September 9, 2023 Weekly Newsletter
Florida's Strained and Underfunded Environmental Cop
A recent report paints a somber picture of environmental enforcement in our Sunshine State. Despite our population booming to over 22 million residents, we seem to be backpedaling on enforcing crucial environmental protections. Shockingly, FDEP enforcement actions have dropped a staggering 60% from 2010 to 2017. This same report found that in 2022, enforcement actions were 59% below the 2010 figures. So while there are more than at the worst time ever, we’re still terribly below the way things were.
This lax attitude towards environmental violations is simply untenable. Just last year, PCM Products, Inc. in Titusville was fined $21,360 for several hazardous waste violations, and yet, the FDEP seems more inclined to help violators come into "compliance" than to actually penalize them for endangering our natural resources. According to FDEP, the statewide compliance rate was 91% in 2022, a year that saw significant sewage overflows and the severe impact of hurricanes Ian and Nicole.
Despite these optimistic compliance rates touted by the FDEP, we can't overlook the facts. In 2022, the agency assessed penalties totaling $11.8 million, but collected only $3 million. For comparison, in 2010, the year when we seemingly took environmental violations seriously, the agency assessed 1,318 cases amounting to $13 million in penalties and collected $7 million in fines.
We must also talk about the plight of Florida's manatees. In 2021 and 2022, almost 2,000 manatees died, primarily due to starvation from the loss of their main food source, seagrass. All this while Florida's population has grown by 20% since 2010, and yet, our environmental enforcement levels have more than halved.
With unprecedented threats from toxic algae blooms, sewage overflows, and sea level rise, we must reprioritize environmental enforcement. One of IRNA's legislative asks this year is for Florida to properly fund FDEP's enforcement programs. It's about time we allow our dedicated public servants to uphold environmental rules and regulations without political interference. Until then, we're essentially telling polluters that harming our natural treasures is merely “The Cost of Doing Business.”
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U.S. Representative Brian Mast of Congressional District 21 (to the south of our own Rep. Posey) personally supports the Right to Clean Water initiative!
Rep. Mast is the first congressperson to publicly support this initiative and, as a Republican, demonstrates the crosspartisan appeal this initiative has throughout the State.
Clean water is not a political issue -- It is a MORAL IMPERATIVE and a clear duty to demand effective stewardship in our own government.
Thank you, Congressman Brian Mast.
News Headlines and Articles
School Board Black, book issues drive threats, incivility to Vero Beach: Time to take a stand (TCPalm) - This isn't the usual kind of story we share, but it's important to address the escalating incivility threatening our community. From hate spread around town to, disturbingly, local school board members receiving death threats. As citizens, we have the duty to foster respectful disagreement rather than yield to hostility. It's high time we stood up to denounce this unacceptable behavior; we are more than capable of doing better. It is 2023, let's prove that we are indeed better than this.
Vero Beach, Stuart record hottest-ever August, with the heat wave likely to continue (TCPalm) - August 2023 marked the hottest August on record for Vero Beach and Stuart, with meteorologists citing high ocean temperatures and lower-than-average rainfall as significant contributors; the heat wave is expected to persist into September.
Mangroves, marshes & coral could be devastated with 2 degree warming: Study (Coastal News Today) - A recent study warns that a 2 degrees Celsius increase in global warming could devastate critical coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, marshes, and coral reefs, pushing them past a tipping point from which they might not recover.
Manatees were dying in record-breaking numbers. But that trend may be slowing down (Miami Herald) - Recent data suggests a decrease in manatee deaths in Florida this year, partly due to the recovery of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon, though threats remain including red tide blooms and watercraft collisions, the latter being the most significant cause of death over the years.
Algaecides kill toxic algae blooms, but are they safe and effective long-term? (TCPalm) - The use of Lake Guard Oxy algaecide to treat toxic algae blooms in Florida waters shows short-term success in reducing toxicity levels but sparks concerns among scientists about its environmental safety, long-term effectiveness, and the potential negative impacts on non-target organisms and ecosystems; further research and prevention strategies focusing on reducing nutrient pollution are recommended.
Unpacking Ray McNulty's MY TAKE / MY VERO On Twin Pairs (Let's Talk Vero) - If you did not see Ray McNulty's piece, you can view it here. The future of Vero Beach's Twin Pairs has sparked a lot of debate. While some local voices oppose reducing lanes, many residents feel it deserves serious consideration. Let's Talk Vero provided an important counterpoint on thinking big to revitalize downtown. The IRNA has avoided taking sides yet, understanding that strong opinions exist on both sides. City Council must keep an open mind and fully investigate all the information, including hearing from constituents and the paid for Kimley-Horn study, before deciding the best path forward. There are merits to different approaches, but a thorough process focused on facts, not assumptions, will lead to the right solution for Vero Beach.
Almost all South Florida Congressmen and women take big money from Bi Sugar. Dirty Money = Dirty Water Video from VoteWater.org
NOAA missed deadline, delaying new Lake O plan for 2nd time; Army Corps should move on (TCPalm) - The implementation of the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) has been delayed again due to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) missing its deadline to give an opinion on the project's environmental impacts, a situation that the writer criticizes and urges the Army Corps to proceed without NOAA's input.
