Rick Scott, our Trumpster-diving governor, has declared a state of emergency. He’s suddenly discovered Florida’s waters are choking in toxic algae, green as arsenic, and malodorous as a pile of rotting mullet.
Images of slime-covered sand, and fish gasping their last on closed beaches are appearing in print and on screens around the world. It’s not just another day in paradise.
Scott blames “the inaction and negligence of the federal government not making the needed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike,” the perpetually leaking earthwork that’s supposed to contain the noxious soup of sewage, fertilizer and Big Ag runoff that is Lake Okeechobee. South Florida has had a lot of rain, so the Corps has been trying to ease pressure on the dike by flushing a lot of noisome lake water out into the rest of Florida.
“Because the Obama administration has failed to act on this issue,” Scott said, “the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to discharge millions of gallons of water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries resulting in the growth of blue-green algae which is now entering residential waterways in South Florida.”
Um, what? Scott has always demonstrated an impressively sociopathic talent for hypocrisy, but this is truly breathtaking.
The Corps could fix the dike tomorrow, but the water in the lake would still be infested with cyanobacteria. It would still contain 20 times the toxins deemed tolerable by the World Health Organization. It could still cause liver damage, severe rashes and respiratory distress. It would still be destroying the Everglades.
It would still smell, as one lady put it, “like death on a cracker.”
Why is this water so foul? Because Scott’s political clients have been allowed to pollute all they please, pumping untreated wastewater into the second-largest freshwater lake in the contiguous 48 states — a lake which also supplies drinking water for millions of Floridians.
Big Sugar — one of the biggest polluters — is a top contributor to Scott’s political committee “Let’s Get to Work.” Cleaning up the water would hit profits.
A little history: Back in 1998, the EPA gave states six years to develop “numeric,” i.e., measurable, standards for water quality. Florida used a “narrative” standard: if the fish ain’t floating belly-up, that water’s fine.
Florida ignored the 2004 deadline, and state officials keep pretending that court cases won by various citizens and environmental groups don’t mean polluters actually have to clean up their mess.
Actually, the state has recently made it easier for polluters to dump crap into Florida waters. Since Scott signed Big Ag’s comprehensive water bill into law in January this year, all polluters have to do is claim they’re following “best management practices.” And what does that mean? Why, whatever Big Ag says it means!
So the dirty water’s on the Florida Legislature. And on Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who sees any attempt to enforce the Clean Water Act in Florida as sinister federal overreach. And on Rick Scott.
When Gov. Charlie Crist left office in 2011, there was a deal in place for the state to buy 187,000 acres of US Sugar land which would begin restoring the natural flow of the Everglades south. The ’glades, a natural filter, would help clean up the water before it got in the rivers and estuaries.
Scott voided the agreement. He even opposed a much scaled-back purchase in 2015 that would have gone a little way to putting water where it needs to be. By then, US Sugar wasn’t keen on selling. The company mused that maybe they’d put a resort or two and a bunch of houses on the land instead. More profit in that than in Everglades restoration.
South Florida waters have been gunked-up with toxic algae on and off for years. Tourism is suffering; property values are tanking.
Scott has just noticed. If he’s going to run for the U.S. Senate in 2018, he needs to look like he cares about the environment. He also needs to take care of Big Shug.
Guess which one will win out?
Diane Roberts teaches at Florida State University. Her latest book, “Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America,” will be out in paperback in the fall.