To learn more about both candidates' positions on the environment and to find links to their campaign literature on the topic, go to, see "Sink quietly releases environmental Plan to Key Groups" by the Florida Tribune.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

La Niña contributes to tough Florida wildfire season forecast

Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson on Friday predicted a tough wildfire season because of a long-range weather forecast calling for dry conditions.

Wildfire season typically peaks in January and extends until June, though fires can break out any time because of dry conditions. The dire forecast should cause state and federal parks and other land-management agencies to take notice along with local fire departments and rural landowners.

This year wildfires have burned nearly 39,000 acres, according to the Division of Forestry. A single wildfire in 2007 burned 600,000 acres in North Florida and South Georgia and forced evacuations in Columbia County.

A lack of any major tropical storms this year has contributed to dry conditions along with a La Niña weather pattern, which is expected to continue until at least early next year. La Niña is the name given to a weather pattern that is caused by unusually cold water temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

"This weather cycle calls for a warmer and drier winter here in Florida," Bronson said in a statement. "And when you combine that with the lack of any real rainfall associated with tropical systems so far this season, we have to expect a tough wildfire season ahead."

He said homeowners can protect themselves and their property by cleaning roofs and gutters to eliminate flammable debris, keeping areas directly next to their homes free of flammable materials and making sure their landscaping within 30 feet is sufficiently watered to deter flames. For more information, go to the Division of Forestry website.

(Photo by Mark Wolfe/FEMA via Wikipedia Commons. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Friday, October 8, 2010

Rick Scott takes aim at Florida DCA

Republican candidate for governor Rick Scott says he would put a bull's-eye on the Florida Department of Community Affairs, the scorn of many developers.

Scott said he would support eliminating DCA, which oversees growth in the state, according to a St. Petersburg Times report on Friday.

"On the campaign trail, I'll tell you the one that everybody's fed up with. It's DCA," Scott says. "It's really impacted people that want to build things ... I'll tell you, it's really killing jobs."

But DCA Secretary Tom Pelham said that eliminating the agency would be "disastrous." Environmentalists have had to frequently defend the agency from criticism.

Supporters of Amendment 4, also known as "Hometown Democracy," pounced on the story on Friday. The ballot measure, which faces opposition from developers and business groups, would require voters to approve local comprehensive land use changes.

Pelham said that whenever economic times are bad in Florida, "the tendency is to point the finger at whatever planning or regulatory system exists," even though that same system exists when times are good.

Democrat Alex Sink has said she supports reauthorizing the department. The future of the agency was left in question last spring when the House refused to reauthorize the agency.

Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, the incoming House speaker, says in the Times story that he wouldn't mind seeing DCA disappear, with its functions distributed to other agencies.

Amendment 4 supporters said in a statement Friday that Scott's comments provide yet another reason to support the measure.

"The only hope that Floridians have for responsible, healthy growth in our state is to adopt Amendment 4 and have the ultimate say on development in their community," Florida Hometown Democracy president Lesley Blackner said. "If we leave growth management to Rick Scott and Dean Cannon, we truly will see Florida paved from East Coast to West Coast."

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Meek rejects Sierra Club endorsement with Crist in Senate race

The Sierra Club's endorsement of both Gov. Charlie Crist and U. S. Rep. Kendrick Meek in the Senate race on Thursday took a surprise turn when Meek immediately rejected the endorsement.

Sierra Club officials said both Crist, a former Republican now running as an independent, and Meek, a Democrat, have strong environmental records -- especially compared to Republican Marco Rubio, a former Florida House speaker. But Meek immediately rejected the endorsement, calling it an "insult" to Florida's environmental community.

"I cannot in good conscience accept an endorsement from an organization that would stand with a governor who has consistently put developers, oil companies and the special interests first," Meek said.

Sierra Club officials said Crist has a strong record of supporting Everglades restoration, opposing proposed coal-fired power plants and taking action on climate change. Meek has a 100 percent voting record with the national League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club said. In contrast, the Sierra Club officials said Rubio continues to support offshore oil drilling and has questioned the science behind climate change.

Frank Jackalone, Florida staff director for the Sierra Club, told the Florida Tribune after the Meek rejection that the group was sticking by its dual endorsement.

"That came as a surprise to us -- we were not expecting it," Jackalone said of the rejection. "Right now our only response is we feel just as comfortable as we did before with our endorsement of both candidates."

