Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Clean Energy Congress" calls for renewables target

The "Clean Energy Congress" concluded Tuesday in Tallahassee with a series of policy recommendations for reducing energy use and boosting renewable energy. With the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a backdrop, representatives from a variety of environmental and industry groups and agencies met in the Florida House chambers to develop energy proposals.

The delegates recommended a renewable energy goal for the state but without a specific targeted amount, said Susan Glickman, an environmental lobbyist who chaired the event. Gov. Charlie Crist recommended a 20-percent "renewable portfolio standard" in 2007 but the Legislature has refused to approve it. The delegates also recommended a special legislative session to set a renewable energy goal but they did not address oil drilling, Glickman said.

"The congress was entirely focused on solutions" rather than the oil spill, she said. Crist has said he wants a special session this summer on drilling and renewable energy but he hasn't laid out a proposed energy policy.

Speakers at the event included CFO Alex Sink, Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee and Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee.

The delegates also supported continuing with the state solar energy rebate program, which ends June 30. Other positions included supporting federal carbon cap-and-trade legislation and support for a goal of 2 percent energy from biomass from urban wood waste and logging residuals if it can be harvested sustainably.

Recommendations by Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach and House majority leader, for increasing the use of electric cars also were supported.

Glickman said the group may reconvene before the 2011 legislative session as the delegates work to spread the message until then. "This is absolutely just the beginning," she said.

Several delegates said they were impressed by the diverse interests represented though a few speakers noted a lack of racial diversity. Groups represented included the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, the Florida Forestry Association, the Florida League of Women Voters, the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy and Kitson & Partners, the developers of Babcock Ranch in southwest Florida.

"I hope it (the diverse interests represented) will get the policy-makers to pay attention," Glickman said.

(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

Sink calls for energy leadership but avoids committing to policies

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink on Tuesday told the "Clean Energy Congress" that renewable energy investors want "concrete hints" about policy and rules but she declined to say what new energy policies she supports.

Sink, a Democratic candidate for governor, said she supports the new Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, established by HB 7179, that allows local governments to issue bonds for renewable energy programs.

"What investors need are those concrete hints that long-term national and state policy and clear market entry rules that cover renewable energy providers from the source all to the way to the grid," she said. "That will be the signal to the renewable energy manufacturers and inventors that Florida is open for business in a very real way, in a greener, cleaner way."

Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007 proposed a 20-percent renewable energy goal by 2020 but the Legislature has declined to approve it. The Clean Energy Congress supported setting a renewable energy goal but did not recommend a specific target.

Outside of the House chambers where the gathering was held, Sink told reporters 30 other states have set such "renewable portfolio standards." But she added that Florida would have to evaluate the economic impact of adopting such a requirement.

"I'm anxious to see what the impact has been (in other states)," she said. "I'm very conscientious about any possible rate impact on Floridians."

Asked if she were concerned about any rate increase, Sink said Florida residents would probably support 5 cents per month for the benefits of renewable energy and energy independence. But asked if she would support $5 per month for renewable energy, Sink replied, "I'm not going to speculate until I know what the facts are."

(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

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sea turtles facing threats on two fronts in Gulf oil spill

With the Gulf oil spill threatening wildlife and coastal economies, federal officials are planning to relocate sea turtle hatchlings from the region to the Atlantic Ocean, the St. Petersburg Times reported Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Center for Biological Diversity said it is filing a federal lawsuit against BP and the U.S. Coast Guard for burning sea turtles alive in controlled burns to reduce the amount of oil floating on the water. A BP spokeswoman said vessels are sent to rescue turtles to prevent them from being burned.

The Times reported that biologists will move about 800 nests from Gulf coast states to prevent the hatchlings from dying in oil in the Gulf.

"This is the least of the worst-case scenarios," said Chuck Underwood, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Even if what we're doing isn't a great thing, it's better than doing nothing."

The Center for Biological Diversity says controlled burns that are removing oil are a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act. A letter to the Coast Guard and BP cited news reports suggesting that some sea turtles are being burned in the fires. Mother Jones reported that efforts to save turtles were being thwarted by BP.

"Newly hatched sea turtles are swimming out to sea and finding themselves in a mucky, oily mess," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "News that BP has blocked efforts to rescue trapped sea turtles before they're burned alive in controlled burns is unacceptable."

A BP spokeswoman said she was not familiar with the report that the Center for Biological Diversity was referring to and she said BP was expanding its efforts to recover turtles before controlled burns take place. The Coast Guard referred the Florida Tribune to a Justice Department spokesman who declined to comment because no legal action had been filed.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

"Clean Energy Congress" to wrap up Tuesday

Speakers at the Clean Energy Congress called for requiring more renewable energy and a special legislative session to deal with energy issues.

Against the backdrop of the ongoing Gulf oil spill, more than 120 business owners, environmental activists and government officials participated in the gathering in the Florida House chambers.

The Florida Business Network for a Clean Energy Economy sponsored the event which included Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, Rep. Leonard Bembry, D-Greenville, and Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West.

"We have not done very much for renewable energy," Rehwinkel Vasilinda told the gathering. "In 2009, we did nothing. In 2010, we did precious little."

Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach and House majority leader, submitted written proposals to the Congress that he said are designed to encourage the use of electric cars.

Stephen Smith of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Preston Robertson of the Florida Wildlife Federation said a special session is needed to allow voters to decide whether to establish a renewable energy requirement.

Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007 directed the state to require utilities to get 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. But legislation required to do that passed the Senate in 2009 but not the House.

This year, a House energy bill, HB 7229, would have allowed utilities to charge customers for the cost of renewable energy but it failed to win Senate approval. The Legislature approved HB 7179, which allows local governments to finance renewable energy, conservation and storm-hardening improvements for homes.

Smith said a special session is needed to allow voters to approve a state Constitution ban on drilling in Florida waters and to establish a renewable energy requirement for the state. "If the legislature is not going to give us an RPS (renewable energy portfolio), then get out of the way and let us take it to voters in November," he said.

The Clean Energy Congress concludes Tuesday with a noon news conference and signing of a "declaration of energy independence." Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is scheduled to speak at 9:30 a.m.

Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island and the incoming Senate president, will moderate the Florida Energy Summit on July 8 in Orlando. That event is sponsored by the new Citizens for Clean Energy.

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Groups question district's decision to sell conservation lands

Statewide environmental groups are objecting to the Suwannee River Water Management District's designation of "surplus" lands that could be sold and say they will ask Gov. Charlie Crist to intervene.

Florida has the largest conservation land-buying program in the nation with 2.4 million acres having been purchased since 1990.

Some legislators say the state has too much land and should sell some of it (See "Florida For Sale," by the Florida Tribune). But some supporters of the Florida Forever land-buying program say most land has conservation values and that it's a myth that state has a lot of surplus land. Since May, the Suwannee River Water Management District has identified nine parcels with 760 acres that it says are surplus and can be sold.

