US House passes Water Resources Development Act; makes changes to SWFL water management, Lake O

US_Capitol_west_side 3-2-19

July 31, 2020 by David Silverberg

On Wednesday, July 29, the US House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), House Resolution 7575, by a voice vote.

A version of the bill having already been passed by the Senate, the bill now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature into law. Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) was a co-sponsor of the original bill.

The massive bill, which authorizes all water-related projects in the United States, has several sections directly related to Southwest Florida. (For earlier coverage of WRDA, see: “We tested SWFL candidates on their knowledge of a vital congressional issue. Here are the results.”)

In summary, the bill makes reforms to address problems raised by harmful algal blooms of the sort that plagued the area in 2018. At the time there were gaps in understanding and coordination among federal and state agencies; this bill addresses those.

It also tries to minimize the water releases from Lake Okeechobee (Lake O) that have been widely blamed for cyanobacteria blooms.

Lastly, it tries to speed work on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

In particular:

  • The bill orders a study of harmful algal blooms, which have plagued Southwest Florida and were particularly severe in 2018. This will be a demonstration program to study their causes, detection, treatment and prevention. Lake Okeechobee will be a particular focus along with the Great Lakes, New Jersey, Louisiana and California.
  • Projects related to CERP have been dragging on for many years. The bill orders their expedited completion, in particular feasibility studies for the C-43 reservoir. If the Secretary of the Interior determines that a project is justified, he can proceed directly to preconstruction planning, engineering and design. In addition to CERP, the bill expedites projects in Arizona, California and another South Florida project, the C-111 canal, in southern Dade County. It also makes changes to earlier WRDAs to authorize a proposed reservoir south of the Everglades Agricultural Area.
  • When it comes to regulating water releases from Lake Okeechobee, the federal government will finally take into account levels of cyanobacteria and “evaluate the implications” of stopping the releases and “seek to minimize unnecessary releases to coastal estuaries”—which in the case of Southwest Florida means the Caloosahatchee River. The Department of Interior will also coordinate the efforts of federal and state agencies responsible for “monitoring, forecasting, and notification of cyanobacteria levels in Lake Okeechobee.”
  • In addition to minimizing potentially algae-blooming water releases, the Secretary of the Interior is now required to issue a monthly public report about the volumes and statistics of Lake O water releases.

Despite its other changes, the bill is careful to ensure that nothing changes from the current situation around the lake—known as the “savings clause.” As the bill puts it: “nothing shall be construed to authorize any new purpose for the management of Lake Okeechobee or authorize the Secretary to affect any existing authorized purpose, including flood protection and management of Lake Okeechobee to provide water supply for all authorized users.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

The White Walkers of Southwest Florida: Surveying the Republican policy platforms

07-29-20 WW SWFLThe White Walkers from Game of Thrones.      (Image: HBO)

July 30, 2020 by David Silverberg

Anyone who remembers HBO’s Game of Thrones remembers the White Walkers—the undead, unthinking zombies who marched mindlessly against the living, animated by the will of a single leader, the Night King.

No spoiler here—when the Night King was destroyed, so were all the White Walkers since none of them had minds of their own.

Now the White Walkers are in Southwest Florida—and nine of them are running for the Republican congressional nomination in the 19th Congressional District.

Something else that applies from Game of Thrones: the warning refrain “winter is coming.” Well, winter is coming to tropical Southwest Florida too.

Kneeling before Zod

Rick Wilson is a veteran Republican operative who claims to be “one of the handful of people your candidate or SuperPAC calls when it’s time to drop the big, nasty negative ads.” He’s managed numerous campaigns at a variety of levels. He makes no bones that he’ll do whatever it takes to win elections and he’s had plenty of victories. He’s smart, dangerous and wickedly witty.

He also loathes Donald Trump.

Wilson sees Trump’s cult as something different from the traditional Republicanism that he served and promoted.

Why? Because, he writes, “Trump’s Troll Party puts wild-eyed nationalist, anti-establishment ranting before the tenets of our constitutional Republic.” He continues: “All you have to do to stay in the good graces of this new political force is to swear Trump is always right. All you have to do is loathe with the fire of a million suns anyone who levies the slightest criticism of Trump. You must compromise everything you believe to praise and placate him. He is President for Life. Kneel before Zod.”

That’s from Wilson’s book, Everything Trump Touches Dies. It’s also what led Wilson to be one of the founders of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project.

As it happens, Wilson lives in Tampa. If he wanted proof of his thesis, he need go no further down the coast than the 19th Congressional District, where the entire thrust of the Republican primary race from Cape Coral to Marco Island has been for each candidate to outdo the other in his or her protestations of loyalty, fealty and obedience to Donald Trump.

Darren Aquino is “a real supporter of President Trump,” Byron Donalds is “incredibly proud to stand with President Trump,” Casey Askar will “always have the president’s back,” Dane Eagle is “a pro-Trump conservative,” William Figlesthaler will “will fully support President Trump and his America First agenda,” Randy Henderson will be “an ally to President Trump.” Daniel Kowal, will “stand with President Trump,” Christy McLaughlin will “lend unwavering support to President Trump,” Dan Severson wants to be “the Wingman Donald Trump deserves.”

In addition to their personal subservience to Donald Trump, all the candidates adhere to the Trumpist gospel of closed borders, gun ownership, denial of a woman’s right to choose, paranoid detestation of Democrats and immigrants and hatred of RINOs (Republicans In Name Only—i.e., any non-Trump Republican).

To go through the policy positions and propaganda of the nine Republican candidates for Congress in Southwest Florida is to tour an intellectual landscape so barren and arid that no idea can survive there.

They’re all ready to fight for Trump and the Trump agenda once they get to Congress in 2021.

But what happens if there’s no President Trump in 2021?

Will these White Walkers just collapse in a heap like their fictional counterparts when the Night King was destroyed? And worse, if one of them is elected and has no leader, will he or she have any notion what to do in the US Congress?

As noted in a previous post, the issues the next Congress confronts are likely to be much different from what candidates are running on now—far grimmer, more unforgiving and much more real.

So where do these Republicans stand on issues that the next Congress is really likely to face that affect Southwest Florida? We took a tour of the candidates’ websites where they post their most formal and detailed policy positions. This article is based on what we found there.

Southwest Florida is facing plenty of challenges. But let’s concentrate on three of the most compelling and urgent: plague, poverty and water.

This is the winter that is coming.

Plague

By the beginning of January 2021 when the new members of Congress take their oaths of office (assuming of course, that the United States remains a constitutional republic and not a Trumpist dictatorship) coronavirus is likely to remain virulent and active. A vaccine may have even been developed but as Dr. Anthony Fauci put it, “there is no guarantee — and anyone who has been involved in vaccinations will tell you — we’ll have a safe and effective vaccine.”

Given that Dr. William Figlesthaler is the only medical doctor in the Republican field, voters might have expected him to weigh in strongly and authoritatively on the greatest healthcare crisis of our time.

Initially, he did. On March 19 Figlesthaler announced he was suspending his campaign and opening a coronavirus hotline to concentrate on helping people cope with the then-mounting pandemic.

However, as a political novice, Figlesthaler didn’t realize that in political parlance, “suspending” a campaign means abandoning it. As a result, he had to unsuspend his campaign on March 27. (Candidates always “suspend” their campaigns when they are actually ending them in order to leave open the possibility of re-starting them again should circumstances permit.)

Since that time, Figlesthaler has not weighed in on the pandemic. He has been silent on mask mandates and health closures. He has only continued to reaffirm his loyalty to Trump, who kept dismissing or wishing away the crisis.

Also avoiding mention of COVID are Dane Eagle and Randy Henderson.

Of the other candidates, Casey Askar on his website states: “Our nation is at war, this is a public health crisis and a national defense issue. It’s important that we save lives, and that everyone does their part.” That said, NBC2’s Dave Elias reported Askar opposing a mask mandate in a July 9 interview.

Byron Donalds weighed in against Cape Coral imposing a mask mandate when the city debated the issue on July 6.

In contrast to those candidates avoiding the issue, the youngest candidate in the field, Ave Maria Law School graduate Christy McLaughlin, is vehemently and actively anti-closure and anti-mask, holding online anti-closure rallies and repeatedly denouncing mask mandates.

In a particular irony, McLaughlin made a point of appearing at Cape Coral’s mask mandate debate on July 6 where she told Fox4 News that she opposed the mandate: “We do have the personal responsibility and ability to make our own choices with the autonomy of our own bodies,” she said—a choice she would deny to women when it comes to abortion, given her rigidly anti-choice stance.

If a new coronavirus vaccine becomes available next year, the next scramble in Congress will be to fund its production and distribution. From a parochial perspective, all Florida representatives will have to do what they can to ensure that the state gets its share. Until now Trump has favored Florida and his pliant, handpicked governor by giving the state preferred access to the National Stockpile. But if there’s no Trump in office next year, the representative of the 19th District will have to be vigilant and active in monitoring and pursuing the vaccine for constituents and encouraging its production through votes in Congress.

To date, the candidates’ positions do not inspire confidence to that end.

Poverty

Southwest Florida will likely remain in an economic depression next year, along with the rest of the country. Tourism, hospitality, travel and seasonal retail are unlikely to recover quickly and if the pandemic is still raging, those sectors will remain depressed.

When it comes to the economy, the House of Representatives has passed repeated economic stimulus packages to help people with unemployment benefits and businesses with pandemic-related losses. Another such package is imminent. These have all been Democratic initiatives passed with Democratic majorities, with Southwest Florida representatives varying in their approval or, in the case of Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), being absent.

Where do the Republican candidates stand on economic support, both for the nation and Southwest Florida?

Askar and Figlesthaler both boast of their past business successes and say they will fight for the economy in the future, although they don’t give specifics. Askar praises Trump’s tax cuts and vows: “I will always pursue tax policies that create greater opportunities. Washington’s problem is not that it taxes too little, but that it spends too much”—cold comfort in a time of mass unemployment and economic cratering when government spending is the only relief for many people. In a detailed paper, however, (more below) he does acknowledge: “In fact, we may never be able to fully quantify the economic devastation resulting from COVID-19.”

Randy Henderson touts his economic successes as mayor of Fort Myers. Prior to the pandemic, the city had a 3.4 percent unemployment rate, 9 points lower than when he took office. Of the all the candidates, he is the only one who has been in an elected executive position where he could directly affect employment in his jurisdiction.

But that still doesn’t address future unemployment and what steps he could take as a member of Congress to reduce it. In fact, he states: “The federal government should never be in the business of creating jobs. Instead, we need to continue passing President Trump’s America First agenda to rebuild our economy by empowering the private sector and job creators.”

One might point out that it was President Trump’s policies in the face of the pandemic that got America into its current economic state in the first place. But that would be unkind.

Water

In Southwest Florida water issues and environmental challenges long preceded this election and will long follow it. It’s the one constant issue and one where physical realities and the iron laws of science can’t be wished away. Managing water is what makes human life possible in this tropical realm and so the candidates have had a lot of time to ponder it and offer detailed responses.

All the Republican candidates are all for water purity and pledge to fight for funding to achieve it, in varying degrees of detail. But it must be said, one candidate stands out above all the others: Casey Askar.

From a fairly dismissive and shallow position on water issues (as pointed out in the May 15 article, “The Curious Case of Casey Askar”), Askar has since posted the most detailed and researched position on water issues of all the Republican candidates. Someone in his campaign has done his or her homework.

In a paper titled “I will not allow Southwest Florida to go out of Business,” Askar ties water to the economic crisis, arguing that “lobbyists and career politicians in Washington, DC are seizing on the chaos from this unprecedented global pandemic to try to undo huge advancements for water quality in Southwest Florida. Put simply – I will not allow them to put Southwest Florida out of business.”

Askar’s proposals are very much in the general consensus on water issues. He calls for sending water south to the Everglades and protecting the integrity of the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (which is misspelled “Manuel” in the paper) to prioritize the region’s health, economy and environment. He pledges to fight for completion of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the storage reservoir south of the Everglades Agricultural Area. He also says he’ll fight for “commonsense operational change,” like sending more water south during the dry season.

Even if written by one of Askar’s campaign consultants, as is usually the case, the paper shows some thought, research and originality applied to a real local issue.

One hopes that the candidate has read it.

Winter arrives

On January 19, 2017, the United States was a healthy nation with a strong, if not spectacularly but steadily growing economy, relatively low unemployment, longstanding international alliances, robust trading relationships, declining crime, and smartly enforced borders. It had a diverse but harmonious population with a sense of unity, confidence in its institutions and trust in its government.

In his inauguration speech the next day, Donald Trump called this “American carnage.” In his view, America was exactly the opposite, a place where “the establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country,” an establishment whose victories were its own and not those of the people. America, he said, was a place of poverty, lost jobs, undefended borders, an education system that didn’t educate, crumbling infrastructure, foreign exploitation and a hollowed out economy.

