Posts Tagged ‘Florida Farm Bureau’

Rubio bill would force EPA to adopt state-drafted water rules

Posted on: February 16th, 2012 by The American Independent No Comments

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. (Photo: Facebook)

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., today introduced a bill that would force the EPA to scrap its set of Florida water quality standards and instead accept rules drafted by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The bill is the Senate companion to a measure introduced in the U.S. House in January by Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City.

The numeric nutrient criteria, a set of standards designed to restrict waste in Florida waterways, were initially mandated by the EPA, following a lawsuit bought by environmental groups. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has since drafted its own rules as a lower-cost alternative to the more stringent federal regulations. Environmentalists say the state-drafted rules aren’t strict enough, and prefer that the EPA implement its version.

Though Southerland says his bill would “empower Florida officials, rather than bureaucrats at the EPA” to implement water pollution standards, environmentalists call it a “gift to polluter-lobbyists.”

In a press release, Rubio echoed Southerland, saying that “it’s time the EPA stop bullying us into accepting another Washington-contrived mandate that would devastate job creation. ”

“Florida has one of the most aggressive water quality protection programs in the nation, implemented by the people who know our state best, and it’s time the EPA stop bullying us into accepting another Washington-contrived mandate that would devastate job creation. This legislation simply reaffirms that states and the federal government should be partners in making sure our water is clean, and prevents Washington overreaches from harming our economy,” Rubio said in a press release. “The EPA needs to step back and realize that Florida will not simply stand by as their policies negatively impact Florida’s consumers, agriculture producers, municipalities, small businesses and other job creators.”

Southerland says his bill and Rubio’s would “save up to 14,500 Florida agriculture jobs while building upon the tremendous successes already achieved on the state level to keep our water clean.”

While industry representatives and lawmakers argue that the EPA’s criteria will cost the state both jobs and money, representatives from the agency disagree, arguing that the nutrient criteria will actually “save Florida money in the long run by making implementation faster and easier, thereby preventing future expensive clean-up costs and a decline in Florida’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry that is an engine of job growth in Florida.”

If enacted, the bill would compel the EPA administrator to formally accept the state-drafted rule.

Bills that would pave the way for Florida to implement its own version of the criteria passed both the Florida House and Senate unanimously this month, and were signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott today.

“The future of our state’s environment and economy depend on the health of our water bodies, and the state’s rules will ensure the protection of both,” Scott said in a statement. “The state’s rules are scientifically sound, protect the environment and avoid unnecessary costs for Florida’s households and businesses. Once approved by EPA, they will further enhance the State’s nationally recognized nutrient control programs.”

Rubio’s bill is supported by the Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida League of Cities — all of whom have long been critical of the federally mandated nutrient criteria.

Florida senator reintroduces ‘Ag Gag’ bill

Posted on: December 9th, 2011 by The American Independent 1 Comment

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Nigel Williams)

Florida state Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, has reintroduced legislation to stop animal rights activists from obtaining photographic records of farming operations in Florida.


Petition urging Obama to ‘reign in EPA’s power grab’ endorsed by Associated Industries of Florida

Posted on: October 13th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments
A petition protesting the EPA’s “numeric nutrient criteria,” a set of stringent water pollution standards specific to the state of Florida, has been sent to President Barack Obama, in an attempt to urge him to “reign in the EPA’s power grab and return water quality regulation to state government.” (more…)

Florida agency cites industry numbers when questioned about water rule costs

Posted on: April 5th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

When asked by state lawmakers how much new EPA water quality standards may cost Florida businesses, the Department of Environmental Protection supplied them with numbers written by the very industries that could be affected. In doing so, the department vouched for the statistics as the “most ‘likely’” estimates despite the EPA’s vigorous disagreement, and without indicating the business-affiliated source of the numbers. #

Cost estimates associated with implementing the EPA’s numeric nutrient standards have varied widely. The EPA has said the criteria are likely to cost the state $1 billion over time, while industry representatives say they could cost as much as $10 billion. #