But five environmental groups including Audubon of Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation, and The Nature Conservancy say they believe the district's efforts violate the state constitution. The constitution allows the Cabinet and other agency governing boards to sell conservation land only if it is no longer needed for conservation purposes.

In a June 21 letter to the district, the groups cite the proposed sale of 110 acres along the Ichetucknee and Santa Fe rivers in Gilchrist County as one example of surplus property that still has conservation value. The property is the sole connection between other water management district lands along the rivers and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's 1,330-acre wildlife area near Fort White, the groups said.

David Still, executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, said the agency plans to use money from the sale of the lands to buy more land that is more valuable for conservation, such as river floodplains and springs. The district also would place restrictions on the lands it sells to prevent development.

"If you weigh that [conservation value of existing land] against another property that has higher conservation values, wouldn't you always want to buy the property with the higher conservation values?" Still said.

But Guy Anglin, a retired U.S. Forest Service ecologist from Bascom, said selling some land could create numerous management problems for managing the remaining public land by allowing more private ownership along the boundaries. And he said it remains to be seen whether the district would purchase more valuable conservation land.

"When you sell it, it's gone," Anglin said. "You can always wait and sell it later."

The district has delayed the sale of a 330-acre parcel near Manatee Springs State Park in Levy County after residents there said the land would be a good addition to the state park, Still said.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Thousands gather in support of coastal communities

Many people along the Gulf coast are affected by the ongoing BP oil spill, says Linda McCue of Tallahassee.

On Saturday, she joined hands with about 15 of them at a Wakulla County beach in a quiet demonstration in support of the coastal environment against the effects of oil drilling.

Other "Hands Across the Sand" events were held around the world, with Gov. Charlie Crist briefly joining about 800 in Pensacola Beach, according to the News Journal. About 700 people participated at Lake Ella in Tallahassee including Democratic Agriculture Commissioner candidate Scott Maddox, Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, and Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

"I think it helps some people connect, because crisis tends to bring people together," McCue said in Shell Point, before joining hands with the others. "Things they have taken for granted for so long, now they are beginning to see how delicate and how much protection those things really need."

There were no effects of the oil spill to be seen at Shell Point, where people swam, fished and windsurfed along the glassy surface of the water. About 20 miles east in Franklin County, a line of red oil spill boom extended across the opening of Alligator harbor to block oil, should it arrive. A truck carrying yellow oil boom was stopped along the shoulder of U. S. Highway 98.

"Hands Across the Sand" was launched in February by Seaside restaurant owner Dave Rauschkolb in response to the Florida House considering legislation to allow oil drilling in state waters within 10.3 miles of the coast. The House never voted on a drilling bill because of the Senate's reluctance to go along.

The event went international on Saturday as major environmental groups joined the cause. (See "Florida Oil Drilling Event Goes National," June 14.)

At Shell Point, Anissa Thompson, 13, of Crestview, said her local beaches in Walton County were being pelted with tar balls last week. Waves of oil washed ashore last week on the white sand beaches of Pensacola.

"I just think it's a really sad thing that has happened to our beaches," she said.

Joan Hendrix said she was there to protest against the greed of the oil industry. She said she is worried about the birds and sea turtles affected by the spill and other life in the deep ocean that no one can see.

"I feel saddened by it and hurt by it," she said of the spill. "I'm to the point where I don't understand how people can abuse the earth's resources for greed and money. We only have one earth."

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

Thursday, June 24, 2010

State board balks at budget provision approved by Legislature

A divided state panel on Thursday refused to set aside $2 million towards a Citrus County conservation purchase that had been tucked deep inside the new state budget.

Instead the board of the Florida Communities Trust would only agree to a much a smaller amount for the project that had the backing of Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness.

The deal was aimed at stopping a proposal to build 309 homes on 57 acres surrounding the Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River. The springs are a vital sanctuary for manatees and are key to the county's tourism and economic development, local officials said.

The landowners paid $10.5 million for the property in 2005. In March, they refused a federal, state and local combined offer of $9.8 million for the property. That led to negotiations among the landowners, state agencies and Dean to set aside an extra $2 million for the project.

The board of the Florida Communities Trust state land-purchasing program met Thursday to decide whether to go along with the deal since the budget language allows -- but does not require -- the Department of Community Affairs to transfer $2 million towards an unnamed purchase in Citrus County from other projects.

Dean told the FCT board that the threat of development created a "crisis" that required the Legislature to step in. But he told the FCT board he didn't want language that required agencies to put more money towards the purchase.

He joined local elected officials, environmentalists and business leaders in calling Three Sisters Springs a natural jewel and asking the FCT board to approve the additional spending.

Some FCT board members said they didn't like the idea of taking money from other local projects with their own local supporters. But DCA Secretary Tom Pelham said the board had an obligation to follow the Legislature's intent.

The split board eventually was unanimous in agreeing to put $725,000 towards the Three Sisters Springs purchase for a final offer of $10.5 million -- the amount the landowners paid for the land.

Clark Stillwell, an attorney representing the Three Sisters Spring Holding LLC landowners, said after the meeting he didn't know if the reduced offer would be accepted.

Supporters said they were disappointed by the vote and they hoped the landowners would agree to the purchase. "We've strained at a gnat," said Pat Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club. "For that we may have lost this deal forever."

Photos of Three Sisters Springs by Tracy Colson. To view more, go to

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Oil sticks around beaches after the clean-up crews leave

Expect oil to continue washing ashore on Florida's beaches between Escambia and Walton counties, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole said Thursday.

The state was expected to mobilize heavy equipment Thursday to clean up the beaches. But research by the University of South Florida suggests that such efforts can't clean up all of the oil. Only tar balls had washed ashore in northwest Florida prior to Wednesday when oil "mousse" washed ashore at Pensacola Beach. More could wash ashore there along with more tar balls east into Walton County, Sole told state emergency workers on Thursday.

"We need to get out there aggressively addressing it," Sole said. "It's been a big couple of days. Sadly I expect a couple more."

Sole has stated that he wants no visible oil in the environment, Michael Barnett, bureau chief of DEP's Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems, told the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition Conference in Tallahassee last week. "I don't know how that will play out," Barnett said. "I don't know if Mike (Sole) does either."

USF geologist Ping Wang found that oil still lingers on beaches even after it appears to have been removed by cleanup workers, according to a university news release. Wang was spending Thursday at Pensacola Beach collecting samples and documenting oil contamination.

Earlier this month, he visited the beach after tar balls were removed. His research team found small tar balls on the surface and larger tar balls buried by sand. "When the massive landfall happens, it won't be so easy to clean up," he said.

Wang's report can be downloaded by clicking here.

Advisories against swimming remained at some beaches in Escambia and Walton counties. See advisories listed at

(Pensacola Beach photo by Regina Hare. 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

Quote of the week: "Psychological cloud" from oil spill

"There really is a psychological cloud descending over the Panhandle. And frankly that is beginning to affect the rest of Florida."

George H. Sheldon, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, June 23, 2010

Florida DEP's Sole wants federal closed fishing area reduced

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole is asking NOAA to scale back the federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico that are closed to fishing.

On Wednesday, there were 78,597 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico closed to fishing. That's an area larger than Florida and 34 other states but it represents only one-third of federal waters in the Gulf. Sole this week asked the NOAA Fisheries Service to reduce the closed area because data doesn't show oil in some of those spots, a DEP spokeswoman said. To download the latest closed area map, click here.

While the closed area extends along about 100 miles of the Florida Panhandle beyond 10 miles from the coast, the state has closed only a 25-mile stretch in Escambia County to fishing. A portion of the federal closed area extends as far south as the Keys though well to the west of the islands, even though state officials say oil has not entered the "loop current" that would carry it that far south.

But the federal closed area is smaller than just a week ago, when it covered 80,806 square miles. It appears NOAA lifted the closure in a slice of area more than 50 miles southeast of Panama City Beach.

Charter boat Capt. Bob Zales of Panama City said Wednesday that the closure affects all fishermen while the state is spending money on TV commercials to encourage people to go fishing. "We don't know that the oil impacts the fish, No. 1. We don't know that the oil is there, No. 2," Zales said. "If the oil is not there, the area needs to be opened up to fishing. There are still guys out there trying to fish and there are still guys trying to come down." He is president of Panama City Boatman Association and the National Association of Charter Boat Operators.

A NOAA spokeswoman said the agency is working with states to ensure seafood safety and will re-evaluate closed areas as new information becomes available.

(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

BP's new media star addresses state task force

Darryl Willis, a new media new face for BP in its response to the ongoing Gulf oil spill, says he doesn't consider himself a star -- or a potential new target of the company's critics.

Willis, who oversees BP's claims process on the Gulf coast, spoke Wednesday in Tallahassee to the BP claims working group of the state Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force. Willis now is being featured in television commercials and full-page newspaper ads emphasizing his Louisiana upbringing. He says in the commercials that he volunteered to work in the Gulf and that he would be there "as long as it takes to make this right." Watch the commercial by clicking here.

Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary George H. Sheldon, the working group chairman, described Willis as a "BP star." But Willis said prior to the meeting, "I don't see myself as a star. I see myself as a person who makes sure these folks in communities along the Gulf coast get what they need from BP for the losses being felt. I try to keep my head down and focus on the day-to-day operations."

C. V. Harquail, corporate identity consultant in Montclair, N. J., says Willis' image contrasts with that of BP CEO Tony Hayward, who Harquail described as cold and distant. Willis fills the role of a "brandividual" -- a person whose personal qualities provide an image or message for a company -- often in social media, said Harquail, who has a Ph. D. in leadership and organizations from the University of Michigan.

With his polo shirts and khaki slacks, Harquail said, Willis seems more approachable. "The one-two punch of individuals and actual audio craft the impression, 'This is a good guy. He is trying hard. He will be there until it's finished. I'm going to like him,' " she 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

Beaches are closed in Pensacola as oil washes ashore

Some of the heaviest oil yet washed ashore today in Pensacola Beach where Gov. Charlie Crist and President Obama visited last week, according to news reports

"It's pretty ugly. There's no question about it," Gov. Charlie Crist, who arrived at the beach expecting to see tar balls, but not pools of sticky goo, said, according to the Miami Herald.

The newspaper said oil had washed up along an eight-mile stretch of beach. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says a three-mile streamer of oil came ashore in Escambia County between the Pensacola Beach pier and the ranger station near Fort Pickens Gate. Escambia County closed beaches between Park West and Walkover 23 west of Portofino. Click here to download the advisory.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard announced that the oil leak partial containment system was being removed for safety reasons after an unexpected discharge of liquids was observed from a valve following an accident. Some flow was being recovered through a second containment system.

Attorney General Bill McCollum released a statement saying that he could hardly contain his frustration.

“The oil is on our shores now, and the President and his administration need to remove all barriers and comprehensively inventory and deploy all available resources that could assist with the response efforts," McCollum 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

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Crist asks for BP claims data as new complaints raised

Gov. Charlie Crist on Tuesday asked BP for claims information submitted as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill while other state and local officials expressed frustration with the company. The governor on May 11 created the Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force to help businesses and industry recover from the loss of business and revenue related to the ongoing oil leak since April 20.

On Monday, members of the task force's economic impact assessment working group said there was an urgent need for more data to assess the loss. In response, Crist on Tuesday sent a letter to BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles asking the company to submit an electronic file of every business, individual and governmental claim made in Florida. Crist noted that many business owners and residents "are concerned that they have not received the full amount of money they have requested” and that they are curious how long it will take.

Also Tuesday, members of the Task Force communications working group raised concerns with BP representatives about the delays facing local governments in get claims payments. Gulf County Commissioner Bill Williams, Destin Mayor Sarah "Sam" Seevers and Dawn A. Moliterno of the Beaches of South Walton Tourist Development Council said expressed frustration with the claims process.

Williams said counties that had been working through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection now need to be walked through the new process with BP. "We've got to get a very clear and consistent message with our counties, and not just focus on the six (Panhandle counties) that have been impacted," Williams said. "The others down the road are saying, 'What are we doing?' "

Seevers said BP had a community representative in Okaloosa County for two weeks. Once people got to know him and were comfortable, the company removed him and he wasn't replaced. BP representative Kathy Randall said the company had been trying to rotate community representatives. "I think what we have found is relationships are very important in those communities," Randall said.

The BP claims processing working group of the Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force meets Wednesday at 9 a.m. Darryl Willis, vice president of BP Exploration and Production, Inc., is scheduled to speak. Go to for more information on the meeting.

(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, June 21, 2010

Florida has 20 oil skimmers, needs 100

A sweeping arm skimmer vessel collects oil in the Gulf of Mexico on June 10.

Florida is asking federal officials and BP for more vessels to skim oil from the Gulf and has hired five of their own to operate in bays, state officials said.

Tar balls washed ashore in Walton and Bay counties and an oil slick is nearing the inlet to St. Andrews Bay at Panama City Beach. Currents and winds should begin to move the oil towards the west, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole said Monday during a news conference with Gov. Charlie Crist.

There were 20 skimmers in Florida waters to operate in five bays but Florida has asked for more, Sole said. "Candidly I think 100 skimmers in Florida is what we need to have to help try to keep this offshore," Sole said. "As of right now we only have 20 in the near shore battle. But more skimmers clearly can be used to keep this off the coast. I'd love to see 100 more come into Florida."