Crist said he was honored by the Sierra Club endorsement, adding that Florida's economy is "inextricably linked to the health of our environment."

“As Governor, I fought to restore the Everglades, ban offshore drilling by constitutional amendment, increase energy efficiency and conservation and reduce climate change," Crist said. "I look forward to working with the Sierra Club in Washington along with all those Floridians looking for independent leadership so that we can create a green energy economy that will benefit our people and our environment.”

Rubio campaign spokesman Alex Burgos said in an e-mail: "We wear the Sierra Club's criticism as a badge of honor. It seems they have a lot in common with Charlie Crist, since they tried to have it both ways in this race."

Polls suggest that Crist and Meek are battling for the same Democrats and moderate independent voters, and some analysts say the two could allow Meek to win by splitting that voting bloc. But Sierra Club officials, hoping that Rubio (who is leading in polls) will finish third in the race, rejected the idea that the Sierra Club endorsement could assist in the Republican victory.

"We think that Rubio's record is so extreme and so out of step with mainstream voters in Florida," said Cathy Duvall, Sierra Club's national political director, "that we can be helpful in this race by being sure that people who don't necessarily understand know where he stands on issues get that information."

Download the Sierra Club endorsement by clicking here.

Read Meek's statement in response by clicking here.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Paul C. Parks, Everglades scientist and "pioneer," dies at 75

Paul C. Parks, a recent member of the state Environmental Regulation Commission and a key figure in Everglades and Lake Okeechobee issues at the Capitol, died Wednesday at his home in Wakulla County. He was 75.

Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Parks to ERC in 2008 but Parks stepped down after discovering he had cancer, said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.

Parks, who joined the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as chief chemist in 1973, pointed out the worsening problems of water quality in Lake Okeechobee. He played a key role as an expert in the federal government lawsuit filed in the 1990s against the state over Everglades water quality, Fuller said.

In 1977, Parks became head of law enforcement at DEP, which was the Department of Environmental Regulation at the time, according to the Florida Wildlife Federation. In 1985, he became director of research and information at the Florida Defenders of the Environment, helping the state develop rules dealing with dairy industry water quality.

In 1988, he worked as the Florida Wildlife Federation's Everglades specialist and lobbied the Legislature during the 1990s, Fuller said. In August, he was inducted into the group's Hall of Fame.

Crist expressed his condolences to the family in a statement on Wednesday saying that Parks used "science-based rationale" to protect natural resources and provided "thoughtful insight" while serving on the ERC.

“In the 1970s, Dr. Parks played a leading role in setting clean-water standards during the infancy of Florida’s environmental protection efforts," Crist said. "Later, he became an environmental advocate, always relying on good science to advance ecosystem protection and restoration, particularly concerning the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.

"His pioneering efforts will benefit Florida’s natural resources for generations to come.”

Fuller described Parks as a close friend and said "he was a valuable assistant to me on technical matters -- not just to me and the Florida Wildlife Federation but with a lot of organizations."

(Photo courtesy of Rebecca Follman. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Zombie political insiders" vs. Florida TaxWatch in duel over growth measure

Supporters of the "Hometown Democracy" Amendment 4 are using Godzilla and vampires to get their message across while opponents on Wednesday were using a Florida TaxWatch report to put the scare into voters.

Amendment 4, which is on the Nov. 2 ballot, would require voter approval of changes to local comprehensive land use plans. Supporters say the measure is needed to wrest control of local growth decisions from development interests while opponents say it creates a legal morass that will harm Florida's economy.

Florida Hometown Democracy Inc. began airing an ad this week that spoofs old horror movies by warning that "corporate vampires" and "zombie political insiders" want to kill Amendment 4. The ad encourages voters to support the measure and "drive a stake through the heart of special interests."

"It's treating a really serious subject with a little humor," said Wayne Garcia, communications director for Florida Hometown Democracy.

But Ryan Houck, spokesman for the "Vote No on 4" campaign, said the opposition ads instead focus on the economic threat of adopting the measure.

"Top economists estimate that Amendment 4 would put more than a quarter-of-a-million Floridians out of work in the midst of an unprecedented recession," Houck said in an email. "The special interests behind Amendment 4 may find that humorous -- we don’t."

The opponents released a four-page Florida TaxWatch briefing paper that says residents throughout Florida could pay $44.6 million to $83.4 million for two special elections each year to vote on comprehensive land use changes. Furthermore, TaxWatch said, tens of millions of dollars could be spent on legal challenges to the election outcomes.

