What are you going to do with Florida sugar farmers? First they insist on keeping the land they own. How selfish is that? Then they go and meet annual Everglades pollution reduction requirements when everybody knows they're poisoning the planet.
Now guess what they're doing? You probably heard: Those sons-of-a-seabiscuit are poisoning the air as well. They audaciously told the media Wednesday they're going to control-burn their crops -- even though the Sierra Club told them not to.
They're going to defy Sierra, the Everglades Foundation, Earthjustice, litigation-loving enviros of every description.
What it's going to cost them is a lawsuit. (The Sierras have established a website, stopsugarburning.org.)
Sugar farmers say controlled agricultural burning allows more efficient sugarcane harvesting in the field and improves sugar quality and recovery in the factory. The residue contributes very little to the production of sugar, they say, and has little or no economic value.
What's niggling at the enviros is that they shared their best business advice: Instead of burning, they'll allow cutting away the leafy portions of sugar cane and using it to mulch the fields. Or they'll allow trucking away grassy material to burn as biofuel in processing plants that have more pollution controls. That's fair enough, isn't it?
If the 85-year-old Florida sugar industry was going to listen, it probably wouldn't have called Wednesday's phone press conference.
Barbara Miedema, vice president for the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, says the enviros' advice is plain not do-able: Trucking away sugar cane leftovers to burn at processing plants would lead to more vehicle emissions. And chopping and mulching instead of burning "is just not feasible" on South Florida's muck soils, Miedema told the Sun-Sentinel, because of concerns that the mulching would smother the next crop.
Sugar farmers -- the insolent devils -- choose to listen not to the enviros' business advice, but to the state Departments of Health, Environmental Protection, Agriculture and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, all of which have fairly vigorous burn monitoring programs and none of which claims the air is polluted during the weeks of crop burns, either within the agricultural area or in the cities along the coast.
Which is getting me quickly to the point:
For the $1-plus million since 2003 the Everglades Foundation purportedly has donated to the Sierra Club to make this court "case" happen -- if it's true, and there really is litigation around the corner -- this is going to be as absurdly silly and frivolous a lawsuit as I've ever seen.
In the first place, Sierra representatives are apparently going door to door in the most affected towns, drumming up "sick" people -- asthmatics and lung cases, mostly -- trying to create something they can pass off as a disease cluster. Try to picture it. This approach is no more scientific than Neanderthal Man was when he looked out at the ocean and concluded the Earth is flat.
In the second place, Pat Dobbins, a former medical officer for the Florida DOH in Hendry and Glades counties, told the media Wednesday that Hendry and Glades have the second and third best air quality in Florida -- before, during and after the burns. The health community, she said, is “unanimous in agreeing that cane burning does not pose a threat to the health of the communities near where it occurs” and South Florida’s agricultural areas are “as clean as any other part of the state.”
In the third place, as Judy Sanchez, senior director of communications for U.S. Sugar Corp., said Wednesday, "Complaints (about the burning) have averaged less than two a year."
And finanlly, state and federal governments both use a prescribed burn program to maintain their park systems, preserves, forests and other holdings. It's an important part of managing natural resources.
In the end, the only thing a lawsuit about burning will do is feed more lawyers and further hassle sugar farmers large and small. But if you're a South Florida environmentalist, that's probably objective enough.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith