Mr. President, use Everglades backdrop on Earth Day to shun Big Sugar money

April 21, 2015

(This OPED is available on the web through ContextFlorida.)  It makes sense for President Barack Obama to be in the Everglades on Earth Day. According to the White House, he will draw attention to both the Everglades and the massive economic consequences of global warming and climate change.

Obama is likely to echo what a former Friends of the Everglades director said over a decade ago: “The Everglades is a test. If we pass, we may get to save the planet.”

The difference between the time the phrase was first spoken and today is significant. Read the rest of this entry »


Jeb Bush stuck with anti-science bias

March 17, 2015

(printed in Context Florida) We know how Gov. Rick Scott feels about climate change: his administration refuses to allow the words to creep into any state policy documents.

And what about former Gov. Jeb Bush – the likely GOP nominee for president in 2016?

We know about his brother, George W., and climate change denial. The historical record is clear: lobbyists President Bush appointed to run the White House Council on Environmental Quality imposed changes on EPA policies, subjugating science to ideology.

Jeb says, “I am my own man”, in trying to distance himself from unpopular aspects of his brother’s presidency.

But when Jeb was governor, agency staff that interacted with journalists on the environment were also censored. Under Gov. Bush, for instance, the State Department of Health refused to discuss the most severe threat to public health from toxics in the environment: cancer clusters. Read the rest of this entry »


Environmental Regulation is the Enemy and Time is Our Friend — Just Drink Water From Our Plastic Bottles and You Will be Safe Until This Crisis Blows Over West Virginia’s Message to the Nation

January 13, 2014

(COUNTERPUNCH) The vaunted capacity of enlightened corporations to do better than government to protect the public interest in clean, safe water just cracked a big leak in West Virginia.

Here is the most curious omission in media coverage of the West Virginia pollution disaster: how politics in West Virginia harbors antipathy to the very environmental regulations that ought to protect the state’s drinking water.

It is also an outstanding example how politics have consequences like those depriving 300,000 people in Charleston of safe drinking water. It is almost as though the media — that knows no boundaries when it comes to matching mayhem to eyeballs — has discovered in the underbrush of West Virginia politics a tragedy that is too horrible: the indelicate matter of voters supporting choices that undermine their own existence.

Curious, too, the media has no difficulty macerating an event in New Jersey that is similarly totemic: traffic flow on the George Washington Bridge traffic constipated by political ambition. Arguably the Elk River in West Virginia represents the same theme of politics making mince-meat of citizen safety with a significantly more dire outcome. Yet the media holds its nose.

Although both US Senators from West Virginia are Democrats, they are a leaden part of the Democratic majority in the Senate that exposes the American public to the worst of right-wing extremism against environmental regulation.

West Virginia is a poor state. Poverty indexes put the state near the very bottom. So when a story like the Elk River, that bears an eery familiarity to the burning rivers of the industrial midwest that spurred in the 1970′s the first federal environmental laws, emerges: one struggles for interpretation more clear than a poor state subject to most unfortunate, unavoidable calamity. That is exactly what is playing out on nightly network news.

Not a word either from Fox News how environmental rules might have reached to protect Charleston’s drinking water from the owners of the coal-industry company. The Politburo in the Soviet Union had the Soviet era organ called Pravda to selectively inform Russians. That pretty much defines Fox News, when it comes to the environment and the importance of regulations. Where is the indignation? Where is the outcry? Where is the investigation of the evisceration of the EPA’s enforcement authority?

Although the federal EPA — the bogeyman of the right-wing — is not implicated in the Elk River disaster, the shadow cast over a city incapable of delivering clean water to citizens invites full disclosure.

According to news reports, even though the tanks were decades beyond their useful life, the catastrophic pollution event awaits dilution and time. Thus it is with pollution in the United States.

The name of the company responsible for the catastrophe in West Virginia: Freedom Industries.