Crist followed by saying that Sole would be requesting 80 more skimmers Monday, though he also said there are limited assets in the Gulf region to respond to the spill. And Crist said he would follow up on the request later this week when he meets with Kenneth Feinberg, the federal administrator for the new $20-billion BP escrow fund.

"This is not rocket science," Crist said. "We want to protect our state. We want to do everything we can."

Also Monday, Crist announced that U.S. Coast Guard Commander Joe Boudrow has been appointed as Florida’s deputy incident commander for oil spill relief efforts.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Luke Pinneo.

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Once closed to news media, Crist opens conference calls

Gov. Charlie Crist said Monday that conference calls among state and county emergency officials dealing with the oil spill now are open to the media.

The Division of Emergency Management holds the conference calls daily. As recently as last Wednesday, the Florida Tribune and other media were denied requests to monitor the calls. Division of Emergency Management spokesman John M. Cherry III said last month the division was not legally required to allow news media to monitor the calls, that barring the media would ensure that rumors and incorrect information is not reported and that having reporters on the line "inhibited open dialogue" on the calls.

But Crist said on May 3 that the state would be "transparent" in its response to the oil spill. And appearing live on CNN on June 4, Crist said transparency, accountability and honesty are "incredibly important," and he added, "Without accurate information, it's very difficult to respond accordingly."

Told Monday that the media had been barred from the conference calls, Crist said, "They are now open. That is a directive from me." He also said that Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole's conference calls with legislators would be open to the media. "They are transparent," Crist said. "It's a new day."

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Oil spill shows need for coastal and oceans planning, experts say

Coordinated federal coastal and ocean planning would have allowed Florida to play a greater role in decisions that may have averted the oil spill disaster in the Gulf, ocean experts said Friday.

The Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition held a one-day conference in Tallahassee that was sponsored by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Ocean Alliance.

Keynote speaker Larry Crowder, a professor of marine biology at Duke University, said without broader planning for various ocean uses such as tourism, shipping, fishing, energy development and protection of resources, federal agencies are alone in driving the decision-making.

"Right now we are making decisions for any federal or state activity one sector at a time," he said. "What this (planning) would do is put all the sector activities in a larger context where the larger society answers those questions: Do we want to have to have oil and gas, do we want to have wind power or aquaculture and if so, where?"

The House Select Policy Council on Strategic and Economic Planning in April heard a similar argument for "marine spatial planning" when it was holding hearings on possible legislation to allow oil drilling in state waters. House leaders pushed for $250,000 in the 2010-11 state budget for the research.

Planning can help avoid conflicts between human uses of oceans and coastlines while protecting the natural resources that are key to the economy, Crowder said.

John Ogden, professor emeritus at the University of South Florida College of Marine Sciences, said lack of coordinated planning led to fragmented decision-making in the BP oil spill and that it wasn't just an accident. "BP was allowed to do what it did, take the risks that it did and essentially gamble on the future of the Gulf of Mexico without anybody knowing about it," he said.

The conference participants recommended establishing a framework for oceans and coastal data collection and planning in Florida, said Gary Appelson, policy director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy and a conference steering committee member. The oil spill, he said, "does nothing but underscore the need to do this as quickly as possible."

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Friday, June 18, 2010

St. Lucie plasma biomass plant permit approved, possibly nation's largest

A state air pollution permit has been issued to a proposed biomass electric plant in St. Lucie County, which could become the first of its kind in the nation and the largest in the world. Geoplasma St. Lucie LLC proposes building the plasma arc plant on nine acres at the St. Lucie County landfill.

Plasma arc technology was developed by NASA, according to Golder Associates. Plasma torches provide intense heat that break down waste materials into synthetic gas that can be burned to produce electricity. Two such plants have been operating in Japan since 2002 and another that uses hazardous waste opened in India in 2009, according to Mark Montemurro, CEO and president of Alter NRG. That's the parent company of Westinghouse Plasma Corp., manufacturer of the proposed St. Lucie plant. At 24 megawatts of production, the plant could produce enough energy for more than 20,000 homes.

Gov. Charlie Crist and some environmental groups say new biomass plants can provide needed renewable energy for Florida, but such projects have been stalled by local opposition or economic challenges. The proposed St. Lucie plant will use 686 tons per day of garbage, tires, metallurgical coke and other wastes, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The permit application received support from the St. Lucie County Commission, the city of Port St. Lucie, Audubon of Florida and the Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie County.

But the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, a Southeast region environmental group based in North Carolina, last week raised several concerns in a letter to DEP. The group said the proposed permit contained a loophole that could allow hazardous wastes to be burned. The group also said the 14-day public comment period on the proposed permit provides a "serious" barrier to public participation and it asked DEP to extend the deadline.

Only the 14-day comment period was required because the plant is a considered a minor pollution source, a DEP spokeswoman said in response. Regarding the claimed loophole, DEP said the plant will be required to follow federal regulations requiring it to separate hazardous wastes from the garbage being used to produce energy. DEP signed the permit on Wednesday and distributed it publicly on Thursday. A Geoplasma St. Lucie LLC representative did not return a telephone call seeking comment and a timeline for construction.

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Incoming Florida Senate president blames Crist for death of energy bill

Incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos on Thursday, while announcing his plans to moderate an energy conference in Orlando in August, blamed Gov. Charlie Crist for the failure of a renewable energy bill during the legislative session. The July 8 "Florida Energy Summit" will be hosted by Citizens for Clean Energy, a new nonprofit group formed by developer Kitson & Partners and other groups that support renewable energy.

HB 7229 would have allowed utilities to pay more for renewable energy projects and charge customers for those costs. Syd Kitson, developer of the Babcock Ranch development in Southwest Florida, said the bill was needed to allow Florida Power & Light to build there a 75-megawatt solar array, the nation's largest.

The bill passed the House but failed to win Senate approval. An attempt by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, to attach the measure to another energy bill, HB 7179, failed when Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, offered amendments that likely would have killed the bill. Crist has said he wants to hold a special session this summer to take up renewable energy in response to the BP oil spill but he hasn't offered specific ideas about legislation.

In a conference call with reporters on Thursday to discuss the energy summit, Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said HB 7229 died because Crist let it be known that he was against it. "The governor, if he wants to play politics with it, he can," Haridopolos said. "He had a great opportunity during the regular session to address this issue."

Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey said he didn't recall the governor saying anything specifically about the bill. Haridopolos said he looked forward to moderating the summit, which will be open to the public, to hear ideas from Florida residents and people in the industry.

Other upcoming energy conferences include the "Clean Energy Congress" in Tallahassee on June 28-29, involving Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, and the 5th annual "Farm to Fuel" Summit on Aug. 11 in Orlando.

(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

Supreme Court ruling on beaches opens door to taking claims

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in Florida's favor in a challenge to the state law that establishes restored beaches as public property.

But while ruling in favor of the state, a four-member minority of justices also may have created an avenue for future claims by property owners against courts in environmental cases, according to Florida legal experts.

Florida law requires at least $30 million in documentary stamp tax revenue to be spent each year on sand replacement projects, though the Legislature appropriated only $15.5 million in its cash-strapped 2010-11 state budget.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says beach restoration projects protect private property and help attract 27 million visitors annually to the state's beaches. The Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association also welcomed the ruling.

But a group of property owners in Destin sued and lost in a state court challenge to Florida's Beach and Shore Preservation Act of 1961. They're unhappy that their property line no longer extends to the water's edge once new sand has been placed on the beach. They said the state law violated the U.S. Constitution prohibition against government taking private property. But the court ruled by an 8-0 margin that the state law was legal. Justice John Paul Stevens, who owns beachfront property in Florida, did not participate.

DEP Secretary Michael Sole said the ruling "achieves a reasonable balance between public and private interests in the shore." A four-member minority opinion states that even if a court rules that a law or regulation is legal, a property owner may be due compensation for a judicial taking, said Michael Allan Wolf, a University of Florida professor who specializes in land use and environmental law. Donna Christie, a Florida State University law professor agreed, saying that Justice Antonin Scalia sought to establish a new definition of such a land-use taking with very little explanation as to how it would be applied. "It is very frightening," she said.

Attorneys for Stop Beach Renourishment Inc., the group of property owners who challenged the state law, said the ruling was disappointing but said the minority opinion was encouraging.

(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

55 apply for seats on Florida Public Service Commission

Fifty-five applications were submitted by the Thursday deadline for the Public Service Commission seats now held by Chairman Nancy Argenziano and Commissioner Nathan A. Skop. Argenziano had submitted her application on Wednesday and Skop was among those submitting on Thursday.

The nomination process and eventual confirmation likely will be controversial. Argenziano has suggested there are efforts underway by utilities to oust commissioners who voted against rate hike requests by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy. The Senate in April refused to confirm David E. Klement and Ben A. "Steve" Stevens III in a move widely seen as political payback against Gov. Charlie Crist and against the PSC for voting down the rate hike requests in January.

Crist has until July 15 to choose from a list of eight applicants submitted by the Public Service Nominating Council for the Klement and Stevens seats. Four of those eight who were recommended also applied for the Skop and Argenziano seats: Former PSC Executive Director Mary Bane, Jacksonville City Councilman Art Graham, former Missouri PSC member Connie Murray and legislative analyst Kevin Wiehle. The PSC Nominating Council is scheduled to meet June 30 and August 19-20 to review the new applications and conduct interviews.

Skop's application included letters of recommendation from U.S. Rep Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, former Democratic House Speaker Jon Mills, and 13 legislators including Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda and Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Plantation, and Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek. Argenziano's application did not include letters of recommendation.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sen. Fasano questions recommendation of former Florida PSC director

Sen. Mike Fasano says he will ask Gov. Charlie Crist to scratch former Public Service Commission Executive Director Mary Bane from the list of candidates being considered for two vacant spots on the panel that regulates utilities.

Fasano, R-New Port Richey, introduced SB 1034, a PSC reform bill that was intended to address ethics controversies at the agency in 2009 about inappropriate contact between utility representatives and agency staff. The bill received Senate approval but died when House and Senate couldn't agree on a version before the session ended.

Bane was PSC's executive director from 2002 to 2009 when she retired after 23 years with the agency. Bane also was among eight names recommended last week by the PSC Nominating Council for two vacant seats on the commission. Fasano, who has criticized the agency for being under the influence of utilities, noted that Bane was in charge when there were communications between agency staff and Florida Power & Light Co. representatives while the utility's rate increase was pending.

A Miami Herald editorial on Tuesday made a similar case against Bane, calling her record at the agency "uneven at best" and adding that it was "truly dismal" on renewable energy issues.

Fasano said he is drafting a letter to send to Crist asking him not to appoint Bane. "She is part of the problem that has existed at the Public Service Commission for years," Fasano said. "We certainly don't want to add to that problem by putting her on the Public Service Commission."

In response, Bane told the Florida Tribune she doesn't know what basis Fasano would have for writing a letter. She said the agency took action to stop text messaging with FP&L and to discipline a staff member who resigned before action could be taken. The agency controversies, she said, were not a factor in her retirement.

"I believe I dealt expeditiously with that within the limitations imposed on my authority," Bane said. She also said she wants to make renewable energy a priority but said the difficulty is balancing the cost for ratepayers during a recession.

Gov. Charlie Crist has until July 15 to fill the vacant PSC seats, which pay $133,036 per year.

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

Sea turtle group active at Capitol gets name change

The Caribbean Conservation Corp., a Gainesville-based nonprofit group that lobbies for sea turtles at the Florida Capitol, changed its name Wednesday to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

The group oversees spending for 30 percent of revenue from the Florida's sea turtle license plate and lobbies the legislative and executive branches on issues including oil drilling, beach sand replacement, land acquisition and coastal development that threatens nesting sea turtles. The group was the world's first sea turtle conservation group in 1959 when it was founded by author and University of Florida researcher Archie Carr.

Marking "World Sea Turtle Day" on Wednesday, the group changed its name to more accurately reflect its focus on sea turtles and its broader geographic perspective, Executive Director David Godfrey said.

Smaller, younger groups with "sea turtle" in their names, he said, received more attention while many people did not realize that Caribbean Conservation Corp. operated globally with a strong presence in Florida.

"We are trying to give ourselves a name that will help us communicate what we do to a little better to people," Godfrey said. "I think we have done the best we can with a name that is quirky and doesn't really tell a story."

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Florida PSC members feud during meeting

PSC Chairman Nancy Argenziano, center, makes a point on Tuesday as commissioners Lisa Polak Edgar and Nathan A. Scop listen.

The three remaining members of the Florida Public Service Commission traded accusations of "pettiness" and "silliness" during a tense discussion Tuesday on commission policies and procedures.

The PSC has become a battleground between Gov. Charlie Crist and some legislators who say his appointees have undercut the financial stability of utilities by denying rate hike requests. Crist is considering appointments to replace Ben A. "Steve" Stevens III and David E. Klement, both of whom the Senate refused to confirm in April. Commission Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano and Commissioner Nathan A. Skop also are expected to submit their applications this week for reappointment to the commission, which pays $130,036 a year.

During an internal affairs meeting Tuesday, Argenziano feuded with Commissioner Lisa Edgar over questions Edgar had raised about following commission procedures. After Argenziano repeatedly said that Edgar had lodged a complaint with PSC General Counsel Curt Kiser, Edgar interrupted Argenziano, saying, "Please quit mischaracterizing." Skop, who chaired the meeting during the discussion, banged a gavel and requested order. "I'm not going into the silliness and pettiness I've had to endure here for three years," Argenziano said.

Skop said recent memos by Edgar questioning procedures either amounted to a personal attack on Argenziano or cast aspersions on the commission. "I'm not sure the Legislature or members of the investor-owned utilities would disagree to the extent we have more important issues to deal with like the merits of cases pending before us," Skop said.

Edgar, who had called an earlier motion by Argenziano "silly" and unnecessary, said the PSC policy and procedures document had been ignored or have been followed inconsistently. "What did it mean -- when we start ignoring things that we have as statements or policies on our web site -- I think is a legitimate issue," she said.

Argenziano said she doesn't want accusations against commissioners to come from within the commission. "There is an effort out there, in my opinion, to smear some commissioners -- and I am one of those," she said.

The commission agreed unanimously to ask staff to review its policies and procedures to determine if changes are needed. Argenziano said she was delaying other agency reforms she is considering proposing so that she can conduct more research.

(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

Obama calls for renewable energy, Gulf restoration plan

President Barack Obama told a military audience in Pensacola Tuesday that the administration will do everything it can to deal with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill including calling in the military if necessary. Obama wrapped up a two-day tour of Gulf states affected by the ongoing BP oil spill.

On Tuesday night, he said in an Oval Office address that he is asking Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to develop a Gulf Coast restoration plan developed by states and local communities. He also called for a national mission towards clean energy and energy efficiency but he offered no policy details.

Drilling opponent Kim Ross, who organized a protest last month that attracted about 200 people, said she would have liked to have heard the president say he wants to end offshore oil drilling and production. She gathered with about 10 other drilling opponents in a Tallahassee bar.

"I love that he is addressing renewable energy and I like that he compared this to getting to the Moon," Ross said. "I didn't see a full-fledged commitment to moving forward and not looking back."

At the Pensacola Naval Air Station, Obama called the spill "an unprecedented environmental disaster," according to a White House transcript. "But we're going to continue to meet it with an unprecedented federal response and recovery effort -- the largest in our nation's history," he said. "This is an assault on our shores and we're going to fight back with everything we've got. And that includes mobilizing resources of the greatest military in the world."

Obama said sailors, the Marines and Army soldiers have been helping in the cleanup and that 17,500 National Guardsmen are ready if the governors need them. The Coast Guard, a military branch, already is helping lead the response.

But U. S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Melbourne, has called for more Pentagon involvement. "It's the best command-and-control structure in the world," Nelson told MSNBC anchor Contessa Brewer early Tuesday afternoon. He said Florida officials were not told earlier this month when oil moved into Florida waters. "That (communication) is improving and I think that is what the president was hinting at," Nelson said. "And I think we will hear more of that tonight."

Nelson also said an independent third party is needed to pay administer claims for BP. "These claims are going to go on for years and years," Nelson said. "These are legitimate claims."

Obama on Tuesday also said Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen has appointed individual incident commanders in each of the states, including Florida. He also said his administration will set up an incident command team in Tallahassee in addition to those now established in Houma, La. and Mobile, Ala.

The president's speech on the spill came the same day that a federal team of scientists estimated the flow from the oil well at between 1.4 million gallons and 2.5 million gallons per day, with about 750,000 gallons now being captured daily by BP. The new leak rate is at least five times more than was estimated by BP and the Coast Guard in April. BP is taking steps to capture more oil but could not contain the full amount until mid-July, according to the U. S. Department of the Interior.

To view an archive of the president's oval office address, go to .

(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, June 14, 2010

Federal audit criticizes Florida solar rebate spending

Florida failed to use federal money to create jobs and, instead, targeted dollars to an energy rebate program, according to a critical federal report released earlier this month.

Florida was allocated $126 million from the U. S. Department of Energy under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 which was supposed to be targeted either to new projects or to expand existing projects and create jobs. Instead, Florida, with DOE approval, used about $8.3 million to pay down a backlog of claims from 2008 for a popular solar rebate program, the inspector general reported.

The solar rebate program, which has run out of money and is set to expire on June 30, pays up to $20,000 for home solar panels and up to $500 for hot water heaters. Paying the rebates with federal stimulus dollars was inappropriate because it did not advance the underlying purpose of creating or saving jobs, according to the DOE audit. After directing the $8.3 million toward the initiative the program still has a $35 million backlog in rebate applications.

The inspector general also found that Florida was unable to carry out a plan for allocating other federal stimulus dollars by Jan. 1 because some projects were ineligible and required lengthy review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The DOE inspector general faulted the federal agency for insufficient monitoring of the state. A department assistant secretary concurred with the findings and stated that department would provide additional oversight of Florida.

Robert S. Vickers, director of the Governor's Energy Office, said the federal government gave the state approval to spend the money on the rebate program. He also said the solar rebate program continues to encourage growth of the state's economy and its solar energy industry.

(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

Florida oil drilling event goes national

Organizers of February's "Hands Across the Sand" gathering in Florida against oil drilling plan to do it again on June 26, this time with a nationwide event.

The Feb. 13 event attracted more than 10,000 people to 90 beaches around the state, according to organizer Dave Rauschkolb, a Seaside restaurant owner.

Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature at the time were considering lifting the 20-year-old ban on drilling in state waters within 10.36 miles of the Gulf coast. Then the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20 and sank, creating the ongoing oil spill that is causing oil to wash up on Panhandle beaches and has turned state officials away from drilling.

Now the next "Hands Across the Sand" event will be held across the nation and has the support of national environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Audubon, Surfrider, Oceana, Greenpeace and Rauschkolb says the event is a "gathering" rather than a protest because it is more peaceful and reflective and provides solutions.

"It is a gathering of Americans on the beaches and in the cities of America in order to affect change and send a message to our leaders: We don't want any more offshore drilling off our coast and we really want a change in our energy policy," he said.

For more information, go to .

(Copyrighted photo by Mark Wallheiser and 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

Waters off Pensacola closed to fishing because of oil

Twenty-three miles of Escambia County's coastline was closed to fishing Monday because of oil from the BP oil spill. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission closed the state waters in the area extending nine nautical miles from the shore beginning at 12:01 a.m. Monday. The closed area extends from the Alabama state line to the water tower at Pensacola Beach.

The closure applies to shrimp, crabs and fish caught both recreationally and commercially. Recreational catch-and-release fishing still is allowed in the area as long as saltwater fish are not harvested or possessed in the closed area. Oysters, clams and mussels are not included because they are not expected to be affected by oil in the area. Interior bays and estuaries remain open to fishing.

