Friday, August 28, 2009

Streams or ditches? DEP considers waterways reclassification

Few people who drive along Franklin Boulevard east of the state Capitol notice a ditch between the lanes of traffic or realize it may have historical significance.

The ditch was once a stream called St. Augustine Branch that flowed towards a waterfall that became a landmark in the siting of Florida's capital city in 1823. But the waterfall eventually was wiped out when railroad tracks were built in the 1850s and the stream was ditched years later to reduce flooding.

But the ditch is still known as St. Augustine Branch to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. And it's rated by DEP as Class III, or fishable and swimmable -- a classification under the federal Clean Water Act that city officials say could establish unrealistic and expensive cleanup requirements.

Now the Florida Stormwater Association, which consists of city and county officials across the state, is asking DEP to create a new waterway classification system so that local governments are not required to spend millions of dollars improving water quality in ditches and canals rather than the lakes and rivers downstream.

"There are examples like that all over the state -- these urban conveyances that have really little or no human or aquatic benefit," said Kurt Spitzer, executive director of the Florida Stormwater Association. "You can't go fishing, you can't go swimming -- yet they are Class III."

But some environmentalists are concerned that the state may allow more pollution in too many waterways, including canals that people fish in and some streams where people swim or float in inner tubes. And they rankle at stormwater officials using the Franklin Boulevard ditch as an example.

"It's not a creek, it's not a stream -- it's not a Class III water body," said Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida. "They continue to act like it is and use it as a poster child to say all these water bodies (should be declassified)."

DEP says it is revising its waterway classification rule in response to the Florida Stormwater Association petition filed in July. Public hearings must be held and any rule change must be approved by the state Environmental Regulation Commission.

The department had proposed changes to the waterway classifications in 2007 but faced opposition and the proposal was shelved, according to environmentalists. DEP Secretary Michael Sole in 2007 sent a letter to local officials across the state denying that the department was trying to reduce water quality standards.

The Class III designation brings with it a requirement to meet certain minimum water quality standards that are not attainable and are unnecessary in many manmade waters, Sole said.

But Monica Reimer, an attorney with the Earthjustice law firm, said the state shouldn't revamp the whole waterway classification system because of concerns.

"The Clean Water Act is about clean water," said Monica Reimer, an attorney for the EarthJustice law firm. "If you want to deal with ditches, deal with ditches."

Young, of the Clean Water Network, said the reclassification could be used to allow more pollution in any river or stream that may have been altered at one time. DEP, however, says the reclassification would allow it to better protect pristine waters and establish more realistic goals for artificial waterways.

In Orange County, the Little Econ River, Shingle Creek and the Little Wekiva Canal all are Class III even though local officials say they have been substantially altered. Shingle Creek is a ditch through Orlando on its way to Lake Tohopekaliga at the headwaters of Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, said Julie Bortles, program manager for ecological assessment in the Orange County Environmental Protection Division.

"A lot of these areas, at least in Orlando are older and still don't have stormwater ponds in them.," she said. "The primary means of getting rid of stormwater is straight into these ditches. We are trying to put more (stormwater treatment) in but financially it's not possible to put stormwater ponds in everywhere."

Not everyone in Tallahassee agrees that Franklin Boulevard is just a ditch. Sean McGlynn, a Tallahassee aquatic biologist, said the former St. Augustine Branch is fed by small springs in surrounding neighborhoods when it's not being flushed with dirty stormwater runoff on its way to Lake Munson.

McGlynn says the stream and floodplain should be restored on one side of Franklin Boulevard and the traffic lanes should be moved to the other side. The city has delayed plans for enclosing the stream in culverts.

Enclosing the stream in culverts or removing its fishable-swimmable designation could doom historic St. Augustine Branch, McGlynn said.

"There are fish, there are frogs. There are aquatic plants -- because they (city maintenance workers) keep scooping them out," McGlynn said. "By making it a ditch, you are destroying the habitat that's there."

John Cox, Tallahassee's water quality planning chief, said removing nitrogen and phosphorus to achieve water quality standards could cost $15 million or more, and he said it isn't worth it.

"The more of those kinds of waters that you identify as impaired," he said, "the more you take away resources from actually protecting and restoring waters that actually have more of a chance to support a well-balanced aquatic community -- if you lower the pollutant load."

View DEP's web page on the classification process by clicking here.

