By Kartik Krishnaiyer
The Sugar Industry is getting its way again with the Florida Legislature and the losers will be Florida’s taxpayers, tourism related businesses and ecosystem. The bill which is needed to codify the settlement between the state and feds regarding Everglades cleanup requires Sugar to pay far less than what can be considered a fair share towards the effort. The legislation received unanimous bi-partisan support on Thursday in a House Committee. The legislation represents a tax hike for Florida citizens while sugar gets off relatively easy.
The Everglades ecosystem is arguably the most important driver of Florida’s sustainability. The one of a kind environmental feature is unique to Florida and Florida alone. While this bill received unanimous bi-partisan support it is worth exploring the culpability of Democrats on these issues. Many southeast Florida Democrats have consistently ignored the need to protect and preserve the River of Grass and have become in the process become addicted to sugar money in a way that many in the GOP has not.
No industry has done more damage to the fragile Everglades system than big sugar. Runoff from sugar has caused many of the problems the Everglades now faces. The following is from Friends of the Everglades:
The Florida Independent published a report last year that deserves wide attention, “Everglades suffering from sulfate runoff, Methylmercury contamination”. Friends of the Everglades has been studying issues related to mercury contamination in the Everglades. Data is accumulating that sugar farms are a major source of contamination, through the use of sulfur in their farming practices. The Florida legislature has proven intransigent on mercury contamination as it has on phosphorous, the subject of more than two decades of litigation in federal courts. Friends of the Everglades believes that the polluters must be held accountable for the full costs of their pollution. In fact, that provision was put in the Florida Constitution through a ballot referendum approved by Florida voters in 1996 but it has never been enacted by the legislature. Although sugar growers complain that pollution comes from other sources and not their lands, it is clear that much, much more could be done to keep pollution on private lands and not flowing into lands owned by the public, including Everglades National Park and the national wildlife refuges.
During the past two years Florida Democrats raised lots of sugar money, and largely due to Chairman Rod Smith who had closely aligned himself with sugar both as a legislator and as a candidate for Governor in 2006.
Despite a reputation that has been well earned that Republicans are less environmentally conscious than Democrats, In southern Florida more often than not, those who have strongly opposed Big Sugar are Republicans. Many south Florida Republicans supported “Polluters Pay” legislation and constitutional amendments. Conservative arguments were made stating making polluters pay would keep property taxes lower and enhance economic development in way of tourism dollars and other eco-related industries. As a liberal, I subscribe to these arguments even if made by conservatives.
Many southern Florida Republicans including Congressmen E. Clay Shaw, Porter Goss (later CIA Director) and Dan Miller strongly opposed subsidies for the sugar industry and supported Everglades Restoration. The same can be said for several southern Florida Republicans who have served in the state legislature over the past 15 years. At the same time, big sugar has created influence within the Democratic Party particularly in Broward and Palm Beach counties. This has relieved the pressure on the companies whose influence on damaging the Everglades as it once was, cannot be disputed.
The lawyers and lobbyists from southeast Florida who worked hard to promote, protect and preserve the Everglades in the 1990s and 2000s were disproportionately Republicans. (While those interested in preserving the Everglades from outside southern Florida were disproportionately Democrats) While many Republicans, including Jeb Bush remained bad on the environment, Governor Charlie Crist was excellent on Everglades related issues and he could draw his lineage from Republicans who as conservationists put protection of our natural resources over campaign cash and polluters.
In the past some Democrats have told me that sugar money is essential to funding the party and legislative candidates because the Republicans have all the other corporate money locked up. Democratic candidates, party executive committees, local Democratic clubs and partisan functions have all been recipients of sugar’s generous contributions in recent years.
I myself have been guilty of holding my nose while working for Democratic candidates who received sugar money and worked to protect the sugar industry, despite my publicly stated qualms about sugar going back 20 years. After all these candidates were more closely aligned with my philosophy on other issues. However, I have no hesitation in saying that in many cases the Democrats in southeast Florida have been worse on environmental issues since 1990 than local Republicans. Why? It is difficult to claim a direct quid pro-quo, but it could be the over emphasis of Democrats on social issues and the need to raise campaign cash or be “liked” in Tallahassee. Or it could be the fear that Environmental protection buts heads with labor and protecting big sugar means protecting jobs? But I would argue very strongly the amount of jobs created by eco-tourism, and a healthy ecosystem will trump any job loses in industries that pollute.
As this legislation continues to work its way through the legislature, we will track the votes and statements of the Democrats on the issue.
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Why have you not named names…who are the south Florida Democrats in the legislature who take big sugar money and supported this legislation in “a house committee.” Is there some good reason not to name them?
Thanks…Should have mentioned this.
The Democrats on the committee are:
Rouson, Darryl Ervin [D] Democratic Ranking Member
Rangel, Ricardo [D]
Stewart, Linda [D]
Taylor, Dwayne L. [D]
Waldman, James W. “Jim” [D]
Watson, Jr., Clovis [D]
A recent NY Times mag. had long article about obesity mostly caused by sugar, salt and fat. Wish everyone would read it.
Unreal. As usual, you guys have no idea what you are talking about. You assume just because someone is a Democrat that they always HAVE to vote this way or that way. That is what gets both Political Parties into trouble. I sat in on this committee which was clearly more than this reporter did. See a different point of view on what happened in the committee at ( http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/story/everglades-foundations-emperor-clothes-dont-suit-florida-audubons ) If this bill was truly controversial, then why did it pass 19-0? Because it was obvious from the testimony that the farmers south of the Lake Okeechobee are doing their share. The water from their farms is being released 50% cleaner than they get it from the Lake. At what point do we all realize that the problems South of the Lake are being addressed. It is time to get serious about cleaning up the flow from Orlando to the Lake where most of the pollution is now contributed. No, Democrats voted thoughtfully. Democrats supported Fairness. Democrats voted for jobs. They voted because they realize that the Agriculture Industry in Florida is a vital economic engine that supports towns like Belle Glade, Pahokee and Clewiston. All Floridians want to protect our natural resources but it is a balancing act. The Farmers south of the lake have been part of the solution since our Great Governor Lawton Chiles passed the initial Everglades Forever Act. Democrats realize this and voted with their minds; not just some knee jerk reaction to what party should do or not do because it involved Florida Agricultural Business.