Two views on water quality

ICYMI, two takes on water quality… John Cassani on getting the facts about water issues, and Rep. Francis Rooney on why it’s important that climate be on your mind when you cast your ballot.

Published in the News-Press Sept. 29, 2020

Climate is on the ballot in Florida this November

Congressman Francis Rooney and Michael Whittaker

As residents of Southwest Florida, we have witnessed the devastating effects environmental mismanagement can have on a tourist-based economy. Clean water, toxic algae blooms, and loss of public lands are just a few of the numerous environmental issues our local community is combating.

Elections matter, which is why Floridians must continue to elect environmental champions to Washington, D.C. Representing Florida’s environmental interests means advocating against dangerous offshore drilling, protecting our water quality, and conserving our public lands like the infamous Everglades. In order to bolster our tourism-driven economy for the future, we must protect what makes Florida beautiful and special. During the last four years in Congress our Florida delegation had been united on these issues.

The environment will be a pressing issue this upcoming election, and conservatives should lead on proposing solutions to our environmental challenges. Contrary to the wishes of Washington politicians, these issues will not be solved by big-government intervention in our everyday lives. Contrary to the Green New Deal, Republicans have the opportunity to promote realistic options like nuclear energy and natural gas, turning to the market to price and sort out costs and demand.  Addressing climate change starts by implementing free-market policies that stimulate innovation and encourage investments by private sector entrepreneurs. The United States is an innovation champion not because of government bureaucracy, but because of our free enterprise system.

We’ve seen the importance of the environment as an election issue here in Florida. Offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has been debated back and forth, so much so that a moratorium on drilling was enacted until 2022. The consensus is clear when it comes to offshore drilling on Florida’s coast. In 2018, an overwhelming 69% of Floridians voted in favor of banning offshore oil and gas drilling. Thanks to the leadership of environmental watchdogs in Florida, President Trump recently issued an executive order extending the offshore drilling moratorium through June 2032. This move would not only protect our water but incentivize businesses to look toward cleaner forms of energy in solar and nuclear. 

People living on the Florida coast understand acutely that any drilling disaster would dramatically impact our way of life and crush our economy. We saw with Deep Water Horizon how even the most remote risk or conjecture of one will drive tourists away.

Furthermore, the Eastern Gulf of Mexico is important for reasons beyond tourism and economics — it hosts the Gulf Military Test Range, a crucial testing ground for U.S. military forces.  Exploration in the Eastern Gulf would undermine our ability to test and develop the latest military technologies. 

Environmental stewardship starts at the local level. Our pristine beaches, diverse wildlife, and blue skies must be preserved for future generations. State, local, and federal officials representing Southwest Florida should continue the path crafted by conservative environmental stewards.

Furthermore, combating climate change does not need to impinge upon the attributes that have made our country so prosperous. We must allow markets to guide our progress and allow the government to intervene only when absolutely necessary. As constituents of Southwest Florida, when we head to the ballot box this fall, we need to remain vigilant and strong to ensure that our principles are upheld and our environment is protected. 

Congressman Rooney has represented Florida’s 19th congressional district since 2017. Michael Whittaker studies political science and Spanish at Florida Gulf Coast University and is an activist with the American Conservation Coalition and part of The Conservation Coalition’s Save the Sunshine State initiative.

Published in the News-Press on October 6, 2020

When it comes to our water quality ‘challenge the messenger’

By John Cassani / Oct. 6, 2020

Florida has always had problems with water pollution during the modern era. This is not surprising considering the historic rate of population growth and landscape conversion to more intensive uses. But, perhaps more alarming is the rate of water quality impairment, which has accelerated to the point where Florida agencies frequently warn the public to avoid the water altogether.

More than 1,700 specific water quality impairments have been verified by FDEP in hundreds of waterbodies or waterbody segments in Florida. Sixty five percent of those water impairments have occurred in just the last eight years. This ominous trend is not being adequately mitigated as intended by the federal Clean Water Act. These landmark protections of our public health and welfare are now a target of special interests opposed to regulation.

The almost incomprehensible degree of the problem has generated an encyclopedia of half-truths and false narratives from government and special interests about the causes. One of the most insidious deceptions deals with the term “natural” as it applies, for example, to red tide or other harmful algal blooms without any context to frequency, duration or severity related to human influence. Outright denial of empirical evidence often underlies popular conclusions about causality.

Recent, peer-reviewed research in the journal Harmful Algae, demonstrates a causal link between nitrogen sourced from upstream of the Franklin Lock on the Caloosahatchee River and Red Tide severity in Charlotte Harbor. Hopefully, this level of science will reduce the false narratives and begin to focus mitigation efforts toward the primary sources of the pollution.

Without adequate science, there will always be the temptation to blame the degradation of our waterways on something other than the actual source of pollution. Regarding adequate science, the refrain “there is never enough science if there is no political will” still applies. As a result, Florida’s water quality dilemmas have evolved, unfortunately, to a form of tribal communication where culture wars have erupted from carefully crafted propaganda by special interests designed to polarize opinions.

This unfortunate situation disparages opposing voices based on length of Florida residency, where you are from, your occupation or political affiliation. The disparate messaging often serves as a distraction from the underlying problem where, in reality, one side benefits and the other side pays.

A more local fabrication I’ve heard is that the fecal bacteria levels in Billy’s Creek in Fort Myers are from the Caloosahatchee River on an incoming tide. A review of the fecal bacteria data in the public record on Billy’s Creek indicate levels, often 30-100 times higher than in the Caloosahatchee River.

Apparently, those espousing these false narratives, whether they represent government, agriculture, tourism or various advocates, think that repeating the deception often enough will eventually make it more believable to those desperately hoping it’s true. Unfortunately, it works.

Please weigh carefully what you read or hear from various sources. Challenge the messenger, ask for documentation and make an informed decision. It’s time to stop letting false rhetoric divide us. We must work together to make meaningful progress for solving Florida’s water dilemmas. The stakes have never been higher.

John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeeper.

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