Also Monday, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said 25 oil skimmer boats are operating nearshore along the coast and five are operating offshore. President Barack Obama was scheduled to visit Pensacola Monday as he monitors the federal response to the oil spill.

As of noon Monday, a light sheen of oil, weathered oil and tar balls were within five miles of Pensacola Pass, according to DEP. Tar balls and tar patties were widely scattered areas across Northwest Florida on Sunday.

(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, June 7, 2010

Writers take on oil drilling issue with new book

Before Florida residents had ever heard about the Deepwater Horizon oil rig or had seen their beaches covered with tar balls, a group of writers decided last fall to pen their thoughts against oil drilling.

And the editor of "UnspOILed: Writers speak for Florida's Coast," said she hopes the book will energize people rather than leaving them to feel further helpless about the plight of Gulf marine life that is suffering and dying in the ongoing oil spill.

In 2009, the Florida House adopted a bill to lift Florida's nearly 20-year-old ban against drilling in state waters, which extend 10.3 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. But the Senate refused to take up the bill. Last fall, a House panel began holding hearings towards crafting new drilling legislation but the Senate again refused to take up the issue.

With possible legislation as a backdrop, the Red Hills Writers Group last fall began soliciting essays against oil drilling in the Gulf. The result is the "UnspOILed" collection of 38 essays by scientists, journalists, writers and educators across the Gulf coast. The book will be released June 11 and will be accompanied by events across the state, said Susan Cerulean, co-editor.

"I do find that in people there is a shared sense of paralysis and hopelessness and 'I can't take any more of this,'" when it comes to the oil spill, Cerulean said. "These stories, I think they might move people closer to how they feel about being actively involved themselves in a way we've never really seen our population be before."

Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland and sponsor of a failed House resolution that would have called for opened federal waters off Florida's coast to drilling, said drilling now "is clearly off the table" and that federal and state moratoriums will remain in place. "If the goal is advocacy from a policy perspective, I'd ask what they are advocating?" McKeel said.

Cerulean said most of the essays don't directly address drilling, although a few of them do -- and she doesn't think they've been dated by the seismic political shift now against drilling. "We still need to address what we are going to do about fossil fuel extraction in Florida no matter what happens," she said. "We can't give up on the Gulf no matter how much oil is spilled."

(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, June 4, 2010

Crist's new push for renewable energy leaves some puzzled

By the Florida Tribune

Gov. Charlie Crist keeps saying that he wants to take up renewable energy legislation in a possible special session that would also deal with offshore oil drilling.

'If ever there was a case made that we need alternative energy it's the one that out's in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico right now,'' said Crist this week, referring to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. "It seems to me that the opportunity for Florida and America to move to more solar, wind, nuclear and natural gas, other forms of energy is more powerful now than ever before."

Yet even supporters of renewable energy are questioning what Crist wants to accomplish.

Crist has been saying since May 3 that he wants to hold a special session to take up a constitutional ban on oil drilling and increase renewable energy in Florida.

But he hasn't been specific about what he wants to do on renewables. And on May 24, he left some renewable energy supporters puzzled when he said he and Senate President Jeff Atwater were concerned "that some might want to raise fees on consumers as it relates to renewables."

Read more at the Florida Tribune.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Crist asks BP for $50 million while Sink, McCollum join the fray

To view AP photos of the oiled wildlife published by the Boston Globe, click here.

Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday asked BP to provide the state with $50 million to cover emergency response efforts to the oil spill in addition to $25 million earlier provided by the company.

On Friday morning, Crist is scheduled to appear on ABC's "Good Morning America" at 6:45 a.m., CNN "American Morning" at 7:30 a.m. and at 8 a.m. on the CBS "Early Show," according to the governor's schedule.

In a letter to BP America President Lamar MacKay sent Thursday, Crist said $30 million is needed on supplemental protective measures and $20 million for emergency preparedness during the first 30 days since the spill began April 20 and for an additional 30 days

Meanwhile, Attorney General Bill McCollum took aim again at the administration of President Barack Obama over the continuing Gulf oil spill while CFO Alex Sink called on BP's top official to answer to the state Cabinet next week. McCollum, Sink, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Crist went to Pensacola for briefings with local emergency management officials.

McCollum sent a letter to U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder reiterating his disappointment that Holder doesn't plan to meet with McCollum and state officials. McCollum went on to state that there was no clear federal contingency plan to address a deep water drilling accident.

"From the moment of the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20, your administration has demonstrated a lack of competency is managing this disaster," McCollum wrote. A Department of Justice spokesman said McCollum was never told that department officials did not want to meet with him and that McCollum refused to meet with an assistant U. S. attorney general.

Sink wrote a letter to BP CEO Tony Hayward asking him to attend the June 8 Cabinet meeting and expressing frustration with the company's response to the oil spill.

"Florida's leaders have been more than patient with BP and what do we have to show for it?" she said. "Thousands of tar balls from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are now less than 10 miles off of our beautiful Northwest Florida beaches." BP officials did not return a call to their Houston press office seeking a response.

Nelson said he is continuing to insist that the White House bring in the military to respond to the spill -- even though the U. S. Coast Guard, a military branch, is coordinating the spill response. A spokesman for Nelson said the senator wants the Pentagon more directly involved.

(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

House panel chairman says Crist must have been misled

A "pretty darn upset" Rep. Ralph Poppell said Wednesday he thinks Gov. Charlie Crist was misled by an aide into vetoing his bills dealing with petroleum contamination sites and yard waste in landfills.

HB 1385 would have allowed the owners of 4,985 contamination sites to remove them from the state cleanup list if they do not pose a threat to drinking water supplies. In his veto letter, Crist wrote that the legislation "ties the hands" of cities and counties while directing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to set less protective standards for cleaning up sites. He also said the bill also directs the state to divert $10 million from dangerous sites toward the cleanup of less dangerous sites.

But Poppell, R-Vero Beach and chairman of the House Natural Resources Appropriations Committee, said the bill didn't require any money to be spent on low-risk sites. Poppell also said the bill included language suggested by cities and counties and that DEP supported the bill.

"The person who recommended this (veto) to the governor should be fired," Poppell said.

During the session, a DEP spokeswoman said the department was working closely with Poppell and that the goal of the bill "is to improve the overall effectiveness of the program by implementing measures that will reduce costs and increase efficiency."

Jim Smith, president of the Florida Marketers & Convenience Store Association, said his group supported the bill and hopes the Legislature will override the veto if a special session is held.

HB 569 would have lifted the state ban on yard trimmings in landfills in which gas from decaying waste is used to produce renewable energy. Unlike the tanks bill, there was environmental opposition from Sierra Club Florida, the U. S. Composting Council, Hillsborough County and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. They said yard waste could be put to beneficial use as compost. A DEP representative said during the session that the department was neutral.