"Amendment 4’s envisioned re-structuring of property rights from private to public and the associated change in decision-making from the marketplace to the ballot box will certainly have devastating, lasting effects on Florida’s economy, the taxpayers, and the treasuries of cities and counties throughout our state," the TaxWatch report stated.

Garcia disputed the TaxWatch findings and other scary economic studies condemning Amendment 4. He said local growth changes could be added to the ballots for primaries and general elections.

"They are basically making up numbers and feeding them into computer models," he said. "If you don't put good data in, you don't get good data out."

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Sink quietly releases environmental platform in Florida governor's race

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, caught up in an increasingly bitter and tight race with Republican Rick Scott, has quietly distributed her environmental platform in the last week.

Sink's campaign released an eight-page paid political advertisement entitled "Preserving Florida's Natural Assets: Improve our economy while protecting our environment." The document outlines her stances on issues like oil drilling, energy, growth management, water and the Everglades, while connecting those issues to the economy.

“No state is more defined by its environment than Florida," she says in the document. "We can grow our economy and jobs while still preserving, protecting, and restoring our environment.”

Environmental issues have gotten scant mention by the gubernatorial candidates this year. Instead Sink and Scott have focused on jobs and the economy, hammering each other over which candidate is more trustworthy and competent.

Read more at the Florida Tribune.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Oil spill researchers gather in Florida as president creates Gulf ecosystem task force

More than 150 scientific researchers from around the nation were gathering Tuesday at St. Pete Beach for the beginning of a two-day conference to discuss oil spill research in the Gulf of Mexico.

Also Tuesday, President Obama signed an executive order establishing the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. The panel, which will have representatives appointed by each of the five Gulf states, will be chaired by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson. (Download the news release by clicking here).

Even though the Deepwater Horizon oil well was capped July 15, scientists say they remain concerned about the long-term effects of more than 200 million gallons of oil on fish populations. A Mobile Press-Register report on Sunday described scientific observations of how some species, such as whale sharks and jellyfish, are recovering.

In St. Pete Beach, the two-day conference is being co-hosted by the University of South Florida and the National Science and Technology Council’s Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology. Bill Hogarth, dean of USF's College of Marine Sciences, said the meeting offers an opportunity for researchers to discuss their findings with colleagues in person for the first time since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began in April.

"It's good to sit down and talk about it [the oil spill] because it's not over," he said. "A lot of people would like to think it's over. From Florida's standpoint, I still have concerns about the fish and ecosystems long-term."

Future research needs to be coordinated among researchers with government agencies, state universities and private institutions, Hogarth said.

For example, USF researchers over the summer identified a subsurface plume of microscopic oil droplets near the spill site. Hogarth said coordinated transects will need to be established for other researchers to follow-up on those findings.

"There should be some method to our madness -- so to speak," Hogarth said. "I think the timing of our meeting will be very good. I think it should have happened a few months ago but everybody was busy responding to what was happening [with the spill]."

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Holmbergius . Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Florida Panhandle legislators seek to repeal septic tank inspection requirement

Two Panhandle legislators say they have filed a bill to repeal a new requirement in state law that all septic tanks be inspected every five years.

SB 550 was introduced by Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, in response to concerns about nitrogen pollution of waterways and groundwater. The law was amended by the Senate Ways and Means Committee to include the inspection requirement signed by Gov. Charlie Crist in June.

The bill had support from the Florida Home Builders Association, the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association and the Sierra Club. But complaints about the legislation emerged in July when some Panhandle residents became aware of the inspection requirement.

The Florida Department of Health has estimated that inspections for the state's 2.5 million septic tanks will cost between $100 and $300, plus an additional $200 if the tank needs to be pumped out. DOH and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommend that septic tanks be inspected every five years.

DOH has scheduled a series of workshops around the state beginning on Oct. 12 in Fort Myers on a proposed rule to implement SB 550. But some lawmakers are trying to prevent DOH from phasing in the inspection program on Jan. 1 as required by the new law.

In a Sept. 23 letter, Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, and Rep. Greg Evers, R-Baker, asked Crist to delay implementation until the Legislature meets in 2011 but Crist refused. On Tuesday, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, said they were filing bills to repeal the requirement.

Coley said in a statement there was a "clear conflict of interest" because companies that are paid to do the inspections helped craft the legislation. Gaetz said in the statement that the bill "is not supported by scientific necessity."