In four years, Trump has turned his delusions from that day into the American reality. As the Lincoln Project puts it: today America is poorer, sicker and weaker.

This is the present and future that the Republican congressional candidates are vehemently vowing to preserve and protect if they’re elected.

It’s the world ruled by the Night King and his unthinking White Walkers.

And if the living give it their votes, it will be the world for the next four years and beyond.

Winter will have come to stay. Even in Southwest Florida.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

 

US House passes major enviro bill benefiting SWFL; Florida senators, representatives split

07-24-20 Everglades Nat Pk SrThe Everglades.       (Photo: National Park Service)

July 24, 2020 by David Silverberg.

On Wednesday, July 22, the US House of Representatives passed the Great American Outdoors Act (HR 1957) by a vote of 310 to 107.

The bill, originally introduced by the late Rep. John Lewis (D-5-Ga.), establishes a National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to fund deferred maintenance on public lands like national parks, reserves and refuges and makes ongoing funding permanent and reliable.

Major Southwest Florida national parks and tourist destinations like Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve will benefit from the infusion of funds for upgrades, improvements and repairs.

The money will come from half the revenue the government receives from energy development including both fossil fuel and renewable energy sources. It will fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the money supporting conservation efforts, permanently providing it with $900 million per year. A second part of the legislation provides $1.9 billion every year for five years for public lands maintenance.

Having now passed both the House and Senate, it is likely to be signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Florida representatives and senators split on the legislation.

The Senate version of the bill passed on June 17 by a vote of 73 to 25. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) voted for it, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) voted against it.

Among Southwest Florida’s representatives, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) voted for it, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted against it and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) was absent.

All Florida Democrats voted for the bill, which reconciled both an earlier House version and the Senate version. In addition to Diaz-Balart, four Florida Republicans broke party ranks to approve it: Reps. Gus Bilirakis (12) Vern Buchanan (16), Brian Mast (18) and John Rutherford (4).

Rooney’s absence was ironic since he was a co-sponsor of the original legislation and actively promoted it.

“Ensuring that the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) receives appropriate and consistent funding is critical for the preservation of our nation’s parks and public lands,” he stated when the bill passed. “That is why I am a proud co-sponsor of the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act. This landmark legislation will establish the National Parks and Public Land Restoration Fund to make funding for the LWCF permanent and mandatory.

“Southwest Florida is home to some of the most beautiful and treasured natural landscapes. Throughout my time in Congress, I have worked to make certain that SWFL is given the resources needed to maintain its environmental quality. The Great American Outdoors Act is an extended effort to do just that.”

There had been strong support for the legislation by conservation and environmental groups.

The Nature Conservancy, a global non-profit environmental organization based in Arlington, Va., also praised the bill’s passage.

“At a time when our country needs to create jobs and rebuild local economies while also protecting nature and places where everyone can recreate outdoors, the Great American Outdoors Act answers the call on all fronts,” stated Jennifer Morris, chief executive office of The Nature Conservancy.

Environment Florida, a non-profit conservation organization, applauded the passage.

“With today’s passage of this bill, we’re one step away from putting a lock and key on funding that has always been intended for conservation projects — yet consistently diverted to other purposes,” stated Wendy Wendlandt, acting president of a national network of environmental groups that includes Environment Florida. “We’re closer to adopting a new consciousness for today’s world, that our lives are made richer if surrounded by more nature, rather than more extracted resources. We applaud the House’s bipartisan passage of the Great American Outdoors Act and ask that President Trump sign this important bill.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

We tested SWFL candidates on their knowledge of a vital congressional issue. Here are the results.

09-27-18 Big CypressBig Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades.    (Photo: National Park Service)

July 10, 2020 by David Silverberg

The campaign season is kicking into high gear. If you’re in the Fort Myers-Naples TV market and watch the local news in the 5:00 to 6:30 pm hour, you’re seeing a seemingly endless stream of political campaign ads marching across your screen.

However, television ads are, of course, just snippets, intended to give a fleeting impression of a candidate.

These candidates—and the others who can’t afford air time—are vying to represent Southwest Florida in the Congress of the United States.

But do they have any grasp of the real work of Congress? Do they understand the nitty-gritty of government operations? Have they paid any attention at all to the kind of legislation that really affects Southwest Florida and Floridians? Do they have basic local knowledge? Are they doing any real policy homework? Do they know what a congressional representative actually does? Do they care about impacting peoples’ lives in Southwest Florida?

The Paradise Progressive decided to ask all congressional candidates one question about one issue that’s fundamental to Southwest Florida that involves Congress, the federal government and legislation to see how they responded.

The question, issued on Monday, July 6, was: “As a member of Congress, what specific changes would you make to WRDA to benefit Southwest Florida and the 19th Congressional District?”

Would anyone even google “WRDA” to see what the acronym means?

The most important legislation you’ve never heard of

WRDA: it’s usually pronounced “word-DA” and it actually stands for the Water Resources Development Act.

It’s hardly ever mentioned in Southwest Florida, in either conversation or the media, or especially on the campaign trail. And yet, it has an enormous impact on the region and its livability.

That’s because WRDA is the broad, all-encompassing congressional act governing all water projects and management in the United States. It’s a gigantic piece of legislation that gives the government authority to dredge canals, build dams, raise levees, control floods, maintain harbors, alter rivers, manage water releases and do the million and more things that require water to serve people, make land more productive and keep pollution at bay.

In Southwest Florida WRDA impacts the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, the Herbert Hoover Dike, the Caloosahatchee River and all the other streams, creeks and lakes that manage and provide the life-sustaining liquid making human habitation here possible.

When it comes to Congress, it’s a piece of legislation where an individual representative can have a real impact and where he or she can make a real difference. Candidates can fulminate on all the grand themes they like, but once they’re in office and have to really deal with the nuts and bolts of governing, getting and spending federal money and representing their district, WRDA has to be a priority.

Because it covers so many activities, WRDA must be constantly reauthorized to keep up with new needs and changes. The bill’s preamble calls for a new WRDA reauthorization every two years and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida agrees, saying it’s needed “to provide consistent authorization of Everglades projects.” That’s a position echoed by the Florida Association of Counties.

A 2020 WRDA is in the congressional works and it may be presented to the full House by the end of July. Usually, it’s a bipartisan, politically neutral bill, since it deals with facts on the ground rather than ideology or partisanship.

As a demonstration of just how important it really is, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-4-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chose to keep it out of the $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the House on July 1. That bill was treated as partisan by Republicans and has gone to the Senate where it is likely to die. By contrast, a separate WRDA bill is getting Republican buy-in and the Senate has already passed its own version. Unless President Trump is completely bonkers by the time it reaches his desk before the end of the year, he’s likely to sign it.

For Southwest Florida, the 2020 WRDA will authorize the funding for restoring the Everglades through the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). It will also regulate discharges from Lake Okeechobee, making harmful algal blooms less likely—or more so.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), the retiring representative, was very active on WRDA to protect Everglades restoration funding and posted A history of Southwest Florida, WRDA and the Everglades on his website.

Various water-related local activist groups have already weighed in on the 2020 WRDA, in addition to the Conservancy.

“Lots of pieces to WRDA,” observed John Cassani, director of Calusa Waterkeeper, a non-profit, water purity advocacy group, to The Paradise Progressive. “Definitely needed but would not support the ‘savings clause’ issue if it gets into the legislation.” The “savings clause” essentially states that the legal state of existing water sources can’t be altered until new sources are found. In essence it protects the status quo around Lake O. It has long been the subject of controversy and debate. (For the full, official document involving the Savings Clause, see Annex B: Analyses Required by WRDA 2000 and Florida State Law.)

In Congress, on April 30, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-20-Fla.) circulated a letter advocating that the next WRDA treat all CERP sub-projects as “ongoing” projects—that way there wouldn’t have to be separate congressional authorizations for each project. It would speed and streamline Everglades restoration. In a show of bipartisan agreement, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-23-Fla.) signed on.

WRDA is a vast and sprawling piece of legislation. It’s the kind of thing that a member of Congress, especially from Southwest Florida, has to keep an eye on. It’s not the kind of thing that lends itself to hoopla or slogans. It’s the real work of Congress and it’s where congressional representation really counts.

So how did our candidates do?

The candidates respond

Of the dozen candidate campaigns running for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, four responded to the WRDA question. Their answers are presented here in full and unedited.

The Democrats

Both local Democrats running for Congress responded to the question. In alphabetical order:

Cindy Banyai:

04-07-20 Cindy Banyai“The Everglades are one of the most important aspects of both our water and our community here in Southwest Florida.  While I’m glad that the federal government has granted money to restore the Everglades and repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, I plan on ensuring this is a top priority of the government after I am elected to Congress.  Francis Rooney pushed the estimated completion time back to 2022 because he knew he was not going to run again.  Additionally, we need to continue to improve the process, allowing for more local input and control over releases, and speed of review of the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS). It is necessary to be able to adjust the LORS so more water can be provided during the winter months, when our estuaries need it, and less flows in the summer months where there can be damage to our ecosystem. As the champion of the people of Southwest Florida I’m going to fight to ensure our water and our community are protected and that the federal government upholds their plans to restore the Everglades.”

David Holden:

04-16-20 David Holden cropped“I strongly support authorization of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA). The WRDA authorizes important water resource studies and provides critical federal funding that Southwest Florida needs to adequately protect its’ vital natural resources. It is my great desire that the WRDA is authorized soon and that our federal government expends all resources available to combat the climate change crisis we face today.”

 

The Republicans

Two Republicans responded.

Darren Aquino:

04-12-20 Darren Aquino“The Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) of 2018 clearly stated that the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Storage Reservoir is part of the Central Everglades PLanning Project.  However, the Army Corps of Engineers’ bureaucracy still designated this as a ‘new start,’ thus delaying the needed project that would have otherwise been completed in time and under budget.  As your congressman, I will help diminish this act by the Army Corps. Furthemore, as your congressman, I will continue to support additional WRDAs that will provide needed insight and projects to aid water management and precision water ecosystems in Southwest Florida. We must stop the ‘Red tide’ and do everything in our power to do so. Republicans are the only ones who protect the environment. If you take a look at liberal communist China, they are destroying the environment every day. The Democrats and the Communists want to ruin God’s creations. It’s why they haven’t done anything when it comes to the environment in well over 40 years, and the first environmental efforts were done by Republicans. The Democrats and communists view environmental policy as punishing businesses and blue collar Americans, while ignoring the root of the cause. They have a deep hatred for America and our institutions.”

Casey Askar:

03-27-20 Casey Askar

“Sustained funding. Once a project is authorized, there must be sustained funding for completing that project. Time is money, and when it comes to CERP, the longer it takes to build these projects, the more it costs—both in terms of money and the harm that results from these projects not being online. The State of Florida has a track record of building projects faster and cheaper than the federal government. CERP is a 50/50 partnership between the state and federal governments. If the state can do it faster and cheaper, Congress should be passing those dollars onto the state to carry out the federal responsibility and stretch federal taxpayer dollars farther than they are going now. And they could do that by a block grant process.”

Of the other candidates:

  • State Rep. Byron Donalds (R-80-Immokalee): No response
  • State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral): No response
  • Dr. William Figlesthaler, Republican: No response
  • Mayor Randy Henderson, Republican: No response
  • Daniel Kowal, Republican: No available e-mail address
  • Christy McLaughlin, Republican: No response
  • Dan Severson, Republican: No response
  • Antonio Dumornay, Independent: No available e-mail address

Conclusion: Doing the homework

Election campaigns have always had a strong element of the trivial: There are people who make up their minds on a candidate based on his five o’clock shadow—or lack of it; whether he can shoot a gun or not; whether or not she wears a pantsuit or the cut of her hair.

But America has seen how damaging making judgments on these superficialities can be. Electing someone to office without preparation, or background or, for that matter, interest in government and its operations, can literally result in death, as we’re seeing with the coronavirus pandemic response.

Sending a representative to Congress to work on behalf of this region should be based on the person’s knowledge of government, the issues and their proposed solutions and ideas. Candidates should do their homework before they run and be familiar with their district’s vital interests. In the case of Southwest Florida, that means balancing the needs of human habitation with preservation of the natural environment.

That’s the ideal, anyway. In the race for 19th Congressional District seat, it’s now clear that some candidates—or their campaign staffs—are willing to devote some time and attention to what they will actually be doing if they get to Washington.

Or, at the very least, they’re reading and answering their e-mails.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Representatives, activists, call to protect Florida from offshore oil drilling; endorse Biden position

06-25-20 Offshore oil press conferenceParticipants in today’s Zoom press conference.   (Image: Author)

June 25, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Florida members of the House of Representatives and grassroots activists today called on the state’s senators to work for passage of legislation protecting the state from offshore oil drilling.

Reps. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-26-Fla.), Emma Haydocy, director of Florida Bay Forever, a Keys-based environmental activist group, and Daniel Andrews, executive director of Captains for Clean Water, a water purity advocacy group, made the call in a Zoom press conference.

All endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden’s call for no new offshore drilling.

“At least in Florida, where we have a pristine environment, yes,” said Rooney in response to a question on Biden’s position.

The legislation the group supports is the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019 (House Resolution (HR) 205)), introduced by Rooney, passed in the House and currently in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. (For a full account of the legislation and the issue see “Trump, Biden and Florida’s Gulf shore oil war.”)

All the speakers warned of the danger to Florida of offshore oil exploitation.

“It’s impossible to guarantee spill-free offshore drilling,” said Rooney, who noted that he had been on the board of an offshore drilling company and had worked as a contractor on one the largest offshore oil platforms.

“Anything that’s going to spill [in the Gulf of Mexico] is going to cover Florida,” he said, citing the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010 and others since. “We can’t have the threat or even the potential threat against Florida.” He added that even the oil industry recognizes the danger presented by offshore drilling and the Shell Oil Company recently downsized a planned drilling platform by 90 percent.

The opposition to offshore oil drilling includes the US Defense Department and other members of Congress representing states with the potential for offshore drilling, according to Rooney.

Rooney recalled that when Ryan Zinke was Interior Department secretary (March 1, 2017 to January 2, 2019) he came to a meeting of members of Congress called by House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.). At the time, Zinke had declared that Florida—and Florida alone—was protected from offshore oil drilling. Representatives from other states complained and asked why Florida was exempted. “We just got there first,” said Rooney.

(According to a July 16, 2019 report from the US House Natural Resources Committee, the Florida exemption was established to aid then-Gov. Rick Scott’s Senate bid.)

On May 29 The Paradise Progressive posed questions to Florida Republican senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio asking whether they had taken any actions to support or advance HR 205 in the Senate.

No answer has been received to date.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

 

Rooney, Castor, renew efforts to stop Gulf offshore oil exploitation

06-15-20 Letter to Secretary Bernhardt re Florida offshore drilling reports_Page_1 cropped

June 17, 2020 by David Silverberg

Reps. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Kathy Castor (D-14-Fla.) are leading a renewed bipartisan effort to protect Florida Gulf shores from offshore oil exploitation.

In a June 15 letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Rooney, Castor and 16 other members of the Florida congressional delegation urge him “to protect the coasts of Florida from oil and gas development.”

The members recount the history of efforts to protect Florida from oil exploitation and ask four questions of the secretary:

  1. What is the status of the 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Proposed Program? Does DOI [Department of Interior] have a target date for its release?
  2. Is the Department still working on a new 5-year leasing program that would go into effect prior to the expiration of the current leasing program in 2022? If not, can you indicate whether the Department would consider not releasing a new leasing program that contains any offshore lease sales scheduled prior to the expiration of the 2017-2022 program?
  3. Would the Department consider, when the Proposed Program is eventually issued, not including lease sales for any new areas in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic?
  4. Would the Department consider supporting our bipartisan legislation, the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019, to permanently ban drilling off the coast of Florida?

In response to a June 10 article in Politico that the administration planned to begin oil leasing in Gulf waters if President Donald Trump is re-elected in November, the Department of Interior’s press secretary tweeted the same day that the article was “#FakeNews based entirely on anonymous sources who don’t know what they’re talking about. Current offshore plans do not expire until 2022, and @Interior does not plan to issue a new report in November.”

However, identical concerns were expressed by the House Natural Resources Committee in 2019. (For a full report on the Gulf offshore oil issue, see the June 6 article: Trump, Biden and the Gulf shore oil war.)

The full text of the Rooney-Castor letter follows:

June 15, 2020

The Honorable David Bernhardt Secretary

U.S.     Department of the Interior 1849 C Street, NW Washington, DC 20240

Dear Secretary Bernhardt:

We write to urge you to protect the coasts of Florida from oil and gas development. As you know, in 2019, the House of Representatives passed the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act to permanently ban drilling off the coast of Florida with broad bipartisan support. Despite that vote and the economic and environmental damage left by the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, it appears that the Department of the Interior (DOI) is preparing to open the door to oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coasts shortly after the November 2020 election. As representatives from Florida, we are asking for clarification on DOI’s plans for drilling off the coasts of our state.

Florida relies on coastlines unencumbered by oil and gas drilling to sustain its economy, preserve its marine life and natural resources, and protect our national security. This past April marked ten years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, when we saw firsthand the destruction offshore drilling can have on our state. Our state and local economies cannot sustain another disaster like that – especially on top of the current economic struggles tied to the COVID-19 crisis.

Furthermore, the eastern Gulf of Mexico is a critical testing and training area for our military, and the Department of Defense has stated clearly that the Gulf Test Range is an “irreplaceable national asset” for combat force readiness. Any oil and gas development would be an obstacle to military preparedness and national security.

Additionally, the people of Florida are also clearly opposed to oil and gas development off our coast. A constitutional amendment on Florida’s November 2018 ballot to ban offshore drilling in state waters passed overwhelmingly. Here is objective proof that Floridians recognize that the state’s economy depends on a pristine environment, and that offshore drilling threatens Florida’s future.

In response to the June 10 Politico story, DOI’s Press Secretary tweeted, “Current offshore plans do not expire until 2022, and @Interior does not plan to issue a new report in November.” In light of our strong interest to preserve and protect Florida’s coasts, we request that you provide clarification through written answers to the following questions:

    1. What is the status of the 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Proposed Program? Does DOI have a target date for its release?
    1. Is the Department still working on a new 5-year leasing program that would go into effect prior to the expiration of the current leasing program in 2022? If not, can you indicate whether the Department would consider not releasing a new leasing program that contains any offshore lease sales scheduled prior to the expiration of the 2017-2022 program?
    1. Would the Department consider, when the Proposed Program is eventually issued, not including lease sales for any new areas in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic?
    1. Would the Department consider supporting our bipartisan legislation, the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019, to permanently ban drilling off the coast of Florida?

Sincerely,

Kathy Castor,  Francis Rooney

Darren Soto,  Matt Gaetz, Gus M. Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel,  Alcee L. Hastings, Al Lawson, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Stephanie Murphy, Bill Posey, John H. Rutherford, Donna Shalala, Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2020 by David Silverberg

 

BREAKING NEWS ROUNDUP: Banyai gets Dem enviro endorsement; Fitzenhagen calls it quits

June 12, 2020 by David Silverberg.

06-02-20 Cindy Banyai serious
Cindy Banyai

The Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida (DECF) has endorsed Democrat Cindy Banyai for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, according to an announcement made by her campaign.