A new examination of internal Florida Department of Environmental Protection emails reveals that the state agency cited those higher industry-derived cost estimates as the “most ‘likely’” when asked for figures by state lawmakers. #

With lawsuits piling up, the number of public officials supporting the criteria seems to be dwindling — likely because many of the cost estimates affiliated with implementing them are enormous. In the wake of an economic disaster and a housing crisis, Floridians are wary to support a billion-dollar project, even if a lack of support means more toxic algal blooms and, with them, fish and dolphin kills. #

In a recent House Memorial (.pdf), members urged the United States Congress to “prevent the EPA from overextending its mandate and to direct the agency not to intrude into Florida’s previously approved clean water program.” #

One likely impetus for the memorial? High cost estimates from the state Department of Environmental Protection: #

EPA-generated annualized cost estimates to achieve the numeric criteria ($130-$150 million) differ dramatically from estimates provided by the Florida Department of Environmental Protections (DEP) ($5.7 – $8.4 billion). One study places the estimates for wastewater utilities alone at between $24 billion and $51 billion in capital costs for additional wastewater treatment facilities and annual operating costs between $4 million and $1 billion to comply with the federal numeric nutrient criteria. #

In late March, House Democratic research assistant Jessica Koburger contacted the department, asking about its cost estimates. The next day, the department’s Environmental Administrator Ken Weaver wrote to his colleagues to discuss the conversation. #

From a Feb. 1, 2011 email obtained through a public records request by The Florida Independent: #

I received a call from Jessica Koburger late yesterday afternoon. Ms. Koburger is a Legislative Research Assistant with the House Democratic Office. She contacted me regarding the estimated cost of implementing EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria. She referenced recent newspaper articles with figures ranging from pennies per day per person (EPA-Guest) to three billion dollars (or more) per year. She wants to know DEP’s estimate of the potential cost. I told her that I was just technical guy and not the best person to discuss the economics. I committed to having someone follow-up with her as soon as possible. #

Hours later, Frank Nearhoof, science coordinator of the department’s Division of Environmental Assessment & Restoration, replied: #

I gave her the estimates out there (ours from last April, one from Cardno-ENTRIX in Nov, and new one from EPA with their final criteria). Told her that Cardno-ENTRIX one is most thorough, since it takes into account uncertainty. That one gives two levels of estimate, one for BMPs & Level of Technology, the other for having to meet numbers at end of pipe. Gives range around each of those. We are currently working with Cardno-ENTRIX (since they have actual, real-life, trained economists on board rather than our make-shift, faux economist (me). I actually felt pretty good when our April estimate fell squarely in the range of theirs (whew!). #

Weaver responded that he, too, had given Koburger the same estimate: “I have to admit that I did cite the Cardno-ENTRIX estimates as the most ‘likely’ to her, but wanted her to get the whole story from our resident faux economist.” #

The Cardo-ENTRIX report (.pdf) was released in November 2010, and prepared for the Florida Water Quality Coalition, a group of industries that would likely be some of the most affected by the criteria. #

James Spratt, the president of the coalition, is also the director of government affairs at the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association. Others on the Board include Ray Hodge, director of government affairs for Southeast Milk, and Staci Braswell, director of government affairs for the Florida Farm Bureau. #

Koburger says that, as a legislative research assistant for the House, her duty was to gather cost estimates and report them to the Democratic members of the House Select Committee on Water Policy. #

“I wanted to give Democratic members of that committee time to really understand what was really going on,” says Koburger. “I didn’t take that specific study and say, ‘This is what its going to cost,’ but I took it and said, ‘This is what the DEP says it will cost.’” #

Koburger says the Department of Environmental Protection did not tell her that the numbers had been generated by an industry-sponsored study. #

“Obviously, I feel that the State of Florida should be correcting its own problems,” says state Rep. Franklin Sands, the ranking Democratic member of the Water Policy committee. ”However, to correct our own problems, we need to have correct information. And some of these estimates seem more like ‘gut feelings.’ If somebody has a gut feeling about whether they should do or not do something, that’s one thing. But you can’t have [a] gut feeling about numeric nutrient criteria. … You need an economist; you need a trained professional. We base our decisions on the information we’ve been given.” #

