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Florida editorial roundup

August 22, 2018

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Aug. 18

South Florida Sun Sentinel on Gov. Rick Scott’s response to Hurricane Irma:

Gov. Rick Scott’s net worth is almost $250 million. Yet as he campaigns for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Bill Nelson, Scott describes himself in everyman terms. “I’ll return your phone calls,” he told supporters at a rally last month.

If that pledge sounds familiar, it should. We heard it from Scott before Hurricane Irma. The governor gave out his cell phone number and promised a quick response.

Yet no help came when the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills called. Irma had knocked out the nursing home’s power. Without air conditioning, temperatures were rising. Twelve patients died. The governor’s staff blames the nursing home.

Favorable first impressions last fall of his response before and after Irma helped Scott as he prepared to challenge Nelson. We noted at the time that the governor “quickly visited hardest-hit areas to focus relief efforts and share information.” At times, we said, Scott “presented not only as a leader, but a likable leader.”

Since then, however, it has become clear that the governor didn’t perform very well. Though he still deserves points for raising awareness, Scott didn’t do nearly as well as Lawton Chiles after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 or Jeb Bush during the bad 2004 and 2005 storm seasons.

One of Scott’s biggest flaws was trying to control the flow of information. Scott insisted on delivering the twice-daily briefings. Similarly, he would like to control the narrative about his performance. But the record is undercutting that attempt.

Let’s start with calls to that cell phone. Scott’s office deleted them. A spokeswoman claimed that the action was legal because the calls involved “transitory” information and thus did not need to be retained. “Each voicemail,” she said, “was collected by the governor’s staff and given to the proper agency for handling. Every call was returned.”

Because of the deletion, however, there’s no way for the public to verify those claims, especially with regard to the nursing home. “Just because they could delete (the voicemails) doesn’t mean they should delete them,” said First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen. “These were important; people died.”

Then there is Scott’s action on contracts for debris removal in Monroe County, where Irma made landfall. WFOR-Channel 4 reported that the governor ignored existing contracts and gave the work to a pair of other vendors. One original contract paid $32 per mile of work clearing debris. The Scott administration contract paid $913 per mile. The original contract paid $75 for removal of each appliance. Scott’s contract paid $969.

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Then last fall, the Department of Children and Families botched the distribution of Irma food benefits because the response overwhelmed Scott’s people.

Finally, Scott chose as the state’s emergency management director a former campaign aide who has just two years of relevant experience.

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Online: http://www.sun-sentinel.com

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Aug. 20

Ocala Star-Banner on red tide:

If history repeats itself, the red tide plaguing a large swath of the inshore Gulf coast will eventually go away. The dead fish and other marine life that succumbed to the harmful algae will be removed from beaches and basins. The respiratory irritation experienced by humans will subside.

And legions of Floridians will forget the anger and dismay they now feel while viewing photographs and watching video of the impacts of red tide.

It happened after the 2005-06 red tide, one of the worst in Florida’s recorded history, that resulted in a “dead zone” the size of Rhode Island on the Gulf bottom and caused massive losses of fish and marine mammals.

It happened after a two-year episode, from 1994 to 1996, and following the 1953-54 red tide that was, at the time, the longest on record.

As the blooms faded, so did the negative environmental and economic impacts that generated public outcry.

That’s not to say steps aimed at reducing the intensification of red tide, a naturally occurring phenomenon, haven’t been taken for the past three decades. They have occurred, and outbreaks have sometimes provided the impetus for incremental action.

But Florida continues to lack a science-based, fully funded plan for controlling pollution — from human-made nutrients — that, according to the scientific consensus, can fuel the inshore growth of microscopic red tide organisms that originally develop 10 to 40 miles offshore — not to mention its inland rivers and springs with their own algae problems.

One problem is that, in general, when red tide is out of sight (and out of smelling distance), it is out of the public’s mind and, thus, not a political priority.

Another challenge is the complexity of the matter. There are different species of red tide algae; the bloom currently affecting the west coast is known as K. brevis, or Florida red tide. The vastness of the Gulf, the length of Florida’s coastline and the diversity of conditions on the mainland make it difficult to reach sweeping conclusions about causes and effects.

According to Sarasota-based Mote Marine Laboratory: “In contrast to the many red tide species that are fueled by nutrient pollution associated with urban or agricultural runoff, there is no direct link between nutrient pollution and the frequency or severity of red tides caused by K. brevis.”

Not everyone in the scientific community agrees with the assertion that there is “no direct link.” That said, Mote communications embrace the scientific consensus with this conclusion: “However, once red tides are transported inshore, they are capable of using man-made nutrients for their growth.”

Pictures of bright-green, algae-laden water released from Lake Okeechobee toward the west and east coasts have fueled public outrage and reinforced the widely held belief that red tide outbreaks are being lengthened and intensified by pollution from development, septic tanks and agriculture north of Lake Okeechobee.

Regardless of red tide, this pollution should be dramatically reduced and water management practices dramatically overhauled. Doing so will take money and commitment.

Could outrage over red tide force Floridians and their leaders to take pollution seriously? Perhaps but, as history has shown, only if it is sustained — after the red tide goes away.

Online: http://www.ocala.com

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Aug. 21

The Gainesville Sun on former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottcamp’s recent comments about the 2010 BP oil spill:

Even in an era of “alternative facts” when “truth isn’t truth,” former Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottcamp’s false claim about the 2010 BP oil spill was shocking.

The spill “didn’t even reach the shores of Florida,” Kottcamp recently told a room full of reporters in Tallahassee, the Florida Phoenix news site reported. Kottcamp, who co-chairs a new group that seeks expanded offshore oil exploration, also said that “tarballs are naturally occurring.”

Those who lived through the 152-day BP oil spill, especially residents and owners of businesses on Florida’s Panhandle, know the truth. They saw the spill cause pellets of oil to wash up for miles on Pensacola’s beaches and elsewhere, requiring workers to shovel up the mess for months on end and devastating the tourism industry there.

Kottcamp’s group, Explore Offshore Florida, is counting on the public to forget or doubt that experience. Backed by the American Petroleum Institute and Florida Petroleum Council, the group is pushing to allow oil and gas drilling closer to Florida’s coast.

They frame their cause as only seeking to allow oil exploration rather than drilling, as if one wouldn’t likely lead to the other. They downplay the risks to Florida’s natural environment and economy, despite residents seeing them firsthand in 2010.

For newcomers or residents with short memories, the ongoing crisis involving red tide and blue-green algae blooms in South Florida demonstrates the need to better protect our state’s environment. It also shows the need to be dubious when Florida politicians, current or former, tell the public not to worry about environmental threats.

In January, the Trump administration announced plans to open previously protected parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas drilling. But Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke flew to Tallahassee to announce that Florida was exempt, paying a political favor to Gov. Rick Scott by helping his bid to be elected to the U.S. Senate.

Scott supported expanded offshore oil drilling when he first ran for office in 2010 but, as with other environmental issues, he’s changed his position to score political points. He has major personal investments in energy companies and his political action committee has received at least $880,000 in contributions from oil, gas and energy executives, as the Tampa Bay Times reported, so one wonder whether Scott will maintain his newfound opposition to drilling.

A healthy dose of skepticism is necessary given Scott’s ties to President Donald Trump, whose administration has promoted fossil-fuel use as it rolls back environmental regulations. Whether through expanding oil drilling, freezing fuel-economy standards for vehicles or scrapping regulations of coal-fired power plants, Trump and his allies are taking actions that increase the carbon emissions that cause climate change.

Even as the costs of solar power and other renewable energy have declined, fossil-fuel executives are trying to maintain public support for dirty energy sources. Don’t buy it when Kottcamp and other oil-industry advocates spew alternative facts about the drilling that has already befouled Florida’s environment and shouldn’t be allowed to do so again.

Online: https://www.gainesville.com

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