The Caucus works to preserve Florida’s environment and support lawmakers and candidates who do the same.

“I’m honored to be recognized by the DCEF for my commitment to preserving our environment and our water in Southwest Florida,” Banyai told The Paradise Progressive. “I’ll continue to advocate for community participation in sustainable development and climate action in Congress as I have within the UN system.”

Fitzenhagen calls it quits

12-03-19 Heather Fitzenhagen
Heather Fitzenhagen

State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-78-Fort Myers) has dropped her bid for Congress in the 19th Congressional District and will instead seek a state Senate seat in the 27th District, for which she has already qualified.

The seat is seat currently held by State Sen. Lizabeth Benaquisto (R-27), who is retiring after reaching her term limit to take up a job as executive vice president at Hope Healthcare in Fort Myers. The seat is being sought by Democrat Rachel Brown and Republican State Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-76-Estero).

Fitzenhagen’s withdrawal from the congressional race leaves nine Republicans running.

As of this writing, Fitzenhagen had not posted any statements online or on social media about her decision. She is no longer listed as a candidate on the state’s list of candidates for the 19th Congressional District but is listed as qualified for the 27th Senate District.


Today at 4:26 pm, The Paradise Progressive posed the following questions to State Rep. Fitzenhagen:

    1. Can you confirm that you are no longer seeking the 19th Congressional District seat?
    2. Have you issued a statement to that effect? (Don’t see anything on your website, Facebook page or Twitter)
    3. Are you seeking the District 27 State Senate seat?
    4. Are you endorsing another candidate?
    5. If so, whom?
    6. What do you plan to do with the campaign funds you have on hand?

As of this posting, no response had been received.


Republican Dr. William Figlesthaler issued a statement today thanking Fitzenhagen for her legislative service, saying: “For years, she has fought against both radicalized Democrats and establishment, do-nothing, Republicans in the Florida House.” He posted a 19-second video tribute to her on a webpage that requests donations to his own campaign.

As of March 31, Fitzenhagen had raised $110,790 for her campaign. According to a poll released on June 2 by Political Prowess Polling, only 3 percent of 800 Republicans likely to vote in the August 18 primary indicated they would vote for her.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Trump, Biden and Florida’s Gulf shore oil war

05-23-20 Trump boat parade 2Pro-Trump boaters take to the waters along southern Collier County on May 23.

June 6, 2020 by David Silverberg.

This year’s Memorial Day weekend began on Saturday, May 23 with hundreds of boaters in Southwest Florida launching a “Making Waves” boat parade to show their support for President Donald Trump and his re-election.

They had clear sailing on pristine waters from Naples Bay to Marco Island.

The irony is that if they get their wish and Trump is re-elected, those waters won’t be so pristine anymore.

That’s because if Trump is re-elected the eastern Gulf of Mexico will be opened to oil exploration and exploitation. In a second Trump administration, any future flotilla will have to dodge tankers, tugs, barges, tenders, lighters, shuttles, seismic testing boats and drilling ships among other vessels. Most of all, they would be maneuvering amidst immense drilling rigs. And the water will be slick with debris, pollution and—most of all—oil.

This is not fantasy or some conspiracy theory.

In 2019, after considerable confusion and mixed signals from the Trump administration whether the eastern Gulf would be opened to oil lease sales, Congress concluded, “the Trump Administration intends, if the President is reelected, to include the Eastern Gulf of Mexico in its final Five-Year Program and to hold lease sales in the Eastern Gulf as early as 2022.”

That’s stated in a July 16, 2019 report from the US House Natural Resources Committee. It goes on to say: “Given the widespread belief that a tweet from [Interior] Secretary [Ryan] Zinke declaring Florida off-limits to offshore oil and gas leasing was issued to support Florida Governor Rick Scott in his Senate race, the Committee is concerned that the Administration is playing similar games with its 2019–2024 program and intends to wait until after the 2020 presidential election, in which Florida may be a key swing state, before revealing an unpopular plan to lease off of Florida’s shore.”

Those are pretty strong words for a relatively obscure congressional report accompanying a piece of legislation.

What is more, they were not the statements of cranky Democrats taking potshots at Trump. In fact, they were issued to explain a piece of legislation introduced by a Republican.

And that Republican was Southwest Florida’s own Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.).

Rooney’s crusade

11-16-19 Francis_Rooney_official_congressional_photo cropped
Rep. Francis Rooney

On Sept. 11, 2019, the US House of Representatives voted 248 to 180 to pass the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019 (House Resolution (HR) 205)).

The bill is pretty simple: it “permanently extends the moratorium on oil and gas leasing, preleasing, and related activities” in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It prohibits sale of leases, oil exploration, drilling or extracting oil along Florida’s Gulf coastline in perpetuity.

That moratorium had been in place in one form or another since 1982, maintained by congressional action and presidential decisions, which applied not just in Florida but in a wide variety of waters around the North American continental shelf, including Alaska. However, in one of his earliest acts, in April 2017 Trump issued an executive order opening up American waters to oil exploitation. The order was challenged in court but the Trump administration proceeded with planning for the sale of oil leases beginning in 2022 when the current moratorium expires.

Rooney was elected in 2016 on the same platform—literally, they stood on the same stage—as Trump. What was more, Rooney and his construction companies had extensive ties to the oil and gas industry and much of his fortune resulted from work for it. One of his earliest political donors was the consortium building the controversial XL Pipeline. And even Rooney’s origins are in Oklahoma’s oil patch.

So perhaps Rooney had a better sense than most people of what was involved in offshore oil exploitation and how it would affect Southwest Florida’s tourism, hospitality, and retail businesses and overall quality of life. After all, he lives on the water in Naples’ Port Royal.

That’s why it was particularly interesting when, after Trump’s executive order, regardless of his other activities, Rooney began working to protect the Gulf coast from oil exploitation.

But in this effort Rooney was opposed by the oil industry, which wants the option to drill everywhere and anywhere, and his fellow Republicans, in particular the powerful Rep. Steve Scalise (R-1-La.), the Minority Whip in the House.

It’s worth noting the unique role of Louisiana in this: politically, the state and the oil industry are virtually one and the same.  Offshore oil exploitation has brought great wealth and employment to the state and the people involved in the industry. However, it has also brought pollution and the occasional disaster, most spectacularly the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout and the subsequent nearly five month-long oil spill—really more of an oil eruption.

In Congress, Rooney couldn’t make headway on maintaining the moratorium and one day he confronted Scalise directly, as he related to a small group of constituents meeting at the Alamo gun range and store in Naples in 2018.

