Everglades Foundation's Bogus Stats Unworthy of Florida Audubon
Around the State
You know what they say happens when you repeat a lie often enough.
I don't like to think badly of Florida Audubon, an organization I have long supported. But I also know the power of repetition can turn garbage into a given, and some of the figures Audubon repeated Wednesday morning in an email to its members -- and is using to argue against a bill it doesn't like -- are flat-out, hand-me-the-nosegay wrong.
Audubon calls a sugar-farmers-favored bill to come before the House State Affairs Committee Thursday "an effort to further weaken Everglades cleanup efforts, load more of the expenses on the taxpayers and have the Legislature attempt to nullify an important part of the Constitution."
Sugar farmers, on the other hand, call the still-unnumbered bill "critical legislation needed for Everglades funding." They say their bill actually extends the agriculture privilege tax, due to drop from $25 an acre now to $10 an acre in 2017. Should it pass, farmers would pay a higher tax than under current law, $25 per acre until 2024.
Ashley Cole, an environmentalist friend, asked me how I could have made my mind up already which side is right. "You seem to take the farmers' side," he said, "when so little is known about the legislation and won't be until it gets a full airing Thursday."
True. I haven't seen the bill yet.
But I asked him, how can I believe the team that sits on the sidelines and peddles misinformation? Audubon has to know that's what it's doing. The letter to its members builds its whole case on a worthless Everglades Foundation report trashed six weeks ago for its "gross inaccuracies."
I've seen and studied the 34-page technical evaluation of the Foundation's report. I have to believe the leadership of Audubon did, too. That makes their "distortions of fact" deliberate, and therefore egregious.
Says the Audubon letter, "The small 'Agriculture Privilege Tax' currently paid by (Everglades Agricultural Area) farmers provides only $11 million per year toward the billions of dollars needed for Everglades cleanup."
That is misinformation.
First, where do these "billions" come from? According to an agreement of state and federal officials, the cost of the entire remaining restoration is $880 million.
Second, farmers do pay $11-$13 million a year in special taxes, but they also pay millions per year out-of-pocket to implement "best management practices" (BMPs). It's adherence to the BMPs and working with the stormwater treatment areas, according to South Florida Water Management District data, that have resulted in a 93 percent reduction in phosphorus entering the water conservation areas.
The email also claims the BMPs are "flawed," because they allow farmers to discharge "massive amounts of phosphorus ... sometimes 500, 700 or more than 1,000 ppb when the state water quality standard is on 10 ppb."
Misinformation again, farmers say. "Isolating numbers in one or two parcels of land is an outrageous misstatement of the status of the ecosystem," they claim. The EAA is just a part of the designed system; however, the water quality and restoration goals apply to the entire system.
Today, they say, because of BMPs and farmers paying their fair share of restoration, "water in Everglades National Park is less than 10 ppb. And in areas north of the park clear up to the EAA, water quality goals have been met -- and in many cases exceeded.
According to the South Florida Environmental Report (SFER) just submitted to the governor and Legislature, 2012 marked the 17th consecutive year of BMP compliance and a long-term reduction of 55 percent; a 71 percent reduction in the EAA Basin in 2012.
Eric Draper, executive director of Florida Audubon, said Wednesday, "The first time I saw this bill was 6 o'clock Tuesday night. It changes the way the South Florida Water Management District enforces BMPs. And I only had one evening to study it and get something out to my members."
In his letter Draper called it a "dubious claim" that BMPs are working. BMPs come from Water Management District data. I asked him if he was saying in essence the SFWMD lied.
"No," he said, "I'm not calling them liars. But they can make mistakes. The district is a government agency and I think being a little skeptical of their assertions is healthy."
Draper praised SB 768, the bill proposed by Gov. Rick Scott and the state Department of Environmental Protection to codify in law the cleanup agreement between the state and the Environmental Protection Agency.
In the sugar farmers' response to Draper's letter, Robert Coker, senior vice president of U.S. Sugar Corp., in essence, said that he has little time or respect for Florida Audubon.
“While Audubon is busy filing lawsuits and spreading lies," Coker said, "farmers are on the ground every day, producing food for the nation while also working to improve water quality for the Everglades."
The farmers' "Everglades Improvement and Management" bill -- PCB SAC 13-01 -- is set to be taken up at 9 a.m. Thursday in Morris Hall (17 HOB).
It should get interesting. Particularly, I would think, as reps on the State Affairs Committee are expecting facts, not fabrications or exaggerations or wrong information from a flawed study.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.