FWC rescues newborn manatee separated from mother after Hurricane Idalia (WFLA) - A newborn manatee separated potentially due to storm surges from Hurricane Idalia was rescued in Palm Harbor, Florida, by FWC wildlife experts in collaboration with other local organizations, emphasizing the vital role of the community in reporting manatee distress cases to ensure their safety and wellbeing.
Florida should do more to protect its mangroves (Sun Sentinel) - Enhanced protection and conservation efforts for Florida's mangrove ecosystems are advocated for, emphasizing their crucial role in the environment and economy, and proposing increased education and improved waste management as part of a broader strategy.
Babcock Ranch: Florida's first hurricane-proof town (Coastal News Today) - Florida's Babcock Ranch, designed to be resilient against severe weather, successfully withstood Hurricane Ian, showcasing its effective climate-resilient infrastructure amid forecasts of increasingly severe hurricane seasons.
Home insurers cut natural disasters from policies as climate risks grow (Coastal News Today) - Major U.S. home insurers are reducing coverage for natural disasters in vulnerable areas due to escalating climate change risks, according to a survey by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
New water standards present challenge (Florida Weekly Palm Beach) - The proposed EPA regulation EPA-HQ-OW-2022-0114 seeks to address the PFAS contamination in US drinking water systems by establishing stricter national standards for the concentration of six PFAS chemicals in water supplies, a move that prompts significant technological investment and raises questions on how to meet the new thresholds and manage the persistent pollutants effectively.
Oil giants suing US government for protecting the Rice's whale (Coastal News Today) - Oil companies and the State of Louisiana are suing the U.S. government over the removal of 6 million acres from an upcoming federal land auction for oil drilling rights, alleging it is to unlawfully protect the endangered Rice's whale habitat in the Gulf of Mexico.
Florida fishing: Are the mullet on the move? Snook, sharks and jacks will follow (TCPalm) - The mullet migration is anticipated to start soon, influenced by moon phases and tides; anglers should keep an eye on inlets, beaches, and lagoon shorelines. Meanwhile, snook fishing is presently good, with numerous fishing regulations in effect for various species, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission discussing potential new regulations for snook. Fishing prospects vary across different counties, with upcoming mullet migration expected to enhance activity.
Jimmy Buffett helped lead manatee protection in Florida (Wink News) - Jimmy Buffett co-founded the Save the Manatee Club and actively contributed to its efforts, helping to increase Florida's manatee population from under 1,000 in 1981 to 8,000, although recent years have seen significant losses due to watercraft collisions and declining water quality.
Idalia destroyed these gulf towns. They worry they’ll lose an ‘old Florida’ way of life (Miami Herald) - Residents of Horseshoe Beach, Florida, grappling with the devastation left by Hurricane Idalia, express fears that enforced building codes aiming to enhance hurricane-resilience will erase the "Old Florida" character of their community, amidst concerns that such transformations may open doors to property developers and alter the area fundamentally, a complex issue foregrounding the tension between preservation of local charm and the imperative of adapting to climate realities.
Gulf of Mexico days after Hurricane Idalia: What are the water temperatures looking like? (WTSP) - In the wake of Hurricane Idalia, several coastal cities in Florida are reporting below-average water temperatures for this time of year, with hurricanes typically cooling ocean waters through heat transfer, upwelling of cold water, raindrop cooling, and sunlight blockage by clouds.
Three early lessons from Hurricane Idalia (Coastal News Today) - In the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia, Florida is urged to learn from three early lessons: improving property and infrastructure resiliency to mitigate hurricane damages, ensuring quick and fair handling of insurance claims to prevent victimization by insurers, and fostering faster decision-making in response to quickly escalating storms, with an emphasis on readiness for the evolving challenges presented by the climate crisis. This is similar to the "Lessons Learned" from Hurricane Ian last year.
After 8 major hurricanes in 6 years, some Gulf Coast communities are hitting a ‘tipping point’ (WAAY TV) - In the wake of Hurricane Idalia, the eighth major hurricane to strike the Gulf Coast in six years, experts are questioning the viability of rebuilding in certain areas due to exacerbated climate impacts including rapid sea level rise and increased storm severity, alongside a shrinking insurance market leaving homeowners with less coverage options, urging a contemplation of more sustainable and resilient approaches to housing and infrastructure in the region.
Flamingos Arrive with Hurricane Idalia (Audubon Florida) - Hurricane Idalia has brought American Flamingos, originally from Mexico and Cuba, to various parts of Florida, marking a significant sighting event in nearly a century; experts attribute the scarcity of flamingos in the region to historical hunting for feathers and habitat destruction but maintain hope for their return due to ongoing Everglades restoration efforts and urge the public to report sightings and support conservation initiatives.
Recently, Sierra Club Florida and more than 100 Florida springs lovers converged on FDEP’s public workshop in Gainesville to protest the agency’s repeated failures to preserve and protect our Outstanding Florida Springs.
For years, FDEP has refused to abide by the law and adopt uniform rules to prevent groundwater withdrawals that are harmful to our state’s water resources. Together with water advocates around the state, it has been made clear that no one will settle for anything less than justice for Florida’s springs and water resources.