South Floridians may have noticed advertisements on TV recently sponsored by NGOs who work on Everglades Restoration. These ads are urging state lawmakers to use Amendment 1 money to buy land that will serve as a reservoir to bring water from lake Okeechobee down to the forever-water-starved Everglades. You will remember that this most recent election over 70% of Floridians voted for Amendment 1 to buy land for conservation purposes. In this blog, I have already made the case that this is not only a smart move economically-speaking but is also a common way for American states to fund conservation. In Florida, a state that runs on 1) the tourism sector and 2) the real-estate sector, selling houses overlooking the waterfront, any investment in functioning coastal ecosystems is an investment in our two main economic engines.
Florida Crystals, aka “Big Sugar” has come out against these advertisements and I wanted to make clear their reasons for doing so. Florida Crystals has its eyes on the prize, Governor Rick Scott’s $880 million long-term Everglades restoration plan (HB 7065) from 2013, which gifted $32 million a year towards cleaning up water run-off from South Florida farms. Let’s be clear about one thing: Florida has a polluter pays amendment, voted into existence by tax payers who were tired of paying to clean up the sugar industry’s runoff that fills our waters with unnatural amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous, causing algal blooms, manatee and fish die offs, coral diseases (corals require low amounts of nutrients to thrive), sick wetlands, declining wading bird populations and so on and so forth. This $32 million dollars is a taxpayer-financed gift to Big Sugar, in effect flouting our constitution (polluter pays) and financing cleanup of their mess. I for one do not want to finance a multi-million dollar industry that is Big Sugar that lessens the environmental quality of Florida, and in doing so lessens the state’s main economic drivers.
The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program itself, enacted in 1990 and slated to cost between 9 and 12 billion dollars over several decades, is one massive effort to 1) restore freshwater flows from Lake Okeechobee to Everglades National Park and 2) reduce the excess nitrogen and phosphorous runoff coming from the farms. Big Sugar is warning us that by buying this land, where water will run from Lake Okeechobee to the Glades, instead of gifting them $32 million will “derail” Everglades restoration. I would argue that enforcing polluter pays and making Big Sugar pay its own cleanup costs in addition to re-opening freshwater flow-ways to the Everglades is the only logical step forward. Please ignore their flailing.