View the Florida Stormwater Association's petition and Soles 2007 letter by clicking here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Climate panel rejects scrapping energy test

A state climate panel today rejected a commissioner's recommendation for Florida to replace its test for analyzing energy programs -- a test that environmentalists have argued is a barrier to conservation.

The Florida Energy and Climate Commission instead voted to recommend that the Public Service Commission use a revised version of the "rate impact measure" test, or RIM test, that the PSC already is using. The climate commission rejected Commissioner Debra Harrison's proposal to scrap the RIM test, which environmentalists say fails to consider the societal costs of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

"I would like to see the state of Florida no longer 28th in the nation in energy efficiency but to move into the top 10 states in this country in moving forward with energy efficiency," said Harrison, who is Florida program director of the World Wildlife Fund. She also said Florida is one of only two localities that rely solely on the RIM test.

But others on the eight-member commission backed Executive Director Jeremy Susac, who said the commission is required to recommend a least costly strategy for most rate-payers. He said the alternative test proposed by environmental groups, the Total Resource Cost (TRC) test, ignores the cost to all utility customers of some incentive programs, such as rebates for solar power, that are provided only to participating customers.

The climate panel, however, did recommend packaging some solar incentive programs with other more cost-effective measures to achieve greater energy efficiency at less cost. That's consistent with state law and the Florida Climate and Action Plan, the panel said.

The Public Service Commission is reviewing the conservation goals of seven utilities subject to the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act: Florida Power & Light Co., Florida Public Utilities Co., Gulf Power Co., JEA, the Orlando Utilities Commission, Progress Energy and Tampa Electric Co.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy have told the PSC that House Bill 7135 in 2008 required the agency to consider replacing the RIM test. But representatives of utilities disagreed with that interpretation and said replacing RIM would be costly to all customers of utilities.

During the Climate and Energy Commission hearing today, some commissioners other than Harrison said they also were concerned about the cost of replacing the RIM test, particularly now. Today was the deadline for submitting a recommendation to the PSC.

"The burden on the general rate-payer would be extraordinary at this time given the economy," said Nicholas C. Gladding, an attorney who has represented corporate clients in environmental permitting cases.

Commission Chairman James F. Murley said now is not the time to be recommending an alternative that provides the most change.

"I think the state is in a worse financial state than many of us want to recognize," he said.

(Top photo courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ag Commissioner Bronson pushes conservation easements

During Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson and Smokey Bear presented a national wildfire prevention award to Melissa Yunas, wildfire mitigation specialist in the Florida Division of Forestry's Okeechobee District office.

Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet on Tuesday approved a new conservation lands purchase list but only after Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson insisted that the elected panel also should approve a state work plan for buying land.

Florida Forever and its predecessor land-buying program is the largest in the nation, having acquired more than 2.6 million acres of state forests, state and local parks and hunting preserves. But the program is at risk of running out of money as the state has been slow to borrow money because of a weak bond market, and the Legislature declined to provide new money in 2009-10.

Bronson has urged the state to buy development rights from farms and rural landowners rather than take ownership of the property. And he made that point again Tuesday in requesting a change in state law to require Cabinet approval of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's land acquisition work plan.

"It is possible the trustees (Cabinet members) may want to decide -- of the different various plans for acquisition -- less-than-fee-simple processes (conservation easements) may be more important to get the same amount of protection and keep those lands on the tax rolls and so forth," he said.

Bronson has said that buying conservation easements is cheaper than purchasing land and avoids future land management costs while landowners continue to pay property taxes. But those land deals rarely include public access.

The new Florida Forever list consists of 2 million acres in 119 proposed purchase areas, one-third of which are conservation easements, according to DEP Secretary Michael Sole. The estimated value of all the land is $22 billion.

The two new projects both are conservation easements: Triple Diamond Ranch, 7,991 acres in Okechobee County, and Kissimmee Billy Strand, with 4,694 acres in Hendry County.

Kissimmee Billy Strand, which was added to the Panther Glades project and moved up from the B to the A priority list by the Cabinet, includes 2,312 acres of Green Glades Ranch owned by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission member Ronald Bergeron. Commission officials have said DEP will handle the purchase, avoiding any potential conflict of interest for Bergeron. (Click here for related story).

The Florida Forever trust fund had $84 million in it this week and could run out of money by Oct. 1, Deborah Poppell, director of DEP's Division of State Lands, said earlier this month. (Click here for related story).