The Florida Onsite Wastewater Association says the inspections are needed to identify septic systems that already are in violation of state law or to identify homes that have malfunctioning septic systems.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Petition drive launched for amendment to ban oil drilling

Environmental groups have launched a petition drive to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2012 that would ban oil drilling in Florida's nearshore waters.

The Florida Wildlife Federation announced the petition drive in an e-mail to supporters on Friday. The amendment is needed because the House in 2009 voted to pass a bill to allow drilling within three miles of the Gulf coast, said Preston Robertson, the group's vice president and general counsel.

"Having something in statute is good (only) until the very next legislative session," Robertson said.

Robertson is also serving as president of Save Our Seas, Beaches and Shores Inc., a political committee that is leading the petition drive. Other groups supporting the effort are Progress Florida and the Sea Turtle Conservancy, according to the committee's website.

After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Gov. Charlie Crist called a special legislative session on July 20 to put a drilling ban on the ballot in November. But the House and Senate adjourned without taking up any legislation after House leaders criticized the special session as a political maneuver by Crist.

House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, pointed out that the drilling ban already is in state law. And Rep. Dean Cannon and Sen. Mike Haridopolos, the incoming House and Senate leaders, have maintained there won't be a vote to lift the ban while they are in charge.

David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said the industry is focusing on safety as a priority in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

"There is currently a law in place that prohibits that [drilling] and we think it [the petition drive] is a bad idea," he said. "We don't need to restrict in the Constitution -- or forever -- the potential for oil and gas extraction near Florida."

In 2009, the House bill to lift the drilling ban in state law failed because the Senate refused to take up the measure. State waters extend 3 miles into the Atlantic Ocean and 10.36 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.

"I just think that whether we are to become another oil state or whether we are going to stay a tourism destination is such an important question that the citizens of the state -- we have 18 million people -- should be allowed to vote on," Robertson said.

Organizers behind the amendment will need to collect nearly 677,000 signatures from registered voters by early 2012 to make the ballot. Then 60 percent of voters must approve the measure in order for it to pass.

Photo by Samuel Wantman, GFDL. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Monday, October 4, 2010

Oil spill claims administrator says location now not a factor

The man put in charge of a $20 billion fund to help those hurt by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill said Monday that distance from the oil spill won't be a factor in deciding whether to pay damages to Florida business owners and residents.

Although oil has washed ashore only in six Florida Panhandle counties, state officials say tourism across Florida was affected by lingering images of the summer's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Kenneth R. Feinberg, who was put in charge of the independent claims fund by President Barack Obama, told Congress on June 30 that businesses located away from the spill may not receive compensation.

Attorney General Bill McCollum told the Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force on Aug. 31 that the federal Oil Pollution Act doesn't include proximity to the spill as a factor in deciding claims. Feinberg told the Florida Tribune in response that he disagreed with that interpretation.

But on Monday, Feinberg issued a statement saying he had been convinced by McCollum, Gov. Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink to change his position.

"After listening to these concerns, I have concluded that a geographic test to determine eligibility regarding economic harm due to the oil spill is unwarranted," Feinberg said. But he added that claimants still must prove that damages are a result of the oil spill and not from other causes.

McCollum spokeswoman Ryan Wiggins said Feinberg's statement doesn't resolve all of the attorney general's concerns but McCollum's office is happy that Feinberg has "finally seen the light."

"We will continue to monitor the claims process carefully in Florida and work with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility to ensure that all claims are processed in a timely manner," Wiggins said.

Crist, Sink and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association each issued statements saying they were encouraged by Feinberg's statement.

“This is incredible news for hundreds of thousands businesses and employees in the hospitality industry who have been adversely impacted by the BP oil spill across the Sunshine State,” said Carol Dover president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

The association began holding a series of briefings across the state on the oil spill claims process along with online seminars. To access the schedule go to, .

Photo by Samuel Wantman, GFDL. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Former DEP chief Sole going to Florida Power & Light

DEP's Mike Sole speaks to reporters on June 1 as Gov. Charlie Crist, right, looks on.

Former Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole is going to work for Florida Power & Light Co., according to a Miami Herald report.

Sole will be vice president of state governmental affairs and will be paid $350,000 in salary, stocks and bonuses. He will report to Eric Silagy, an FPL vice president and chief development officer, the Miami Herald said.

