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Bush and the Everglades

Rebranding Failure as Success

by ALAN FARAGO

So why is the Bush White House advocating for the removal of Everglades National Park from the United Nation’s list of World Heritage Sites in Danger? Orwellian, yes.

According to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, "the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations, meeting in New Zealand, "commended the US for its investment of scientific and financial resources to rehabilite the site’. And x’ed the Everglades from its endangered ecosystem list.

Now hold on, pardner. If there was ever a poster-child for ruined ecosystems, Florida’s Everglades is it. Joe Podgor, of Friends of the Everglades, once said, "The Everglades is a test. If we pass, we get to keep the planet." Well, yes.

We certainly are attentive, now, to issues of "keeping the planet".

But, if you want a prescient estimate of our chances of keeping the planet, consider the damage the building boom of the past decade has done to Florida where the Growth Machine repeatedly advertised, unquestioned by the mass media, its accomplishments as a benefit to society and the economy: cast your eyes on the poor Everglades pinata.

Decades of agitation have not restored the Everglades. What the Everglades demonstrate above all else, in reflection of Joe Podgor’s observation, is that when the United States is confronted with pressure to change economic behavior rooted in the power of corporations, the result is an avalanche of "process" that condemns iniative to a bog as thick and heavy as–well– the Everglades.

One of the core precursor projects in the East Everglades keeps drifting further and further from completion. The price tage for Modified Waters has risen in nearly two decades from just over $100 million to nearly $1 billion. It is meant to balance the needs of an endangered species and also a handful of property owners in the 8.5 Square Mile Area who would not sell their property to the federal government. (A few former county commissioners who opposed the project version that would have subject the entire area to condemnation also owned property in the area.)

In other words, Everglades restoration is either an utter mess or a windfall for land speculators.

A Greenwire story today reports that "the Bush administration had lobbied the international body to remove the Everglades from the list of world-class ecosystems suffering from severe environmental degradation. The Everglades were added to the World Heritage List in 1979 and placed on the danger list in 1993. Todd Willens, Interior’s deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, said in a statement, "Although full implementation of some restoration measures is still a few years off, we have committed significant resources toward the restoration of the Everglades.’"

"We"? OMG. Did Everglades National Park even know that it was being de-listed? We bet, no. We bet that a poll of Everglades National Park scientists of whether to be de-listed or not would be 100 percent against de-listing.

The federal government has manifestly failed its end of the budget agreement to fund Everglades "restoration". But for its part, Congress has rightly questioned whether the State of Florida–under Governor Bush, the state seized the leading role in what was intended, originally, as a 50-50 partnership–is really restoring the Everglades or just providing billions to industrial water supply projects to fuel Florida’s growth.

Everglades National Park is under-funded and at a competitive disadvantage in asserting science policy over restoration rubrics, primarily water supply enhancements for the cities and agriculture.

Would President Bush use the UN’s de-listing of the Everglades as an environmental "achievement" in his legacy speech, when he leaves office? If he does, it won’t be the first piece of misinformation rebranding failure as accomplishment.

ALAN FARAGO of Coral Gables, who writes about the environment and the politics of South Florida, can be reached at alanfarago@yahoo.com.