Sole said Tuesday he's not worried about running out of Florida Forever money, but he added, "I'm watching it like a hawk."

And he said with the estimated value of all the land the state is considering compared to the expected $3 billion to be sought for Florida Forever through 2020, prioritization and oversight by the Cabinet is reasonable.

"Without question the needs are very high (and) the costs are very high," Sole said. "We need to make sure as we move forward we do so in a way that achieves our priorities."

(Photo and text copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Florida Do not redistribute without permission.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

EPA, groups settle water dispute; Industry groups threaten challenge

Environmental groups say this algae bloom July 31 on a tributary of the St. Johns River was fueled by excessive nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous.

Environmental groups say a settlement agreement in a lawsuit over Florida's water quality standards will help begin the restoration of springs, lakes and rivers across the state.

Under a settlement with groups including the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club and the St. Johns Riverkeeper, the U.S. Environmental Protection agency will set numeric limits for nitrogen and phosphorus, which can cause algae blooms in Florida waters. Sources of nitrogen include fertilized lawns, agricultural operations and sewage treatment plants.

Environmental groups said the agreement was long overdue.

"This will be the engine that drives the restoration of Florida's rivers," said David Guest of the environmental law firm Earthjustice.

The EPA announced earlier this year that it would set those standards unless the state agreed to do so first. DEP officials said they agreed with the action and began work on setting limits earlier this year, including holding a pair of public hearings in June on a proposed rule.

Meanwhile, industry groups sent letters today and earlier this month warning of possible lawsuits challenging EPA's determination earlier this year. They said EPA based its decision on factors beyond the scope of the federal Clean Water Act.

With the EPA now moving forward, DEP said it's considering whether to continue moving forward with the rulemaking process.

"Florida has made a tremendous investment to collect and analyze the data necessary to define how nutrient enrichment affects the biological health of our surface waters," DEP Secretary Mike Sole said in a statement. "To ensure that there is no duplication of work, we will continue to work with EPA in the same manner they have worked with us as they develop the criteria."

Industry groups have raised concerns about DEP's approach, saying it arbitrarily places many water bodies in the "impaired" or polluted category without considering the geology and ecology of each waterway. The Florida Minerals and Chemical Council and the Florida Water Environment Association Utility Council have sent letters warning of possible lawsuits against the EPA.

The city of Tallahassee plans to spend $160 million to clean up its wastewater treatment plants to meet advanced treatment standards to reduce pollution of Wakulla Springs. Some proposals being floated by the state would establish even stricter standards than advanced treatment could meet, said attorney Winston K. Borkowski of the Hopping Green & Sams law firm in Tallahassee. He represents the industry groups that sent warning letters to EPA.

"It's like setting a 25-mph speed limit on an interstate highway," Borkowski said Monday. "It is certainly protective, but it is not rational."

On Friday, Earthjustice's Guest said concerns about cost from industry are predictable and overstated. But Guest also said that meeting numeric criteria likely will require additional treatment by sewage plants and could change the way homeowners use fertilizers and the way that farms dispose of their manure.

"There is an economic gain," he said. "Clean water makes money."

(Photo by Chris Williams, GreenWater Laboratories/CyanoLab, provided by environmental groups involved in lawsuit. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fla. could run out of land-buying money by Oct. 1

Florida could be out of money for buying conservation lands by Oct. 1 unless new bonds are issued to allow purchases.

The Florida Forever land-buying program is the largest in the nation. But the state has delayed borrowing money -- despite Legislative approval to do so -- because of the weak bond market, according to Deborah Poppell, director of DEP's Division of State Lands.

So the Florida Forever Trust Fund, which had $87 million remaining recently, could run out of money by Oct. 1, Poppell told the state Acquisition and Restoration Council last week.

"The Division of Bond Finance lets us know (when) the market is good enough where we can draw down bonds again or get bonds." Poppell told

"It might be late fall, (or) late late fall," she said. "It might be the first of the year."

But DEP also said the remaining trust fund balance is not unusually low. The department will continue to work toward land acquisitions as long as there is some money is available, DEP spokeswoman Amy Graham said.

Ben Watkins, director of the Division of Bond Finance, could not be reached this week to comment on when new Florida Forever bonds could be issued.

Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet next Tuesday will be asked to approve a new state lands purchase list with new projects and expanded boundaries for existing projects. But much of the money appropriated last year already has been committed -- before the bonds have been issued.

Under Florida Forever and its predecessor program, Preservation 2000, the state has bought 2.6 million acres since 1990. The land includes state forests, state and local parks, water management district lands, state wildlife preserves and preservation agreements with private landowners.

The Legislature this year provided no money for the land-buying program, which had received $300 million a year since 1990. The Legislature was facing a revenue shortfall because of the slow economy, but some critics also say the state has borrowed too much or has bought too much land already.

Environmental groups say conservation lands are needed to protect water supplies and wildlife and provide recreational opportunities when growth resumes in Florida. And they say the state is missing the opportunity to buy land now with prices going down.

The Legislature in FY 2008-09 provided $300 million in bonding authority but only $50 million in bonds were issued, Poppell said. A weak bond market meant the state would have had to pay more in interest to borrow the remaining $250 million.

Even if new bonds are issued, there may be few new land deals involving DEP's $105 million portion of Florida Forever. Of the $97 million remaining unspent (once bonds are issued), all but $21.8 million has been obligated to other purchases or expenses.

The lack of cash on hand from last year and the lack of new money this year will create uncertainty for landowners willing to sell and for communities that want to submit grant requests to the state, said Andrew McLeod of The Nature Conservancy.

"It's particularly regrettable because this is the most favorable market for conservation in a long time," he said. "It obviously coincides with a recession. But the state is not in a position to maximize the current real estate dip for the purposes of conservation."

(Story text and photograph copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do no copy or redistribute without permission.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Crist considers meeting with Ala., Ga. in water dispute


Gov. Charlie Crist is mulling over dates to meet with his counterparts from Alabama and Georgia as leaders of the three neighboring states try to resolve a longstanding feud over how to divvy up water coming from Lake Lanier.

With a federal judge saying Atlantans aren’t entitled to water from the reservoir, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and Alabama Gov. Bill Riley have agreed to meet but are waiting for Crist to respond on acceptable dates. The request to meet follows a federal court ruling last month that may end the Georgia capital’s future prospects for pulling water from the reservoir to quench the collective thirst to the teeming city.

Alabama and Florida officials are concerned about lack of water flowing from Lake Lanier, a big federal reservoir north of Atlanta. Florida’s oyster fishery is especially vulnerable because a drop in fresh water into Apalachicola Bay makes the water too salty.

“I have always believed that a negotiated settlement that protects the rights and resources of all three states is the most lasting solution,” Perdue said in a letter to Crist and Riley.

Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey said the governor was reviewing the 19 dates acceptable to Riley and Perdue over the next three months.

Nine weeks after taking testimony in a water war between Florida, Alabama and Georgia, Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson in July called on Congress to settle the dispute within three years. If not, water distribution would revert back to a baseline arrangement forged in the 1970s when Atlanta was a fourth its current size, leaving a huge metro area to try to find a new source for water.

Georgia officials have asked that more water from Lake Lanier be allowed to remain within the state to quench the thirst of Atlanta, now home to about 5.3 million people.The three states and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been in litigation over sharing the waters for nearly two decades.

The disputes have focused primarily on the operation of federal reservoirs on the Chattahoochee River. The largest is Buford Dam, which forms Lake Lanier north of Atlanta. Local officials, with the Corps approval, have been diverting more water from the reservoir as the region booms.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Audubon's Draper drops out of ag commissioner race

Democrat Eric Draper says he's leaving the race for agriculture commissioner to devote more time to environmental issues.

Draper, who is deputy director of Audubon of Florida, was one of four Democratic candidates in 2010 seeking to replace Republican Charles H. Bronson, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits.

"I knew when I got in my biggest challenge was going to be balancing my work particularly my environmental advocacy," Draper told He announced his decision in an e-mail to campaign supporters.

"I gave it three good months to see if I could do that effectively," Draper said. "I felt the conditions changed a little bit and I needed to refocus on Audubon."

Draper lacked the farming background that past commissioners and several of the other candidates have had. When he announced his candidacy, Draper stressed his work with Audubon to preserve farms as part of the environmental landscape.

Fund raising wasn't a problem, Draper said, though he indicated that it could require more of his time in the future. He said the $40,000 he raised will be redistributed to campaign donors.

"Money comes with time," he said. "Money is just a result of getting in front of people and making your case."

Draper, who said he had enjoyed campaigning, was meeting Monday with other environmentalists to discuss countering the political and media campaign in support of oil drilling.

"I look at the money being spent by these drilling companies, lobbyists, public relations and their campaign contributions (and) I realize I need to fight the battles in front of us right now rather than positioning myself to fight a battle in the future," he said.

The remaining Democratic candidates in the race are former state Rep. Rick Minton, former Suwannee County Commissioner Randy Hatch and former Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox. The Republican candidates are state Sen. Carey Baker and U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam. James Harlin Carter is running as a candidate of the Real Food Party of the United States of America.

(Photo and text copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not redistribute without permission)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ranking system urged to save nation's largest land-buying program

They came in busloads from around the state, crammed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection parking lot in Tallahassee full of cars and packed into standing-room-only hearings.

During the 1990s, public hearings for the annual ranking of proposed state land-buying projects brought out the people. Getting ranked higher on the priority list meant those natural areas were more likely to be protected. A lower ranking meant the land could get developed instead.

But the state in 2000 developed a new system that included no project rankings and only two tiers of "A" and "B" lists with 110 projects, including 21 identified as highest priority. With no ranking process and seemingly less at stake, the crowds quit coming to the annual hearings, according to state officials and consultants.

The Legislature this year provided no new money for the Florida Forever land-buying program for the first time since 1990. Now, some environmental groups and consultants are urging the state to return to a ranking system to encourage public involvement and support for Florida Forever.

"Getting this kind of ranking procedure back is going to re-energize this program and make it more apparent to the Legislature -- through heavy grassroots lobbying -- this is a needed vital program," said Richard Hilsenbeck, director of Conservation Programs at the Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. "And it's going to help with the funding for this program -- I guarantee it."

A key Florida House member also says that a ranking system is needed. But he also said Florida Forever -- like the rest of the state government -- faces a budget challenge.

Florida Forever is the largest of any state or federal conservation land-buying program in the country, according to DEP. Since 1990, Florida has acquired 2.4 million acres for state forests, city and state parks, water management district lands, wildlife management areas and conservation easements on private lands.

But with the state earlier this year facing a $6 billion revenue decline, the Legislature approved a fiscal year 2009-10 budget of $66.5 billion that didn't include the $300 million in bonding authority that Florida had received since 1990.

Environmental groups and consultants urged the state Acquisition and Restoration Council this week to rank projects within each of the five new purchase categories. And council members agreed -- saying that ranking would provide needed "transparency" in the land-buying process.

But some DEP officials warned that ranking projects in the past allowed landowners to hold out for higher prices. Former DEP Secretary Colleen Castille, now a partner in the Go Green Strategies consulting firm, agreed that the ranking created difficulties for the state.

"Those properties that were on the top of the list held everybody else hostage -- unless you could hire enough lobbying power to get moved up," Castille told the council.

Rep. Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach and chairman of the House Natural Resources Appropriations Committee, told that a return to a ranking system is needed.

"I think the rankings are absolutely crucial," he said. "What we have been doing for quite a few years -- we have been buying with a scatter-gun. We have been going out buying land just because we had the money to buy it with."

Poppell says he supports Florida Forever, but he also has been one of the most outspoken critics of it in the Legislature. He says the state should quit borrowing money to pay for the program and that the Legislature should provide funding when general revenue rebounds after the economic downturn.

The Washington Post today published a story saying that local governments in the D.C. area are picking up good deals for conservation. Poppell said he's heard that argument from supporters of Florida Forever.

"I answered them, when you're broke there is no such thing as a good time to buy land," he said.

(Topsail Hill State Park photo copyrighted by James Valentine. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not redistribute without permission.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cabinet approves Levy Co. nuke plant

The Cabinet today gave its first approval in more than 30 years for a nuclear power plant, Progress Energy's proposed Levy County facility near the Cross Florida Barge Canal.

Nine protesters gathered outside the Capitol this morning after trying to meet earlier with Gov. Charlie Crist at the Governor's Mansion. Although Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, and other speakers later urged the Cabinet to reject the plant, both Crist and Attorney General Bill McCollum expressed support for the project and for more nuclear energy in Florida before hearing from opponents.

"I want to commend Progress Energy for this proposal," said McCollum, who is running for governor in 2010. "In the broad sense, we have long needed more nuclear plants to be built in this country and for Florida to have a lead that you are taking."

The Cabinet voted 3-0 to approve site certification for the plant as recommended by a state hearing officer. The utility company still must receive approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has delayed a decision by 20 months, said Jeff Lyash, executive vice president of corporate development for Progress Energy.

The plant was expected to begin operations in 2016, Lyash said, but he gave no new date for completion. The company has asked the Public Service Commission for approval to charge customers $6.69 per 1,000 kilowatt hours monthly to help pay for the plant.

Lyash said the company will close two coal-fired coal plants at its nearby Crystal River plant in 2020, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by more than 5 million tons per year. He said the $17-billion plant is expected to create 3,000 jobs during construction and 800 full-time jobs permanently.

"At Progress Energy, we are committed to securing Florida' s energy future and doing it in an environmentally-sound and cost-effective manner," Lyash said. With two 1,100-megawatt units, the plant will produce enough electricity to power 1.3 million homes.

Opponents raised a variety of concerns related to the plant, including safety risks and possible barriers to producing wind, solar and other sources of renewable energy. Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole said the NRC has sole jurisdiction over nuclear safety and waste issues.

Representatives of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which had filed a legal challenge to the site certification, did not speak at the Cabinet hearing but later issued a statement criticizing the vote.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda told the Cabinet, "We need to give renewables -- truly clean renewables -- some room to breathe.

"I'm concerned about cost with regard to this nuclear power plant," she said. "I'm concerned about the time it will take to build this nuclear power plant. I'm concerned about number of jobs. I'm concerned about the danger and I'm concerned about the legacy we leave our children and our children's children."

CFO Alex Sink also voted for the plant but did not comment. Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson, the fourth member of the Cabinet, was absent from the meeting.

Crist, who said the plant will help diversify the state's energy supplies, told reporters prior to the Cabinet meeting that he didn't turn down a meeting with the protesters.

"I heard about it and actually, out of the window of the mansion, I saw some people with some signs," Crist said. "It said, 'No Nukes,' if I read it right ... I'm sure we'll have a good discussion about it."

Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.

Some enviros say they'll miss industry lobbyist Hopping

Even though they are often at odds with industry lobbyists, some environmental group representatives say they'll miss Wade Hopping, who died today from complications from a stroke and esophageal cancer. He was 77.

Hopping's law firm represents many of the state's largest companies and industry groups, often putting him at odds with environmentalists on wildlife, climate, land-use and other regulatory issues.

Even so, "He was what one would always call a worthy adversary," veteran environmental lobbyist David Gluckman said.

“I'll miss working with him," said Eric Draper, deputy director of Audubon of Florida.

Hopping, a Republican, was a legal aide to Gov. Claude Kirk in 1968 when Kirk appointed him as the youngest Justice in the history of the Florida Supreme Court. Hopping was defeated for election to a full term on the court. He managed a Jacksonville law firm's Tallahassee office before forming his own law partnership in 1979.

Clients represented by the Hopping Green & Sams firm and its 52 lawyers include the Association of Automobile Manufacturers, the Florida Home Builders Association, the Association of Florida Community Developers, Florida Power & Light Co., Progress Energy Florida, Waste Management Inc. the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida and the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

"(I) never really agreed with him on much but he always was a gentleman," said Kurt Spitzer, another environmental lobbyist.

Gluckman said Hopping's industry clients had little environmental consciousness in the 1970s when they began their lobbying careers on opposing sides. But Gluckman said Hopping guided his clients towards more moderate positions on the environment that the public demanded.

"There were a number of times -- in the general environmental community -- he was portrayed as the bad guy," said Gluckman, who retired in 2006. "That was often from people who saw him and not the people he represented and could not differentiate between the two. We all had our places."

Draper said Hopping was interested in an outcome, not just picking a fight.

"We have a lot of lobbyists -- newer, younger people -- who represent the industry on environmental issues who could care less about the effect of what they do," Draper said. "They're just interested in winning and making money. With Wade, there was always a sense of public service about him."

Gov. Charlie Crist told reporters after a Cabinet meeting that he was saddened by the news of Hopping's death and called him a "great public servant." The governor ordered that flags be flown at half-mast until Thursday in a tribute to the former Supreme Court justice.

"Wade Hopping was a brilliant man," he said. "I consider him a dear friend."

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Enviros, utility reps clash over RIM test

Representatives of utilities and environmental groups disagreed today on whether the Florida Public Service Commission now is required to use a new test to analyze utility conservation programs.

The PSC today opened a five-day legal hearing to establish new conservation and energy efficiency goals for seven of the state's largest utilities.

Utilities and environmental groups disagree on whether the Legislature in 2008 directed the PSC to find a replacement for the Rate Impact Measures (RIM) test. Environmentalists have long blamed the test for what they say is a lack of progress on solar energy and conservation because the RIM test can rule out conservation measures that increase costs for all utility customers.

In their opening remarks today, utility representatives said HB 7135, adopted by the Legislature in 2008, did not require the commission to throw out use of the RIM test. Utilities representative Charles Guyton urged the commission to reject arguments from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy against using the test and other traditional measures for setting conservation goals.

"They encourage you to abandon this reasoned and prudent approach and embark on a new radical approach," Guyton said. "This new approach would no longer rely on the utility planning process. This new approach would no longer minimize rate impacts. This new approach would no longer avoid creating DSM (conservation) winners and losers."

But representatives of the environmental and solar industry groups said the Legislature in 2008 wanted utilities to reduce their use of fossil fuels. The representatives said utilities are seeking conservation goals of between zero and 1.5 percent over the next 10 years.

Leon Jacobs, representing NRDC and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said utilities resist stronger conservation goals because lower bills for customers would reduce their profits. They said the Legislature adopted "clear and direct" changes to state law that require a new test.

"Any reasonable legal interpretatation must conclude that the amended statute requires the commission to use a new test to set energy efficiency goals, a test that will allow florida's consumers -- viewed as a whole -- to benefit from the full range of energy efficiency measures," Jacobs said.

The seven utilities whose conservation goals are subject to review under the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act are Florida Power & Light Company, Florida Public Utilities Company, Gulf Power Company, JEA, Orlando Utilities Commission, Progress Energy Florida, and Tampa Electric Company.

(Photo and text copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Neither Sink nor McCollum endorse Crist climate goals

With CFO Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum ahead early as the leading candidates for governor, neither is being specific on whether they would keep the state's greenhouse gas reduction goals put in place by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Crist in 2007 signed executive orders establishing goals for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2017 and further reductions through 2050. He also required utilities to produce more electricity from renewable sources, more fuel-efficient cars and more energy-efficient appliances.

But his goals have been thwarted by the Republican-controlled Legislature, which required approval of his proposed requirements on utilities and car dealers. Neither passed in the session which ended in May, shortly before Crist announced he would seek a U.S. Senate seat in 2010.

With Sink and McCollum lining up to replace him, neither say they would throw out the governor's goals -- nor would they specifically support them. But Sink, a Democrat, said she thinks Florida should have some goals.

"I'm generally supportive of reducing our production of greenhouse gases," she said in May. "But as to the specific numbers and thinking it out, we have to be mindful of the cost. But yes as a general rule we ought to be thinking in Florida about doing everything we can look into to reduce greenhouse gases."

McCollum, after the May 27 Cabinet meeting and again this week, declined to answer whether he would support the governor's goals.

"I'm not going to get into what I would or would not do on a specific matter," he said. "That would not be appropriate for me to do."

But McCollum, who during a 2007 climate workshop described himself as a climate change change skeptic, did say last week he doesn't have any doubt that global warming is occurring.

"I don't doubt that for a minute," he said. "But I do have questions with regard to the economics of some of the proposals like the cap and trade proposal Washington has been debating."

Associated Industries of Florida hopes the next governor -- whether its Sink or McCollum -- will abandon the Crist energy goals, said Barney Bishop, AIF's president and chief executive officer.

He said having the goals won't make Florida's air any cleaner. He said his group supports addressing climate change and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions at the national and international level.

"I think the good news is that Governor Crist's goals are just that -- goals, and his goals alone," Bishop said. "The Legislature doesn't share in that because of concerns about the cost."

Jerry Karnas, Florida climate project director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said Sink has clearly been the most supportive of reducing greenhouse gas emissions because of policies she has carried out.

But McCollum also could be supportive by emphasizing the green-energy benefits of energy independence and economic development, Karnas said. But he added that keeping the Crist goals is critical.

"If the next governor were to reverse course and abandon the move toward strict emissions limits and targets, that would be a pretty disastrous move," Karnas said. "It would send a terrible signal to the nascent renewable energy market. It would really shut Florida down for business."

McCollum and Sink are among 13 candidates who have filed to run for governor.

(Photos are from the candidates government Web sites. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Florida . Do not redistribute without permission.)