After nearly 20 years with the department, Sole announced in August that he was resigning Sept. 10 to pursue other opportunities. Mimi Drew, DEP's director of regulatory programs, was appointed secretary by the Cabinet last month.

Efforts by the Florida Tribune to reach Sole and an FPL spokesman on Monday were unsuccessful.

Sole told a group of House members in August that leaving the department was a "tough choice" that was prompted by the capping of the Deepwater Horizon oil well.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Brogan "more comfortable" with Florida's role in oil spill research

State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan said Friday he is becoming "more comfortable" with the possible role that Florida's public and private universities will play in oil spill research funded by BP following an announcement by the company this week.

The company said in May that it was providing $500 million for research into the oil spill that began after the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank in April. Florida initially received $10 million but the process of issuing more research grants halted in June after the White House told BP to work with all Gulf states in coordinating and funding the research.

Brogan told the Florida Tribune last month that the state wasn't sure who to approach about the research money. Gov. Charlie Crist in July had submitted to BP a request for $100 million on behalf of the Florida Institute of Oceanography. FIO is a collaboration of 20 public and private universities and research institutions state agencies.

On Wednesday, BP announced that the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, a partnership of the five Gulf states including Florida, will administer the research program. A board of scientists appointed equally by BP and the Alliance will oversee the program, called the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.

The research, BP said, will address these five themes: The distribution and fate of contaminants, their chemical evolution and biological degradation, environmental effects and ecosystem recovery, technology developments and human health.

The independent scientific research, BP said, will be conducted at academic institutions primarily in Gulf states. However, "appropriate partnerships" with institutions outside the region also will be welcome, BP said.

Brogan said last month that Florida institutions were well-situated to play a leading role. And he said researchers in Florida had launched their efforts to track the spill and its effects immediately after it began even before the state received the $10 million from BP.

On Friday, Brogan said he's happy that the state is working with the Gulf of Mexico Alliance. "Florida has been a long-term partner in that regard," he said.

But he added, "We are still waiting to see the detail in all of this -- how much money the effort will bring, how that money will be distributed and the actual governing logistics as to how all this plays out."

Paul Johnson of the Reef Relief environmental group said Friday the coral reefs in the Florida Keys have not suffered yet from the spill. But with so much oil remaining unaccounted for, research and monitoring must continue.

"I don't think anybody knows where it is and what's going on right now," he said. "We need research to track that."

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Georgia senators seek to undo judge's favorable ruling for Florida

Two Georgia senators have introduced bills in Congress to overturn a federal judge's ruling in 2009 that was favorable to Florida in the states' lengthy battle over water.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been fighting in federal court since 1990 over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. Alabama and Georgia want water for future growth while Florida wants water for fish and wildlife along the river and the seafood industry at Apalachicola Bay.

U. S. District Judge Paul A. Magnuson in July 2009 ruled that Georgia and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had illegally taken water from Lake Lanier, a huge federal reservoir on the Chattahoochee River north of Atlanta, without authorization from Congress. He gave the states three years to get congressional authorization before water use from Lake Lanier is essentially cut off.

On Thursday, Georgia senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, both Republicans, jointly introduced four pieces of legislation that they said would ensure that their state's water needs are met as the state continues to negotiate a long term agreement. (Download their announcement by clicking here.)

Two pieces of legislation, SB 12 and SB 3911, would authorize water withdrawals from Lake Lanier for municipal and industrial water supplies.

Another bill would allow the Corps of Engineers to include water withdrawals from Lake Lanier in the update of a water control plan for the reservoir. The fourth bill would allow any counties that withdraw water from a reservoir to get credit for the treated wastewater they return to the reservoir.

"It's critical that Georgia, Alabama and Florida come to an agreement on water resources that meets the needs of the three states," Chambliss said. "From a federal standpoint, Senator Isakson and I will continue to explore additional avenues to support the negotiations and make sure Georgia has an adequate supply of water."

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said through a spokesman: “This legislation isn’t going to see the light of day. What’s needed is a reasonable and comprehensive water-sharing agreement that promotes conservation and ensures protections are in place for Florida."

Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for Gov. Charlie Crist, said he would not have a comment on the bills this early in the legislative process.

Andy Smith, executive director of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper group, said the legislation suggests a lack of progress among the states in negotiating a solution. He said studies are needed to determine the river system's ecological needs and its capacity to meet water supply needs.

"It seems like the states are still playing the cards purely to their advantage," Smith said.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting