Florida’s Lethal Waters

Better than a torrent of words, an unnecessary death can spark new legislation protecting children. Such was the case in Florida of the Ryan White Act, approved by Congress to protect children with HIV/AIDS and Megan’s Law, a Florida law meant to protect children from sex predators. In a perfect world, this would also apply to the tragic death of Courtney Nash, who died as a result of swimming in the polluted St. John’s River. The St. John’s is polluted because Florida legislators– and now the Florida GOP congressional delegation– refuse to allow the federal government to establish rules to fix severe water pollution where the Florida has utterly failed.

My idea to make converts of Republican legislators: compel their children to go swimming in Florida’s polluted waterways. Make them float down the river exactly where Courtney Nash contracted the infection that killed her. Let the mothers and fathers in the state legislature or Congress experience the consequences of pollution they knowingly refuse to stop. Florida legislators aim to cure the state’s ailing economy by killing the federal EPA. A federal judge– upheld by the 11th circuit court of appeals– ruled that EPA had succumbed to the influence of Florida’s polluters. The court compelled EPA to write and enforce pollution standards for Florida’s filthy waterways. In response, Florida Republicans passed legislation to block the EPA. In its own legal analysis, the EPA writes that the proposed legislation would “overturn almost 40 years of of Federal legislation by preventing (the agency) from protecting public health and water quality.” Unless the US Senate stops the bill, it will pass for the president’s signature.

From my point of view, clean fresh water is a right. When polluters contaminate our rivers, streams — like Big Sugar does in the Everglades– with nutrients from fertilizers or any other source, they must pay 100 percent of the clean up costs. Of course their business model is to shift the costs of their pollution to taxpayers to the maximum practical extent, even though in the case of the Everglades the Florida constitution explicitly requires the polluters to pay. Not even close. From my point of view, there should be a law, when lobbyists are caught forcing environmental agencies away from protecting public health, they should be at risk of jail for 10 to 20 years. Lobbyists like Associated Industries of Florida and Barney Bishop, its “Jack-Ass-In-Chief”, who derides citizens who want to protect our quality of life and waters as “radical left-wingers”. It is a classic Karl Rove diversionary tactic and unimaginable that 30 years after the Wise Use Movement dragged the American public through its nonsense, they are at it again.

Then, Florida’s waters were dirty. Today the state’s waters are filthy to the point of deadly. Ask Courtney Nash’s parents how they feel about the difference to their sixteen year old daughter. History is clear. Florida’s polluters succeeded in commandeering the legislature through the decades with pro’s like the late Wade Hopping, “Mr. Big Sugar”, and the whole gang in Tallahassee and in county commissions.

So here is the idea for new legislation: compel the legislators’ children to swim in the St. John’s River, where recently a Courtney Nash recently died from a terrible bacterial infection. According to a Reuters report, the 16 year old was attacked by a microscopic amoeba while she played. The report neglected to amplify that like other forms of toxic algae contaminating Florida’s waters, the amoeba thrives in pollution fed by nutrients. It “… typically enters a swimmer’s nose and invades the brain causing an almost always fatal infection, according to Jonathan Yoder, an epidemiologist at the CDC in Atlanta.”

Since the GOP’s hatred of the EPA is based on a difference of opinion about the risks and costs associated with pollution, my idea is to require a law that requires state legislators to put their children in the same water where Courtney Nash contracted the infection that killed her. These would include State Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda, who opposes the EPA’s proposed numeric nutrient criteria. Kreegel voted for a bill, sponsored by state Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers that eventually died before being voted on by the state senate.

As reported by the Florida Independent, Kreegel opposed tighter standards even though his own district had just endured a nasty bout with a toxic algae bloom on the Caloosahatchee, disrupting the small town of Alva. “Residents there say the bloom was not only noxious, but was killing dogs and making people sick.”

Other Republicans whose children should be forced to swim where Courtney Nash contracted the infection that killed her would include Congressman Cliff Stearns, whose district partly encompasses the St. Johns River, and who initially supported the EPA but recanted and recently chaired a field hearing in Orlando, entitled, “EPA’s Takeover of Florida’s Nutrient Water Quality Standard Setting: Impact on Communities and Job Creation”, and Republican Tom Rooney, hand-maiden to Big Sugar, who proposed H.R. 2018 to prevent EPA from enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida.

Hopefully the US Senate will squash Rooney’s bill. Of course we need a stronger, full funded EPA to fight the polluters of Florida’s waterways and Everglades. In a recent interview, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a friend of Florida Gov. Rick Scott and GOP presidential candidate, said that “he prays for the president to “ask that his EPA back down these regulations that are causing businesses to hesitate to spend money.” What nonsense. Taxpayers may want to know, the agency’s budget comprises .3 percent of monthly federal expenditures. So make their children swim where Courtney did. “They were having fun just like any other kid would out in the water,” her uncle told Reuters. Call it, “The Courtney Nash Act”, so one kid’s life won’t have been in vain.

Alan Farago is conservation chair of Friends of the Everglades. He can be reached at: afarago@bellsouth.net

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