By John Cassani
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Rep. Matt Caldwell of North Fort Myers are at it again. Their latest political spin poorly camouflages their intent to give a free pass to corporate agriculture with respect to requirements for water pollution cleanup. This is yet another attempt to shift the responsibility for pollution from private enterprise to the public taxpayer by externalizing the cost of regulatory noncompliance.
Ironically, Putnam skillfully claims “We’re all in this together” and it’s “an opportunity to think big and act boldly.” This version of thinking big and acting boldly is a consistent theme with Putnam where he has worked to defer or delay meaningful and verifiable compliance with regulations on corporate agriculture guaranteeing his popularity with the politically powerful agriculture lobby. Unfortunately these actions have contributed to widespread degradation of Florida’s public waters.
This time Rep. Caldwell is sponsoring a Bill (House Bill 7003) that proposed to take away enforceable DEP and Water Management District permit requirements for pollution from agricultural operations in the Lake Okeechobee Watershed and replace it with so called Best Management Practices overseen by the Florida Department of Agriculture that may be legally unenforceable. Timelines for verification or compliance with agricultural BMP’s are vague or missing altogether. A recent amendment to the bill returns some oversight authority to DEP but the net effect still represents little to no reform or additional burden for agriculture to comply with.
Every year for decades Lake Okeechobee receives four to five times more phosphorus pollution than it can assimilate and the Caloosahatchee estuary is sometimes the unfortunate recipient of this additional upstream source of pollution. With water quality impairment now widespread in Florida many legislators have indicated that it is their No. 1 issue for this year’s legislative session yet the influence of the agriculture lobby on some Florida politicians is so overwhelming that they boldly offer such deceptive and counterproductive legislation as a solution to the problem.
The stakes are now higher than ever as Florida’s population skyrockets and thinking big and acting boldly is indeed what is needed but not in politically expedient ways that got us into the problem to begin with. Fair and equitable enforcement of existing Florida rules and statutes is a better start.
John Cassani is chairman of the Southwest Florida Watershed Council and a resident of Alva.