“I was on the House floor with Steve Scalise and I got in his face and I said, ‘You’re telling me that the industry won’t go for protecting the Eastern Gulf in Florida?  What industry are you talking about?  I’m talking about tourism. I’m talking about why we’re all here, okay? Just because Louisiana is a pit, doesn’t mean we want to become a pit. Okay?’” said Rooney.

Nor could Rooney make any headway with Trump’s Interior Department. He found that officials in the Department of Defense supported maintaining the moratorium because they trained pilots over the eastern Gulf. “…So the military is our ally on this,” he said. “The Department of the Interior is not.  They want to ‘drill-baby-drill.’  They are Republicans, right?”

While Republicans were in power, Rooney and the moratorium made no progress.

USCG photo oil rig cropped 11-7-17

Vessels service offshore oil rigs.     (Photo: USCG)

Enter the Democrats

Then, in 2018 the House changed hands and suddenly Rooney faced a new Democratic power structure and a new Speaker of the House—Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.).

On the first day of the session, Jan. 3, 2019, he introduced HR 205 with Rep. Cathy Kastor (D-14-Fla.), who represents Hillsborough County in the Tampa area, as his first co-sponsor. The legislation gained momentum, picking up other members of the Florida delegation from both parties as co-sponsors until by June he had nine Democrats and nine Republicans.

Pelosi agreed to move the bill forward and on Sept. 11, the same day he called on his Republican colleagues to acknowledge climate change in an essay in Politico magazine, Rooney also saw his bill passed in the House. All of Florida’s representatives, both Republican and Democratic, voted for it with only one dissenter, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-3-Fla.).

From there it went to the Republican Senate where it was introduced the next day by Florida’s two Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. There it has languished to this day.

Why? Because with Republicans in charge, the odds were stacked against it: Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasn’t inclined to move it and the Trump White House threatened to veto it. The Interior Department, the fossil fuel industry, the offshore drilling industry and the Republican leadership are against it.

Rooney has kept working for its passage.

“I’ve been working with Senators Rubio and Scott, as well as others whose support will be needed to advance HR. 205 in the Senate,” Rooney stated in response to questions from The Paradise Progressive. “They’re making sure that the Senate realizes the military, economic, and ecologic significance of banning offshore drilling east of the Military Mission Line” (the geographic line in the Gulf where the military trains)

There are possibilities that the legislation could still advance: “We’re keeping all options on the table for ways to advance HR 205, as stand-alone legislation, or as a potential amendment to other legislation. I’m optimistic that we can still be successful in this congressional session,” he stated.


On May 29, The Paradise Progressive asked the following questions about HR 205 of Sens. Rubio and Scott in a message to their offices:

    1. Since its arrival in the Senate, have you taken any actions to advance this bill?
    2. Do you plan to take any actions to move this bill to full consideration by the Senate before the end of the year?
    3. If you plan to take any actions, what do you plan to do?

As of this writing, no response has been received.


Logic and illogic

Conventional political logic would dictate that if you’re a sitting president who must win the state of Florida to be re-elected, you do something that will make you popular in that state and gain you votes—like supporting HR 205. That would mean an endorsement from the president, breaking the legislation out of committee and getting it enacted into law before the general election on Nov. 3.

“The people of Florida have made it clear that they don’t want offshore drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico,” stated Rooney. “It endangers our tourism and real estate-based economy, and it adversely affects military readiness. There will be a political price to pay if the will of the people is ignored. The Trump administration can move this forward if they want to protect Florida.”

True enough. But conventional political logic has not been a hallmark of the Trump administration and it’s not in evidence now.

Of course, there are bigger issues dominating the landscape at the moment than drilling for oil off Southwest Florida—like whether America will remain a democracy and whether racism can be uprooted. Still, oil is an issue that particularly matters to the people, the region and the environment.

“It’s my hope that our next representative will exhibit the same commitment and have the successes that we’ve had over these last four years in fixing our water and protecting our environment,” stated Rooney, who is retiring after this term.

But with all of the Republicans vying for his seat pledging their blind obedience to Donald Trump, that’s not likely.

However, one person who has paid attention to the topic of offshore drilling is Democratic presidential challenger former Vice President Joe Biden.

On March 15, Joe Biden debated Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in Washington, DC. In a discussion of climate change Biden said: “Number one, no more subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, no more drilling on federal lands, no more drilling, including offshore, no ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period, ends, number one.”

Subsequent analysis indicated that Biden meant no new offshore drilling; not that he would close down existing wells. But that was good enough for Florida’s Gulf coast.

However, this was not something that was going to be taken lying down by the offshore drilling industry.

On Tuesday, May 26, the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA), the organization of the offshore oil industry, hit back by releasing a study, “The Economic Impacts of the Gulf of Mexico Oil & Natural Gas Industry,” warning of dire consequences if there was no new leasing or permitting in the Gulf of Mexico. Projecting out to the year 2040 it predicted losses in oil extraction, jobs, industry spending, gross domestic product and government revenues. It pointed out that the industry is a pillar in the state economies of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas.

Florida is not yet on the list—but it is certainly in the industry’s sights.

And incredibly, like a raid deep into enemy territory, on May 27 an article reprinted from the Lafayette Daily Advertiser of Lafayette, La., of all places, appeared in Naples, Fla., in an across-the-page headline on the front of the Naples Daily News Business section: “Gulf drilling restrictions could prove damaging.” It put forward NOIA’s propaganda without comment or question.

With this the industry proved that it really did have a long reach—right into Rooney’s own eyeballs and the heart of the opposition.

03-15-20 Biden no more drillingJoe Biden at the moment in his debate with Bernie Sanders when he uttered the words “no more drilling, including offshore.”    (Image: CNN)

Analysis: Boatin’ for Biden

“I’m thankful that the Florida delegation, with the exception of one member, came together in a bipartisan way to pass HR 205 out of the House,” stated Rooney to The Paradise Progressive. “This shows the strong commitment that Floridians have to protecting our waters, our economy, and our military preparedness.”

Many Floridians do indeed have a commitment to Florida’s natural environment and they will keep working to protect it. But it’s also very clear that the only hope Southwest Florida—indeed, all of the Florida Gulf coast—has to protect its shores, its environment and its current economy is the election of Joe Biden as president.

Floridians of all political persuasions will get no succor or satisfaction on this issue from President Trump or his administration. He and his minions are just waiting for his re-election to pounce and then it’s “drill-baby-drill.” And the offshore oil and gas industry will certainly show no mercy.