The House Select Committee on Water Policy was put in place in December by Speaker Dean Cannon, R- Winter Park, as a means of examining state water regulations. The Committee’s Chair, Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, has been vocal in her opposition of the nutrient criteria and is currently sponsoring a bill (.pdf) that would prohibit the implementation of the rules. #

As an attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice, David Guest represented several organizations (including the St. Johns Riverkeeper and The Sierra Club) that sued the EPA over the lack of a strict set of water pollution standards. Their courtroom win led to the proposal of the numeric nutrient criteria by the EPA. #

“Instead of taking the bull by the horns and trying to solve the problem, we have our own DEP making up stories about why that’s impossible because the cost is too high,” Guest says. “I find this to be pretty shocking. The public should be able to trust the state DEP to protect public health instead of being shills for polluting industries.” #

“The government has expressed reservations about this, and I think that Gov. Scott is well advised to have reservations,” says Guest. “If the state abdicates any role in applying the federal standards, it’s not like the standards are going to away. Those standards will be enforced in court by somebody, somewhere. It’s easier for the state to adhere to these rules rather than to engage in spectacularly expensive court proceedings.” #

“Florida is talking about the issue from both sides of its mouth,” Rep. Sands says. “It’s a little bit disingenuous. Those opposed to the criteria say that ‘one size doesn’t fit all.’ But those same people supported the fertilizer bill, which says that ‘one size fits all.’ So which is it — one size fits all or individual rules for waterbodies?” #

Powerful egg seller ordered farm-photo felony bill in Florida

Posted on: March 17th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

According to the Florida Farm Bureau, state Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, drafted his controversial “Farms” bill at the behest of Wilton Simpson of Pasco County, whose Simpson Farms produces 21 million eggs annually for Florida’s second-largest egg seller, Tampa Farm Service, Inc. As currently written, Senate Bill 1246 would make photography “at or of a farm” a first-degree felony. #

Simpson, one of the Farm Bureau’s 140,000 members, suggested some language to Norman, R-Tampa, who filed the legislation without letting the Bureau vet it. #

An uproar ensued, with the animal-rights community charging that the law would curb legitimate animal-welfare investigations in an already under-regulated and rarely exposed facet of industrial agriculture operations and law experts claiming that imposing such measures would be a violation of rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. #

In addition, much has been made of the potential for both law enforcement and hobbyist photographers to be charged as felons, facing up to 30 years in prison alongside those found guilty of murder and armed robbery. #

Via The Tampa Tribue: #

“This farm bill is going national,” [Norman] said. “I’m being bombarded by PETA.” #

Norman, R-Tampa, said he drafted … the bill at the request of Wilton Simpson, a prominent Dade City egg farmer and president of the Pasco County Fair Association. #

The bill would make it a felony for anyone to film or photograph farm activities without the farm owner’s written consent. Norman said it’s targeted at animal activists who gain employment at farms to make undercover videos to post to the Internet. #

“It’s been a problem nationally,” he said. “I’m talking about an assault on the agriculture industry.” #

Last October, Wilton Simpson was one of a handful of potential candidates interviewed by the Republican Party of Florida to replace Jim Norman on the ballot for District 12, had a court ruling against the former Hillsborough County Commissioner for failing to disclose a $500,000 gift to his wife not been overturned just days before the election. #

Similar legislation is currently pending in Iowa, where a bill introduced by Rep. Annette Sweeney, a rancher herself, aims to prohibit individuals or groups from “interfering with an animal facility or crop operation.” The language defines distributing audio or visual recordings as interference, with first offenses charged as aggravated misdemeanor and any subsequent convictions carrying felony status. #

The Associated Press reports: #

Doug Farquhar, program director for environmental health at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said Iowa would be the first state to approve such restrictions but Florida is considering similar legislation. The Iowa measure was introduced after a number of group released videos showing cows being shocked, pigs beaten and chicks ground up alive. #

“It’s very transparent what agribusiness is attempting to do here,” said Bradley Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association, a California-based group dedicated to protecting farm animals from abuse. “They’re trying to intimidate whistleblowers and put a chill on legitimate anti-cruelty investigations. Clearly the industry feels that it has something to hide or it wouldn’t be going to these extreme and absurd lengths.” #

“Whistleblowers play an important role in our society — exposing waste, fraud and abuse not just in agribusiness but in any industry,” Humane Society of the United States spokesman Paul Shapiro told The Florida Independent last week. ”Agribusiness is notoriously secretive because many of its standard industry practices are so extreme, so cruel, that they are out of step with what mainstream American values would demand of our treatment of animals.” #

As reported by The Iowa Independent: #

Whistleblowers, often affiliated with animal rights organizations, have often gone undercover at agricultural operations throughout the nation. Their reports, which are often in video format, have documented serious abuses and, many times, have prompted state and federal officials to further investigate the facility or plant. #

For example, years before the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville hit the national radar in 2008 in connection with immigration abuses, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals placed undercover investigators in the plant. In 2004, PETA released an extremely graphic video that depicted several botched slaughters. It was that video  and the subsequent public outcry that prompted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency’s findings noted repeated violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act — many completed in front of federal inspectors. #

Several of Iowa’s largest egg producers had also been the target of numerous exposés by the Humane Society of the United States in early 2010, only months before the USDA issued the largest egg recall in U.S. history due to salmonella: #

More recently, in April 2010, a video from Rose Acre Farms and Rembrandt Enterprises, two Iowa egg producers, was released as the end result of an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States. Only weeks later two different Iowa egg producers voluntarily recalled millions of eggs linked to salmonella outbreaks. #

The group argues that the “egregious animal cruelty” that they uncovered is what has prompted Iowa’s agribusiness industry to push for this specific bill. #

Proponents of Norman’s bill, such as the Farm Bureau, argue that animal-advocacy groups want to put them out of business, and will manipulate images covertly taken from agricultural operations to meet that end. They also point out that a single instance of undercover footage allegedly showing animal abuse or harsh living conditions can impact an entire industry — forcing consumers to cope with higher prices. #

“The last thing a farmer wants to do is to do something that will create any type of recall,” said Ben Parks of the Florida Farm Bureau in an interview last week. “We’re very careful with what we do here in Florida, because we know just one allegation can devastate an industry. When they had a tomato scare a year or two ago, it devastated the whole tomato industry.  So allegations can be devastating to a farmer or rancher. #

“The activities of PETA over the years, from our perspective, have been horrible,” he added. “How they pictured us as terrible farmers and ranchers. Because we might have one or two that don’t follow the rules, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the farming/ranching community is that way at all. But they’ve painted us all as being that way.” #

Norman’s office has refused to return messages seeking comment for a second straight week. The Farm Bureau is currently involved with the process of rewriting his bill, which is scheduled for review in a meeting of the Agriculture Committee on Monday. #

Florida Farm Bureau revising farm-photo felony bill

Posted on: March 11th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

A controversial Senate bill currently under review in Tallahassee will be revised, according to a spokesman for the Florida Farm Bureau. #

State Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, introduced S.B. 1246 to the Senate on Tuesday. As written, it would make it a first-degree felony to photograph farming activities in the state. Norman, whose office has yet to respond to requests seeking comment, recently claimed the bill is geared towards protecting the “intellectual property rights” of farmers, noting that the legislation would prevent individuals from misrepresenting themselves to obtain images of farming activities. #

Ben Parks, director of state legislative affairs for the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, agrees that the bill will help farmers keep their competitive edge, but says the main thrust is to deter animal-rights activists from obtaining imagery used to harm the industry. #

“Farmers are in completion with other farmers, but it’s those PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] groups that come in and make these outrageous statements about how bad farming is,” he says, “We’ve read about the statements about what they’ve done in the past and so we’re trying to prevent them from disrupting our operations.” #

“A concern of many of our farmers and ranchers are the extremist groups that intentionally and maliciously want to come on a farm and try to shed bad light on a farming operation,” he says. “They might take pictures of animals in different positions so it looks like they might be being hurt or whatever it might be, and we’ve heard in many cases from what’s happened out west and in other places, so we want to get ahead of the curve before they hit here in Florida and try to do the same thing.” #

The Florida Farm Bureau, whose mission is “to increase the net income of farmers and ranchers, and to improve the quality of rural life,” boasts a membership of about 140,000 and was one of several agriculture entities to donate to Norman’s bid for office. Parks says his organization was not involved with crafting the original bill. #

“We weren’t involved. One of our members suggested some language to Sen. Norman,” he says. “We had seen it briefly and were going to be working on it and then it was filed. We probably would not have filed it the way it was. It should have had some more work on it.” #

Much focus has been paid to the current language of the bill, which would make aerial photography or pictures taken from a public road a felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Parks says that the intent of the photographer is what matters. #

“Yes, there are sections that need to be changed, and we’re in the process of doing that,” he says. “It’s mainly that person that trespasses with the intent, knowingly, that wants to either disrupt a farming operation or shed bad light on it, that’s the intent. … It’s not written exactly how we’d like it.” #

As for penalties for whistleblowers caught recording images on farms, Parks says that portion is undergoing revision. Asked if a first-degree felony is an extreme sentence, Parks agrees. #

“It is harsh,” he says. “As I said, we’re revising the whole thing. We would have done things differently with the bill. It’s getting a lot of play and we’re working on it.” #

Florida, Congress scrutinize EPA water quality guidelines

Posted on: February 11th, 2011 by Eartha Jane Melzer 1 Comment

After challenging businesses across the country to submit some of their biggest regulatory gripes, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, received responses from companies large and small. Among them: Florida business and business lobby groups that are strongly opposed to new EPA water quality rules. #

In a press release, Issa called his project “an opportunity for private industry to put forward detailed and specific examples so that both the American people and policymakers can determine for themselves what actions can be taken to create jobs.” #

In total, 220 companies wrote (.pdf) to Issa, explaining regulatory impediments to financial success. Some, like Florida fishing captain Steve Papen, run small operations, while others, like the Agricultural Retailers Association, are heavy-hitters. #

In an interview with Roll Call, Papen said he was critical of the state’s strict fishing regulations, which have recently included banning certain species of grouper and snapper from area nets. In his comment to Issa, Papen called the regulations “outdated” and “out of control,” and said that he felt he was being “exploited on every level.” #

Also at the top of the list? One of the most oft-criticized regulatory agencies in the country: the EPA. #

Associated Industries of Florida, the Agricultural Retailers Association and the Florida Farm Bureau all complained about the EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria, which would place strict restrictions on effluent dumped in Florida waterways. In their complaints, Associated Industries and the Florida Farm Bureau said that the criteria were sure to “stymie job growth in Florida.” #

All three groups have blasted the criteria in the past, arguing that they are too costly and not based on sound science. In a January letter criticizing the rules, Associated Industries estimated costs of implementing the standards to be upwards of $3 billion. Their source? A study funded by several polluting agencies. #

Industry representatives aren’t the only ones lashing out at the standards. During a Thursday meeting of the state House Select Committee on Water Policy, several Florida representatives expressed their concerns with the standards. #

State Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Palatka, said federal standards were an impediment to cleaner Florida waterways, and directed comments to the environmental groups responsible for the lawsuit that forced the EPA to implement standards. #

In comments directed at Sierra Club lobbyist David Cullen, Van Zant said, “If things have gotten worse it is because your lawsuit has blocked us from implementing our standards.” #

In an article in the Florida Tribune, state Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, who chairs the committee, was quoted as saying that the standards would be next to impossible to implement. “There are some criteria that you just can’t meet,” she said. “Even in the Everglades that are beautiful and pristine, the criteria that they want is less than what is naturally occurring there.” #