Emails Show Big Sugar’s Influence

By Lucas Daprile
August 30, 2017
TC Palm

South Florida water managers were on the verge of an agricultural pollution crackdown when they scrapped their plans and let a sugar lobbyist dictate edits to a 2015 annual report that paved the way for weaker regulations, emails show.

The South Florida Water Management District changed course immediately after a Dec. 3, 2014, meeting with U.S. Sugar Corp. lobbyist Irene Quincey, eventually halting its planned policy in favor of a plan that takes polluters at their word and holds no one accountable if water quality suffers.

The sugar lobbyist’s influence, which exceeded that of scientists, environmentalists and the general public, affected changes to rules meant to protect Florida waterways from pollutants that feed toxic algae blooms. Critics lament the district’s special treatment for special interests.

 A 2007 state law tasked the district with writing regulations that would use landowners’ existing permits to enforce limits on how much algae-spurring nitrogen and phosphorus farms north, east and west of Lake Okeechobee could release from their properties.

The model was existing regulations for south of the lake, which have reduced phosphorus pollution in the Everglades, scientists say. The backbone would have been hard data that zeros in on the worst polluters and punishes them for noncompliance.

Instead, the sugar lobbyist’s edits helped align the district with the Department of Environmental Protection’s weaker Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), which uses simulated computer models to assess the pollution cleanup progress of large areas. It doesn’t single out any one landowner or set enforceable pollution limits for farms.

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