Heaven and Hell in the Everglades

Clunk. That was the sound last week when a report on the Everglades by the National Research Council (NRC) hit the desk of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Of course, I’ve never seen the governor’s desk. I write from the other side of the castle keep and pole axes, outside the moat.

But I have good company in the dreaming department.

Reports that the governor’s office dismissed recommendations of the nation’s top science advisers don’t fit reality, either.

The NRC bases its work on empirical evidence, a good thing, because if it were left to the state, Re-Engineering Water Storage in the Everglades: Risks and Opportunities would never have seen the light of day.

The NRC concludes the most urgent task of that contingency plan is to protect sufficient lands from irreversible development now.

Its key point is that options for water storage — mainly the multibillion-dollar gamble on aquifer storage and recovery wells (ASR) — are so rife with uncertainty that there is an immediate need for government to regroup around the single option we know works: more wetlands, on the order of several hundred thousand acres.

The NRC slices and dices ASR a thousand ways, but it still comes a cropper.

ASR represents nearly three-quarters of the new water promised from the Everglades restoration project, but it will take a decade or more to know whether ASR will even work. In the meantime, the only feasible contingency, using the sugar fields in the Everglades Agricultural Area for surface water storage, could be lost — I note, will be lost — to bulldozers, builder associations and campaign contributions.

I mean, this is Florida, right? And sugar is the equal opportunity exploiter of political parties par excellence.

So, instead of tearing my hair out — I actually don’t have much hair left to tear out — I am going to put in plain view some stuff the NRC won’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

Sugar will never have better friends in the White House or Congress or in the Florida Legislature.

But the Republican majority can’t support corporate welfare for the nation’s richest farmers forever.

With new federal dietary guidelines highlighting the fat role sugar plays in unhealthy lives, with Castro falling down steps and giving lift to dreams of soon growing sugar where the federal Environmental Protection Agency or county commission does not roost, sugar knows that change is on the way.

How smart is sugar? It foisted on taxpayers an expanding share of costs to clean up its pollution of the Everglades. It manipulated U.S. farm policy to keep the lid on impoverished Caribbean nations that produce sugar at a far lower cost. It dropped lawsuits like tips at a capitol bar.

Luck is way blinder than justice.

Give credit to the Federal Reserve and years of low interest rates that turned land where owners had grown wealthy into the hottest speculative real-estate market in the world. And sugar didn’t lift a finger to do it.

So what do you do when you are holding the only trifecta ticket in town? You cash in.

But here is the catch: The instant the first permit to convert sugar land in the EAA to housing tracts is approved, any leverage by the government and any hope for the Everglades is lost. Forever.

Doesn’t matter how sugar dresses up its first permit application — what glitter and sequins are sown on its sleeves — the Everglades gets saved one way only: if the future of the entire Everglades Agricultural Area is dealt with, as a whole, right now.

Does Bush have the constitution to stand up to sugar? Does he have the guts to bond out the purchase of EAA lands above and beyond the largest state land-buying program in the nation? Will his administration refuse to approve any development permits until a fully funded plan is in place to buy out property owners and create the surface water storage equivalent to what is dreamt in the idiotic plan to drill out Florida’s aquifers?

None of these questions is raised in the NRC report, of course.

But the NRC does note that in the early 1990s, the annual value of crops grown in the EAA was in the neighborhood of $640 million. Put that number next to the $12 billion U.S. taxpayers are forking over to fund a restoration plan that is designed to save a crop that is uneconomic and unsustainable and whose political blowback has done more harm to common sense than it has to all to all the birds that once existed in the Everglades.

So there you have it, that clunk the NRC report made on the desk of Bush ripped straight through taxpayer pockets.

Chances are if the governor ignores the NRC report, Everglades restoration will turn into the most innovative scheme for profiteering since buccaneers in the Florida Keys lured shipwrecks to the reef by setting out lights on the shoals to convey a safe way home.

On the other hand, if Bush carefully reads the NRC report and acts according to empirical evidence, he will earn more kudos, medals and parades than science can account for.

But there is no in-between in the heaven and hell of the Everglades.

From the angels in heaven, there will only be jeers if piecemeal permitting of the Everglades Agricultural Area is allowed to occur.

ALAN FARAGO, a writer on the environment and politics, can be reached at alanfarago@yahoo.com.

He wrote this commentary for the Orlando Sentinel. The NRC report is available online at http://www.nationalacademies.

More articles by:

Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at afarago@bellsouth.net

July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
Patrick Cockburn
Is ISIS About to Lose Its Last Stronghold in Syria?
Joseph Grosso
The Invisible Class: Workers in America
Kim Ives
Haiti’s Popular Uprising Calls for President Jovenel Moïse’s Removal
John Carroll Md
Dispatch From Haiti: Trump and Breastfeeding
Alycee Lane
On Heat Waves and Climate Resistance
Ed Meek
Dershowitz the Sophist
Howard Lisnoff
Liberal Massachusetts and Recreational Marijuana
Ike Nahem
Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle
Olivia Alperstein
Kavanaugh and the Supremes: It’s About Much More Than Abortion
Manuel E. Yepe
Korea After the Handshake
Robert Kosuth
Militarized Nationalism: Pernicious and Pervasive
Binoy Kampmark
Soft Brexits and Hard Realities: The Tory Revolt
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Localization: a Strategic Alternative to Globalized Authoritarianism
Kevin Zeese - Nils McCune
Correcting The Record: What Is Really Happening In Nicaragua?
Chris Wright
The American Oligarchy: A Review
Kweli Nzito
Imperial Gangster Nations: Peddling “Democracy” and Other Goodies to the Untutored