In his veto letter, Crist said the bill represents a "step backward" for recycling in Florida. Poppell said Wednesday the opposition to HB 569 represented a "turf war" in the waste industry than a legitimate environmental issue. "I think the governor was sold out," Poppell said. "I can't picture him just signing this (veto letter)."

A spokesman for the governor was flying with Crist on Wednesday and was not immediately available for comment, according to the governor's press office.

June 3 additional notes: Representatives of the Florida Association of Counties and Florida League of Cities said they did not request vetoes of HB 1385.
Green Florida, a group that promotes community gardens, praised the veto of HB 569.

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Florida calls for more shoreline protection as oil nears

Gov. Charlie Crist said Wednesday he has requested additional boom to protect Florida's coast from an oil spill that has reached within 10 miles of the Panhandle beaches.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill off Louisiana has been gushing nearly 800,000 gallons a day since April 20. Winds are beginning to blow weathered oil towards Florida and oil sheen was spotted Tuesday 9.9 miles from the Panhandle coast, Crist said. With the oil sheen, the governor said, are thousands of tar balls.

The governor said 267,000 of oil boom has been placed along the Florida Panhandle and he said he had authorized 66,000 feet of supplemental boom for Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties. "We are prepared to support more as things continue to change throughout the Panhandle," Crist said.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole said he had asked the spill response unified command in Roberts, La. to make more boom available to the state. "It is my belief the Coast Guard and BP will react accordingly," Sole said.

Also, Crist said he is requesting a federal declaration of a fisheries disaster in response to the oil spill moving closer to Florida's shores. NOAA has expanded the closed area to now include 31 percent of federal waters in the Gulf including areas about 50 miles off the western Panhandle.

The governor also said that once the oil hits, the state may have to modify the state's advertising campaign that Florida beaches have been untouched by the oil. "Obviously we have to have truth in advertising," he said. "So we want to make sure that if it does come on shore, we redirect the message so it is appropriate and it is accurate and that it discusses where it is, and maybe more importantly, where it is not."

Sole said he is not aware of any request to use chemical dispersants against the oil approaching Florida in state or federal waters. He said the dispersants typically don't work against weathered oil in the form of tar balls and tar mats.

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

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bills dealing with yard waste and petroleum contamination sites vetoed

Gov. Charlie Crist on Tuesday vetoed bills related to yard waste in landfills and petroleum contamination sites.

Both HB 569 and HB 1385 were introduced by Rep. Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach and chairman of the House Natural Resources Appropriations Committee.

HB 569 would have lifted the state ban on yard waste in landfills where methane gas was captured and burned to produce electricity. Waste Management Inc. and the North American Solid Wastes Association supported the bill, with Waste Management saying it would allow trash haulers to use a single truck to pick up both yard waste and household garbage.

But it faced opposition from Sierra Club Florida, the U. S. Composting Council, Hillsborough County and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. In response to a similar bill proposed in Georgia, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency said compositing is a beneficial use of yard waste compared to dumping it in landfills.

In his veto letter, Crist said the bill represents a step backwards in Florida's recycling efforts and it could cause landfills to fill up quicker.

HB 1385 would have extended the deadline for the cleanup of petroleum contamination sites and allowed the owners of 4,985 contamination sites to ask the state to remove them from the list if they do not pose a threat to drinking water supplies.

The bills supporters included the Florida Ground Water Association and the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association. Representatives of the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties raised concerns during the session that the bill may deny local governments control over the use of lands with contamination.

Crist echoed the concerns of cities and counties in his veto letter and said the bill directs the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to set less protective standards for site cleanups. He also raised concerns that the bill would redirect $10 million from cleaning up more dangerous sites and would divert the money to the least dangerous sites.

(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

Georgia water law to create "culture of water conservation"

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue on Tuesday signed a bill that supporters say could help resolve the state's water wars with Alabama and Florida. The three states have been fighting in federal court since 1990 over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system.

U. S. District Judge Paul A. Magnuson on July 17, 2009 ruled that water use from the Chattahoochee River by cities was not authorized by Congress when it established Lake Lanier, a huge federal reservoir north of Atlanta. He gave the states three years to reach a water allocation agreement or north Georgia cities would face severe restrictions on their use of water. The governors began negotiations in late 2009 but talks have failed to produce an agreement.

SB 370, the Water Stewardship Act of 2010, states that the Georgia General Assembly "recognizes the imminent need to create a culture of water conservation" in the state. The bill requires efficient water fixtures in all new residential and commercial construction and the installation of efficient cooling towers in new industrial construction. For apartments and condominiums, separate water metering will be required to provide incentives for water conservation.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole said the legislation is a "good starting point." In a statement, he said, "We would like to come to a solution before the end of the year. We are glad to see Georgia moving forward with conservation."

The Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper environmental group says the state needs to go further in conserving water. The group says the new law will save about 23 million gallons of water per day, or 3.5 percent of present water use.

A representative of the Atlanta Regional Commission said the bill won't resolve differences with the other states but it will help. "I think there are substantive steps the Atlanta region has taken and Georgia has taken to deal proactively with its water issues," said Tom Weyandt, ARC's director of comprehensive planning.

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Lack of money means no new Florida Communities Trust application cycle

Grant programs at the Florida Department of Community Affairs will not be accepting new applications this year for local parks and working waterfronts projects.

The Florida Communities Trust (FCT) matches local dollars to help build recreational trails, preserve cultural and historic sites and provide public access to waterways and beaches. Because of the lack of funding for the Florida Forever state land acquisition program, FCT will continue to work down the list of grant applications submitted two years ago, Program Manager Ken Reecy said.

Florida Forever is the largest land-buying program in the nation. The Legislature provided $300 million annually for the program from 1990 to 2008 but provided nothing last year and $15 million this year in the proposed 2010-11 state budget. FCT's Parks and Open Space Grant Program receives 21 percent of Florida Forever, which was $63 million a year prior to 2009. Ninety-one cities and counties submitted applications in 2008 for grants. But without funding last year, no applications were requested. This year, the program will receive only $3.15 million. That's about enough to provide one additional grant, Reecy said.

FCT's Stan Mayfield Working Waterfronts Program was launched in 2008 with $7.5 million, or 2.5 percent of Florida Forever. In 2010-11, the program will receive only $375,000. That may be enough to provide funding for one more project among the 10 applications submitted in 2008, Reecy said.

The Parks and Open Space Grant Program, he said, is one of the most overlooked aspects of Florida Forever and perhaps one of its largest with each of the state's $63 million being matched by $60 million in local dollars. "As Florida grows, as inevitably it will, the need for these sorts of projects -- the FCT projects -- will always be there," he said.

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