The Future of Water: On the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act

October 19, 2012

When the Clean Water Act was passed by Congress forty years ago under a Republican administration, I was a clueless college undergraduate at Yale. Laws belonged to those serious looking law school students around the corner, perhaps including two I may have passed crossing the quad: Hilary Rodham and Bill Clinton. The environment? It seemed good to me. If I had been questioned, I could have testified, walking with school friends to the banks of the Providence River in Rhode Island to watch the river in flames like the Cuyahoga in Ohio, that triggered the calls for federal clean water standards. Read the rest of this entry »


Of Fetuses and the Everglades: Mercury Flows Downstream

July 6, 2011

The conservative right deploys right-to-life as its battle cry, but when it comes to rallying against environmental pollution that is arguably a greater threat to fetuses than abortion, the right is silent. With a few exceptions, there is hardly a whisper from the pulpits about organizing to protect the unborn by rallying congregations to support tougher anti-pollution laws and candidates for public office who support them. Mercury exposure, for example, is known to cause deformities and developmental disorders. In Florida, mercury is as ubiquitous as sulfur thrown on sugar fields by billionaire farmers, flowing downstream to God knows where.

Southern Christians (I’m singling out Southern Christians, because this writer is from Florida) ought to recognize that the rights of fetuses are harmed by pollution. So why isn’t the conservative right deploying their message machinery to educate Southern Christians about the threats of environmental pollution to the unborn, especially since it is clear thatpollution is arguably a bigger threat to fetuses than abortion? Read the rest of this entry »


The Salting of Florida: And Not a Drop to Drink

June 28, 2011

Drought, wildfires, floods. The first three minutes of network news is like a TV primer from the Book of Revelations. Al Gore, in Rolling Stone, was inventor of that line, but at some point in the not-so-distant future, destroyed drinking water wells in South Florida could be on Nightly News. And if Al Gore is still with us, the shot wells scattering chaos in the nation’s presidential bellweather state will not go unremarked. Florida’s threatened drinking water supply is a stark reminder of Gore’s 2000 loss in Florida. Fearing dissent in his own ranks on policies governing growth and the environment, Gore retreated. Today there is no doubt, none at all, that water management has put South Florida property owners into the path of fresh water at the price of gold or a modern Exodus. This is the dirtiest little secret in Florida and why the dying Everglades are a potent symbol of politics in America today.

For decades in Florida, elected officials supported more growth and development and agriculture than our aquifers could reasonably sustain. It is not conjecture. It is not smarmy, feel-good ethos. Within government agencies, scientists, policy makers and attorneys treaded on the subject like walking on egg shells. Early on, it was established that standing up to the destroyers on water supply or water quality issues was the fastest way to lose one’s job. Sugar billionaires, their lobbyists, builders and developers and trade associations like Miami’s Latin Builders Association had the inside track in the inside hallways of government: from the White House to the lowliest office of the county commission. It is still going on. Last week, Florida’s Jack-Ass-In-Chief Barney Bishop– the Associated Industries leader, a self-described “life-long Democrat” (who led the successful effort to dismantle Florida’s growth management agency), appeared on Fox News, calling out the U.S. EPA for “killing jobs faster than President Obama can create them”. Bishop, a carpetbagger if there ever was one, has prevailed on Florida Governor Rick Scott to push back against federal authority to regulate nutrient pollution where the state won’t: overwhelming Florida’s valuable rivers, estuaries and coastal real estate values. To round up the disaster, after so many decades, in a pithy “killing the goose that lays the golden egg” puts an unforgivable smiley face on abject corruption. Read the rest of this entry »


A Year of Foolishness in High Places: When Progress Didn’t Come and the People Didn’t Awake

December 31, 2010

(Counterpunch) It is hard to face the close of 2010 with an admission. I was wrong. For more than twenty years as an environmentalist and writer, I harbored the expectation that progress would come. But I did not believe it would come because we had somehow persuaded decision-makers it was time, finally, to abandon the Chamber of Commerce values that crashed the economy into a ditch. I believed that once in the ditch—an inevitability, from witnessing so much bad policy and bad results the past two decades—that people would awake. Rise and Sing!

I was wrong. I had been right about the threats. I started looking in the early 1970s in Florida, through a watery lens of water only a few feet deep covering hundreds of square miles in Florida Bay, the tail end of the Everglades ecosystem. By the late 1980’s, the magnificent efflorescence of nature had been severely injured by repetitive algae blooms. Even then, scientists were chasing changes happening faster than baselines could be anchored with facts. My small layman’s window on marine life in two feet of water, hosting crustaceans and shrimp and sea grass billowing out in glorious creatures from rays to sharks and tarpon and the whole coral reef, encapsulate the whole realm: oceans and a warming planet. Read the rest of this entry »