Written by Linda Young, Director, Clean Water Network of Florida Thursday, 17 June 2010 22:02
As director of a statewide environmental organization that works to keep our beaches clean and safe and the founder of Gulf Coast Environmental Defense, a panhandle group opposed to opening the eastern Gulf of Mexico to new drilling, I have spent the past 23 years working to avoid the nightmare that is now unfolding all around me.
Watching Morning Joe on MSNBC this morning, I listened to Governor Crist say that our beaches and shorelines are the best booms that we have to catch the sticky, toxic oil that is slowly creeping into Florida. The same statement was attributed to his Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Mike Sole in a Gannett newspaper last weekend. I admit that even after 23 years of dealing with bureaucrats who care little about our waters, I was horrified to hear our governor say these words.
Since 1993, Florida has been in a steady downward slide in search of the bottom rung on the ladder of environmental protection. We may have finally arrived with our pathetic response to the life-sucking disaster that encroaches deeper by the moment into our state waters. Years of environmental compromise for the sake of political expediency have incrementally desensitized our sunshine and blue-water culture. The media, local governments and many business owners have quietly watched, sometimes given a nod and even when necessary cheered in unison with the polluters as they have systematically dismantled our environmental safeguards. Today, we are witnessing an environmentally dysfunctional and detached state bureaucracy that can do little more than make excuses to the public out of one side of their mouths, while they quickly secure cushy contracts for their polluter-connected political buddies. Meanwhile, dead turtles, dolphins, pelicans and fish take their last oily breaths and slowly drift through the endless sea of despair.
No, this is not a cheery synopsis. I’m not here to beg anyone to come to the beach where I live and grew up, in order to help the local economy. I’m here to say the same thing I said last month in May, standing before the Florida DEP and the Environmental Regulation Commission (ERC) in Tallahassee. We must stop using the Gulf of Mexico as a political bargaining chit.
DEP was there to seek final permission from the ERC to weaken water quality standards, in order to accommodate a deliberate 50 million gallon-per-day toxic discharge into the Gulf of Mexico. The new estimates of the amount of oil coming from BP’s blow-out disaster come to 20,000 to 40,000 barrels per day, which could mean just under 2 million gallons per day. Multiply that worse case scenario by 25 and that is what DEP thinks we should accept into the Big Bend Aquatic Seagrass Preserve, an important fishery, from the Buckeye pulp mill. While crude oil pours from BP’s destroyed rig, Buckeye wants permission to dump industrial waste that is also chronically toxic and loaded with sludge, oils and grease, dioxin, and a whole host of life-destroying pollutants.
How did we arrive on the shores of America’s playground, where our Governor characterizes our beaches as the perfect oil-booms and our environmental regulators legitimize mass destruction of important near-shore fisheries? If this is the death of common sense and decency, then it came by way of a thousand cuts. We the people, the voters, the taxpayers of Florida elect these self-serving politicians who allow their polluter friends to externalize the cost of containing their waste. It is passed on to us, and some days we barely notice the debt that is accruing in our names. But one morning we wake up and the piper is at the door, demanding payment for our acquiescence.
Governor Crist, Attorney General McCollum, DEP Secretary Mike Sole and others that should be trustworthy have handed over important responsibilities for protecting Florida’s shores to a handful of BP and oil industry cronies. Jim Smith, a former BP lobbyist, is leading our legal team. Our counties are being directed to adopt oil-protection plans developed by WRSCompass, a company whose CEO is the former chief-of-staff to Dick Cheney (formerly with Halliburton). WRSCompass, according to the Destin Log newspaper, is helping BP get charter boats under contract and has worked for BP in previous years. WRSCompass even earned BP’s Diamond Safety Award. I can only wonder how it is possible to win a safety award from BP.
The citizens of Florida should not accept another day of political expediency, externalized costs or fluffy protection from our state officials. We are not helpless turtles that are forced to gulp oil into our lungs and sink to the bottom. Our leaders may be focused on the bottom rung of environmental protection, but we do not have to go there with them. Now is the time to say no. The cost of complacency is too high and we will no longer pay your piper!
Linda Young is the Director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, a coalition of more than 300 groups that are committed to full implementation, enforcement and strengthening of the Clean Water Act and other safeguards of our water resources.
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