Earlier this week, a U.S. appeals court rejected an attempt by the state of Florida, sugarcane growers, and the South Florida Water Management District to block a federal EPA plan to protect the Everglades from cane farming pollution.
The EPA plan was initially mandated in 2010 by federal District Judge Alan Gold as a result of a lawsuit brought by the environmental group Friends of the Everglades and the Miccosukee Tribe. Now Friends is calling on Gov. Rick Scott to make polluters pay for the damage they do to the Everglades.
Fifteen years ago, a constitutional amendment dubbed the “Polluter Pays” aimed to require that “those in the Everglades Agricultural Area who cause water pollution within the Everglades Protection Area or the Everglades Agricultural Area shall be primarily responsible for paying the costs of the abatement of that pollution.” In 1996, it passed with 68.1 percent of the vote.
But environmentalists argue that the amendment didn’t do much in the way of halting pollution — the Everglades is still inundated with pollution, and the agencies responsible for protecting the area are often accused of siding with big business rather than the environment they are charged with protecting.
Even with the “Polluter Pays” plan, the Everglades has a major Methylmercury problem. Sulfate from farms in the Everglades Agricultural Area (which is used as a fungicide and to increase the pH of the soil) combines with naturally occurring mercury to form Methylmercury, which can drastically affect the human nervous system and harm vision and speech. In scientific studies, Methylmercury was even found to cause kidney tumors in male mice. As we’ve previously reported, state agencies have no limitations on sulfate flowing into wetlands.
In a recent press release, Friends of the Everglades says that the governor and Legislature are guilty of shifting the cost of treating pollution from those responsible to the taxpayers of South Florida. According to the release, these actions have “not only created one of the nation’s largest environmental catastrophes but [they have] also perpetrated one of the largest rip-offs of taxpayers in American history to benefit billionaire industrial farmers.”
From the Friends press release:
Sugar cane growers in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), located directly north of the Everglades, use the Everglades as their waste treatment facility, flushing billions of gallons of agricultural wastes containing high levels of phosphorus, sulfates, and pesticides, directly and indirectly into the Everglades Protection Area, Big Cypress and Everglades National Park. Agricultural wastes runoff damages the Everglades and also causes high-levels of toxic mercury contamination. Mercury contamination in the Everglades poses a direct, immediate threat to human health, particularly to pregnant women and small children who may consume fish taken from the Everglades. All of the Everglades is under Florida Department of Health Fish Consumption warnings. Mercury in Everglades fish is toxic to the unborn fetus and can cause brain and nervous system damage.
With damage to the Everglades continuing unabated, and with delay tactics on the part of the South Florida Water Management District and agricultural interests, Friends is now calling on Florida citizens to stand up to Gov. Scott and demand that he take a stand against the polluters. “Florida taxpayers must demand that Gov. Scott and the Legislature enforce the Florida constitution and make the EAA polluters pay for their own waste treatment and cleanup, now,” says Friends’ Alan Farago.