Florida editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
Miami Herald asks why people believe hurricane science but ignore rising sea levels:
Here’s one sure bet about the hundreds gathering for the annual Governor’s Hurricane Conference, which runs this week in West Palm Beach: They’ll all want to hear forecasters’ predictions on how active the 2018 hurricane season is going to be.
And whenever a tropical storm forms in the Atlantic Ocean, they’ll keep a nervous eye on the computers’ predicted hurricane paths. They’ll become fluent on wind speeds and shear, drops in barometric pressure, cones of uncertainty.
They’ll be talking, in other words, about science.
And they’ll be heeding scientists. When the experts say a hurricane is about to make landfall, the governor and other leaders will urge Floridians to take appropriate action: Stay put or evacuate, open shelters, stock up on bottled water, kennel the pets.
But if science is to be trusted when it comes to hurricanes, why is it so hard for state officials in Florida and federal officials in the Trump administration to respect science when it comes to climate change and sea-level rise?
How is it that everyone will accept science whenever it shows that Florida is in danger of getting slammed by a storm, but that many stubbornly refuse to believe in science when it shows that the southern end of the peninsula is on a decades-long course to disappear under water?
This is not just a theoretical question. This is no parlor game. The scientists who have measured the global temperatures, the melting of the world’s great ice sheets and the rising of the oceans are no less worthy of our trust than are the weather experts who will alert us to the next tropical storm.
They’re in the exact same business: reading the data and warning us of imminent danger. The only difference is that the creeping rise of the sea level is far less visible than the ominous spiral of a hurricane.
In fact, the warnings are interrelated. One of the greatest dangers of global warming and rising seas to us will be the increasing intensity of hurricanes as they feed on warmer ocean water. As the sea level gets higher, storm surges will be stronger, more destructive and deadlier.
Climate expert Harold Wanless, chairman of the University of Miami Department of Geological Sciences, says that if Hurricane Irma had remained a Category 5 and hit the east coast of Florida — instead of veering west — our region would have suffered a devastating, transforming blow from a 20-foot surge that would have pounded us for hours.
The destruction would have been “much worse” than Katrina’s hit on New Orleans. South Beach’s famous row of Art Deco hotels, to take one example, would be gone.
As Wanless explains, half the heat generated by greenhouse gases since 1997 has been stored in the ocean. This means that even if we could halt CO2 pollution immediately, the climate would keep heating up for a long time. Since 1995, the sea level has risen 3 inches in Key West. By 2060, it’s predicted to rise another 2 feet — and to shoot even higher, more quickly, after that.
As the Union of Concerned Scientists said last year: “In the future, there may not necessarily be more hurricanes, but there will likely be more intense hurricanes that carry higher wind speeds and more precipitation as a result of global warming. The effects of this trend are likely to be exacerbated by sea-level rise and a growing population along coastlines.”
An overwhelming 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are the primary cause of climate change. But conservative interests have done such a good job of creating a false narrative about divisions in the scientific community that only 42 percent of Republicans “say most scientists believe global warming is occurring,” according to a recent Gallup poll. In contrast, 65 percent of Independents and 86 percent of Democrats understand that the scientific consensus is definitive.
And here we have this conference, 1,600 people gathering for a week of speeches, workshops and conversations on almost every conceivable aspect of hurricane preparation and response — everything but the one factor that threatens the region’s ongoing viability more than any other. There’s not one word in the program about climate change or sea-level rise.
Not one word about how to mitigate the destructiveness of hurricanes, while we may still have time. Actions like building up shoreline with dunes or mangroves to soften the impact of storm surges. Or constructing more resilient buildings to cope with huge waves. Or updating and improving the region’s aging flood-control system.
This is all too predictable when the governor who is the host of this 32nd Annual Governor’s Hurricane Conference is Rick Scott, famous for allegedly banning the words “global warming” and “climate change” from all state correspondence.
But this head-in-the-sand attitude must end. If this annual get-together on preparations for hurricane season shows anything, it is that state, federal, county and municipal officials can work together to address a common threat.
We need the same attitude to cope with the certain threat of sea-level rise. The sea isn’t going to wait for us to get our act together. It’s time to start now.
Sarasota Herald-Tribune says a special session is needed on Florida school security:
Tallahassee, we have a problem.
Actually, we have a lot of problems.
They involve significant parts of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act — specifically the requirements related to security — passed during the Florida Legislature’s 2018 regular session.
In reaction to the shooting massacre that killed 17 students and staff at the high school in Parkland, and the vociferous protests of survivors and other students, the Legislature approved — in relatively fast fashion — the sweeping act.
On many levels, the legislation was well-intended and its provisions were warranted. For instance, the Legislature took overdue steps to enact minimal yet meaningful gun-safety laws — raising the minimum age for purchasing any firearm to 21, banning the sale of bump stocks that maximize the deadliness of semi-automatic rifles and enabling courts to require mentally unstable people to surrender their weapons.
In a pair of reasonable measures, the Legislature also established a mandate for “safe-school officers” to be stationed at all public schools and gave school districts several options for fulfilling the requirement. In most counties, school district leaders and law enforcement officials generally agreed that the best way to provide such security would be to expand the existing school resource officer program. Under that model, certified deputies or police with additional training have been deployed at schools, mainly middle and high.
Yet school boards, county commissions, city councils, sheriffs and police chiefs throughout Florida quickly reached consensus that the Legislature’s $162 million allocation for security statewide would not cover the costs of enhancing the SRO programs.
In Sarasota County, Sheriff Tom Knight offered the School Board an array of options. But the board failed to respond in timely fashion, Superintendent Todd Bowden lost the sheriff’s confidence and a series of text messages between Knight and board member Eric Robinson that were made public led to a kerfuffle. Now, the school district is embarking on a questionable endeavor to create its own police force.
In Manatee, the County Commission agreed to a reasonable proposition — to maintain an existing level of funding for the sheriff to provide SROs — but declined to pay for the additional deputies required.
Similar disputes and breakdowns have occurred throughout Florida.
Not long after the act was passed, Knight questioned whether the law enables sheriffs to spend funds on the additional school security; a recent opinion from the Florida Sheriffs Association reiterates that stance.
So, there are serious questions about funding and the legalities of implementing the act. Plus, it is clear that many of the state’s 67 school districts are going to have an extremely difficult time complying with the implementation deadlines contained in the law.
What to do?
In light of these and other problems, and the fact that the Legislature faced the time constraints inherent in its annual 60-day session, it makes sense for lawmakers to reconvene, in a special session solely dedicated to funding and implementing the school-security act.
The governor can call a special session or the Legislature can convene with the approval of both houses. It’s time to make the call, and to fix the problems.
The Sun Sentinel calls for Congress to reform the current sugar program:
Congress must write a new farm bill this year, so Congress finally can reform the sugar program that enriches a few growers in Florida, but keeps prices artificially high for everyone else.
Today’s program includes price supports, limits on how much each producer can sell and import quotas. A 2016 Congressional Research Service report called it “singular among major agricultural commodity programs.”
Florida and Louisiana dominate the domestic sugarcane market, producing almost 90 percent of the crop. Three-fourths of sugarcane in Florida is grown in Palm Beach County south of Lake Okeechobee, with the rest in neighboring Hendry County. Two companies — West Palm Beach-based Florida Crystals and Clewiston-based U.S. Sugar — dominate production.
Though the government is supposed to operate the sugar program at no cost to taxpayers, that doesn’t always happen. The Department of Agriculture must buy unused sugar — through price support loans — and in 2013 the department lost $280 million.
More important is the cumulative harm from supporting sugarcane and sugar beet producers to such a degree. It begins with higher costs. That Congressional Research Service report included an estimate from the International Trade Commission that just ending import restrictions would have saved American consumers nearly $1.7 billion between 2012 and 2017.
In Florida, the harm also is environmental. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was right last week when he told the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches that development has consumed some of the original Everglades. The biggest threat to what remains, however, is agricultural runoff, most of it from sugar farms.
Though a 1994 law has reduced pollution levels, growers have fought to avoid meeting the standard under which water entering the Everglades would be safe for plants and wildlife. Cutting pollution can be expensive and can take land out of production.
The roughly 700,000-acre Everglades Agricultural Area also disrupts the historic flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. Water must be dumped from Lake Okeechobee to the east and west when the lake gets too high, harming coastal estuaries.
When Senate President Joe Negron, who represents Martin and St. Lucie counties, proposed a southern reservoir, growers pushed back because they might lose land. The Legislature approved the storage area, but it will be less than one-third the size Negron first proposed.
To understand the sugar growers’ influence — and thus the durability of the sugar program — follow the money.
During the 2014 Florida election cycle, U.S. Sugar alone gave $1.5 million to Gov. Rick Scott and other Republicans. In 2016, an analysis by TCPalm showed that Scott had received nearly $1 million from the sugar industry and Sen. Marco Rubio about $500,000. After Rubio announced his 2016 presidential bid, he got a hug from Jose “Pepe” Fanjul, one of two brothers who founded Florida Crystals. Jose Fanjul lobbies Republicans. Alfonso “Alfy” Fanjul lobbies Democrats.
Not one member of the Florida congressional delegation is among the 78 co-sponsors of House Resolution 4265 — the Sugar Policy Modernization Act that is before Congress. It would phase in such changes as lifting limits on domestic production and limiting government liability on loan repayments. Sponsors say it would “bring market forces into the U.S. sugar market and phase out supply-management policies.”
The unique largesse of the sugar program creates a unique alliance of critics — very conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus and very liberal Democrats. Some represent districts that include sugar users, notably the makers of candy, cookies and soda. Others object philosophically to what they consider “crony capitalism.”
During previous attempts to change the program, growers have warned darkly of a “sugar cartel.” Sugar, though, doesn’t carry the national security concerns that oil did in the 1970s. If anything, we need to consume less sugar, not more.
The new argument is jobs. Judy Sanchez, U.S. Sugar’s public affairs director, said the industry employs 12,500 people in Florida. “Any drastic changes to our nation’s sugar policy,” Sanchez said in an email to the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board, “would put these jobs at risk in favor of farming jobs in places like Mexico, where the government owns part of the industry.”
We acknowledge the potential loss of jobs in the Glades, one of the state’s poorer regions. But when U.S. Sugar was prepared to sell all its holdings to the state 10 years ago, the company stressed the potential environmental benefits while the Glades communities panicked over the potential economic damage.
Sentiment may be shifting. U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, who represents many of Negron’s constituents, said last week that he would vote for the Sugar Policy Modernization Act. Still, reform will be tough. The House Agriculture Commission referred the farm bill without any changes to the sugar program.
On balance, though, the evidence supports reform.
Too many of the sugar program’s benefits go to the producers, not the public.