So those in the flotilla of south Collier County boaters who took to the water on Memorial Day weekend should think very carefully about what they’re wishing for. If they really got their wish and Donald Trump was re-elected, the Florida waters and beaches they so enjoy will likely become a dystopian hellscape of oil rigs, ships and slicks.

But of course, that’s not the future that has to be. Perhaps just enough Floridians will realize that their best interests, the interests of their state, their country, their environment and their future lies in electing Joe Biden.

And then they’ll vote.

Offshore oil rigs 11-2-17

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

 

Democratic congressional candidates make their cases in online WINK-TV debate

05-19-20 Dem WINK debateWINK News reporter Morgan Ryner and Democratic candidates David Holden and Cindy Banyai in yesterday’s online debate.      (Image: WINK-TV)

May 19, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Florida Congressional District 19 Democratic candidates Cindy Banyai and David Holden conducted an electronic debate yesterday, moderated by Morgan Rynor, WINK News TV reporter and weekend anchor.

The full 31-minute debate is posted on the WINK website under the headline “District 19 Democratic candidates debate.”

The debate follows a Republican debate conducted by Rynor on April 27, which is available on the WINK News website. Coverage of the Republican debate on the website is more detailed and extensive than the Democratic version.

In addition to opening and closing statements, the candidates were asked six questions:

  1. How does a Democrat make a mark in a heavily Republican district?

Banyai pointed out that she is a fighter who will oppose bullies. Holden said Democrats would present a united front and work together regardless of their differences.

  1. What has Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) done right and what would the candidates do differently?

Holden said DeSantis had done a disappointing job after early promise and his loyalty to President Donald Trump had hurt his coronavirus response. Banyai pointed to Desantis’ loyalty to President Trump as the reason for his inadequate coronavirus and unemployment system response.

  1. For what issues would the candidates cross party lines?

Banyai named climate change and healthcare. Holden named the environment.

  1. If Trump is re-elected how would the candidates work with him?

Holden expressed hope this was a fantasy question and said he would try to find common ground without sacrificing core Democratic values. Banyai called herself “a constitutional fundamentalist” and said Congress had to take back power it had ceded to the presidency.

  1. How can the District avoid another red tide/algae bloom crisis like 2018’s?

Banyai said she would hold polluters accountable and fight for water research funding. Holden called for a systematic change that emphasizes science and expertise.

  1. How can healthcare be made more affordable?

Holden said that healthcare is a human right and the Affordable Care Act should be improved. Banyai called for a different model of healthcare and cited the Japanese system that ensures low-cost healthcare outside of employer plans.

“We absolutely need servant leadership in this region” said Banyai in her closing statement. “The people are most important here; not the powerful, not the people who want to cement over the environment, not the ones who want to line their pockets because of education reform. It’s people serving people.”

“I am appalled by the lack of concern, the lack of empathy and the lack of real thought by the Republican candidates about what is best for this district, not just in the midst of this crisis but in the face of a number of critical problems that we face as a people,” Holden said in his closing statement. After the primary, he said, “We will join together to flip this district.”

“Cindy and I are going to fight our fight, we’re going to make our case, the voters will decide in August and then we will work together as Democrats to win this seat,” he vowed.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SWFL environment: On budgets and birds, Trump giveth and taketh away

02-07-20 Everglades birdsA flock of ibis on the wing.

Feb. 7, 2020 by David Silverberg

When it comes to Southwest Florida’s natural environment, President Donald Trump’s administration is both giving and taking away.

The giving consists of a reported $250 million request for next fiscal year’s federal budget.

The official request is scheduled to be revealed on Monday, Feb. 10 with the rest of the federal budget. The Everglades funding was widely reported in Florida media, attributed to a “senior administration official.”

The taking consists of a proposed rule that reinterprets the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to decriminalize the unintentional killing or injuring of migratory birds—a major consideration for the wildlife that inhabits Southwest Florida and the Everglades.

The money

The report of the $250 million request comes in advance of release of the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which is scheduled to be released Monday, Feb. 10.

If the $250 million is in fact requested as reported, it would provide a stark contrast with last year when Trump requested only $63 million of the $200 million the federal government had promised to provide Florida for Everglades restoration.

The inadequate $63 million request so alarmed Florida’s senators and representatives that on March 14, 2019 Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Rep. Brian Mast (R-18-Fla.) joined Florida’s Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to issue a letter to Trump calling for full funding. It was the third time since Trump took office that he had failed to meet federal funding obligations.

Trump took a trip to Lake Okeechobee on March 29, were he was lobbied by Florida officials and made vague promises to provide more money. Following the lawmakers’ complaints Florida did receive $200 million in the 2020 fiscal year budget.

This year is an election year and Florida is crucial to Trump’s re-election chances. Additionally, he is now officially a Florida resident.

When he announced his retirement after stating that he was open to hearing impeachment evidence against the president, Rooney stated that he had done what he had set out to do in Congress by getting the $200 million. Everglades restoration was a Rooney priority since his election in 2016.

The Paradise Progressive has requested comment from Rooney’s office regarding the budget request.

The birds

On Jan. 30 the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that it was proposing a new rule that decriminalized unintentional injuring or killing of migratory birds under the MBTA.

While the rule will not directly affect the large migratory bird populations of Southwest Florida, it does peel back one more layer of regulatory protection for them.

In the previous administration, the MBTA was interpreted as covering accidental killing and injury of migratory birds, making such injuries and deaths a criminal act.

While prosecutions were few, the rule provided regulators and prosecutors with an additional tool to prevent harm to migratory birds. For example, when birds were killed due to the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, BP was charged with criminal acts in addition to civil damages, providing further inducement for the company to settle with the government.

The rule has long been appealed by industry, which argues that it should not be held criminally responsible for accidental bird killings in the course of normal operations.

“With five federal circuit courts of appeals divided on this question, it is important to bring regulatory certainty to the public by clarifying that the criminal scope of the MBTA only reaches to conduct intentionally injuring birds,” Rob Wallace, assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks stated. “That said, we will continue to work collaboratively with states, cities, conservation groups, industries, trade associations and citizens to ensure that best practices are followed to minimize unintended harm to birds and their habitats.”

The rule is in the proposal stage and members of the public have until March 19 to comment on it.

According to the FWS statement, comments for or against the rule can be made by going to:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2018-0090.
  • U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-HQ-MB-2018-0090; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; MS: JAO/1N; 5275 Leesburg Pike; Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.

We will not accept email or faxes. We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information you provide.

 Interested readers can follow the links to view the proposed rule and notice of intent.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg