Monday, September 29, 2008

FPL and the anatomy of corruption in the Everglades

[About this story: it was submitted to the Earth First! Journal in 2007, but never formally printed. It was Photocopied by the Everglades Earth First! group and a version, riddled with typos, is included on thier website. It was also presented to me once in court during the Gulfstream/DEP challenge, with a concern that i had violated their trust by disclosing their settlement bribery offer. Thus, there is no specified amount in this text. While some of the info is dated, and the title hardly scratched the surface of what it suggests, i hope that all of you out there reading this will find some value to its presence here in the virtual world...]

by panagioti

"The pressures of expanding population and technology on Florida continue to degrade its human and natural resources despite the combined counter-efforts of all existing institutions. Government, more often than not, either fosters or adds to the degradation. Educational institutions seem unable to unwilling to apply their store of knowledge effectively to the problems. Efforts of the business community are often exploitative, non-existent, or are superficial palliatives… It is evident that Florida is on a course which ultimately will insure its joining the parade of states already sunk in environmental quagmires… Philosophically we suffer a paradoxical ailment which allows us to look back two hundred years in pride, but not five years ahead in preparation or anticipation."

-Arthur R. Marshall, 1972, from ¨A Proposal to Establish the Florida Environmental Institute¨

my story

This has been a hard story to tell, but it has to be told. I have been walking two paths, tearing myself and everything that i know apart, in order to understand how i can fight with integrity and effectiveness against the industrial juggernaut that presents itself as an unstoppable force, willing and able to crush anything in its path—not least of all our very spirits and collective wills to live. One path has taken me through deep bogs of misery, surrounded in piles of paper, staring at a glowing screen, countless hours with a phone turning my ear red from the pressure of my hand forced against my own head, trying to understand how a power plant gets built. And how it can be stopped. The other path has taken me, blissfully, into the wild, down dirt roads along canals that close the wild into contained compartments, into tea-black ponds where gators sat and watched me as i fantasized about jumping on top of bulldozers (as i have done before elsewhere) surrounded by friends, with tears and fire in our eyes, convincing drivers to turn their destructive machines around and put them to a better use.

But there is a world between these two paths that i am stretched between. To me, that world manifests as ´the meeting´. Not the meeting where i sit with my collective in a circle, sometimes in the grass, listening to each other, taking notes, eating cookies, making plans together. The meeting i am writing of is the modern battleground of fights for ecological justice. It is a battle facilitated, sometimes by politicians, other times by businesses, and on occasion, by people who call themselves environmentalists. The terrain is treacherous and the attacks are often as precise as drawn out chess games and the side i have chosen to align with is usually missing most of its pieces. I have found myself running frantically back in forth between my chosen paths, across the battlefield, for the past several years. Some of what i´ve learned are lessons that need to be shared, if we are to stop Florida Power & Light´s (FPL) West County Energy Center, restore the Everglades, and usher industrial civilization into the dustbin of history, before the ocean swallows us whole down here.

Art's legacy dishonored

Ecologists Arthur Marshall's proposed Institute, mentioned in his quote above, did get off the ground, and he went on to contribute some of the best components of the Everglades restoration plans, among other amazing environmental work across Florida before passing away. His legacy went on to get a 147,392 acre National Wildlife Refuge named after him in Loxahatchee, which is currently home to around 30 threatened and endangered species of plants and animals. But it's a lot easier to slap a person's name on something than it is to honor their vision of a holistic ecosystem repair. If Art could see the state of Everglades Restoration now… well, truthfully, he probably wouldn't be too shocked at the bureaucracy, corruption and greed driving the process into the mud. He might be pretty disappointed by the sprawl closing in on the east side of Refuge; and the proposed chemical plant and new landfill directly adjacent would surely be a tad frustrating. And the massive 3800 megawatt gas-fired plant under construction, despite lacking essential permits; 1000 feet to the north of his name-sake Refuge; power for near a million new homes and businesses set to spill across the EAA—that must be really damn annoying.

But none of that business-as-usual could have prepared him for the news that his nephew, who supposedly took on the task of carrying Art's mission forward, is selling out to FPL for a measly $30,000. John A. Marshall, head of the locally renowned Marshall Foundation, likes to inform people that his uncle thought that, "polluters should pay." Well, Taking money from industry for environmental work is one thing, but sending your employees to join the Chamber of Commerce choir of praises to FPL and attempting to undermine other activists is probably not what Art had in mind. I was at the November 29 meeting, where Marshall Foundation Executive Director Josette Kaufman sung of FPL's glorious contributions to the environment (and i was thrown out for trying to address the Commission). And i wondered if she had ever read anything that Art Marshall wrote. She certainly didn't read the part where Art said "An effective institute would: (1) Need to be financially independent of any department or agency of government and of industry and special interest-groups. (2) Need to build confidence in its integrity among clients and supporters as well as among the public."

At least the Audubon Society of Florida held out for a higher pay-off. Between FPL, Enrique Tomeau (co-owner of the Palm Beach Aggregates rock mine, where the power plant sits) and Henry Dean (former head of South Florida Water Management District, who facilitated Aggregates deals) they made $100,000. But, then again, they also attempted a more ambitious backstabbing against grassroots opponents of FPL's West County Energy Center. At a December 2006 Florida Cabinet meeting, in front of then-Governor Jeb Bush (whose final major act in office was certifying this plant—two months earlier than originally planned), FL Audubon Policy Director Eric Draper tried to discredit the resolution that local activists had gotten passed through the well-respected Everglades Coalition. In an astounding display of disregard for formal Everglades Coalition process, he actually asked that it be stricken from the record at his sole request. He had not even consulted any Audubon scientists or members on the matter. To boot, Draper went on to present an award to Jeb Bush for his stewardship towards the environment.

By the following summer, four local politicians and a well-known lobbyist would be in prison for the crime of 'Honest Service Fraud'. Two out of the four politicians who are still currently in prison for the recent corruption charges, County Commissioners Tony Masilotti and Warren Newell, are serving time specifically for their dealings with the Palm Beach Aggregates' Enrique Tomeau. If Eric Draper, personal friend of Tomeau, who frequently facilitates acts of corporate generosity on behalf of his own salary, was an elected official he could likely be in there with Newell and Masilotti today.

A tale of the two towers

Many of the other already well-funded environmental groups in Florida that didn't take money directly from FPL took it instead from the Joyce Foundation during a farcical battle against FPL's proposed Coal plant in Glades County. The Joyce Foundation, as many now know, spread millions of dollars across the country pretending to fight coal plants while essentially attempting to gain positive public relations for the same industry's Coal Gasification technology. Although the crooked nature of the funding was well known, many groups including the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), EarthJustice, Environment Florida and the Everglades Law Center couldn't keep their hands out of the cookie jar. While the only option at the time for most grassroots activists outside the environmental-industrial complex seemed to also fight the coal proposal; in hindsight, the whole victory felt like a well-orchestrated, well-financed scandal which succeeded in creating a red herring to divert attention from other FPL projects, such as the abovementioned gas-fired plant and multiple new nuclear proposals that are now underway.

who feels it knows it

Before the Glades coal plant was proposed local residents and grassroots activists of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (PBCEC) were fighting the West County Energy Center (WCEC). While WCEC proposed less pollution than the coal plant, itwas a larger facility in a more precarious location (for further background on these two FPL plants, see Earth First! Journal May-June 2007). Our Coalition of grassroots activists and local residents solicited support for our efforts and received very little response from the well-established organizations across the State . We continued to fight in the shadows of FPL's Glades Coal proposal, declaring opposition to both projects. Within this time period several environmental organizations that had been silenced by FPL donations surfaced. We found that other groups, such as the Florida Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club, were supportive, but expressed feeling hesitation on the issue after having sided in favor of natural gas over other fossil fuels in the previous decade of energy policy work.


Gas? Natural? [to be read as a sidebar to the article]

Gas-fired power plants are no more 'natural' than coal, oil or nukes. Greenhouse emissions from burning gas are generally around half of what coal puts out. That is still huge, especially considering the increasing scale of gas usage, for example: the Glades County Coal plant was estimated at 14-16 million tons of CO2, where as the larger Palm Beach County Gas plant is estimated at 10-12 million tons. The energy industry has promoted gas so heavily as the only viable 'clean, green' alternative, that the crisis connected to what economists call the 'dash for gas' is exceeding the paralleled peak oil crisis. The fact is that thegas industry has drilled over 50,000 new gas wells in less than a decade, with no stabilization in price .

And the extraction process ain't too pretty folks. Gas extraction has fragmented wildlife habitat, poisoned communities, destroyed crop-lands and degraded streams throughout the West. Over 88 percent of federal natural gas resources on public lands in the Rocky Mountain states are available for leasing to energy companies.

For more info, check out:


As a PBCEC participant and group co-chair i have often reflected on the December '06 meeting in Tallahassee (where Audubon of Florida exposed their allegiance to FPL), recalling a conversation with Colleen Castille, former Secretary of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) under Governor Bush. She approached me suggesting that we drop our opposition to the gas plant in Palm Beach and instead join them in stopping the Glades coal plant. At the time i remember thinking it was strange. But looking back now it feels surreal.

Were other environmental organizations conspiring with FPL and DEP to manufacture the Glades County victory? Were they inviting me to join in?! My brain still rejects this idea as a conspiracy theory, but my gut-instincts scream up to me: ¨You idiot! That's how it all works. That's how the developers have gotten this far—welcome to the environmental-industrial complex.¨

Once the Coal plant was 'defeated' the PBCEC solicited another call for support against the WCEC, with little-to-no response from the moneyed groups (except for the local Loxahatchee Sierra Club, who has since gotten more involved). Where did all the money from the Coal fight go? Did it go towards paying six-figure salaries to environmental professionals, while grassroots groups scramble for crumbs to fight the WCEC behemoth? It's hard not to feel that way. One prominent attorney even responded to me that their firm only gets involved in large, precedent setting cases of regional impact, and then went on to litigate against a golf course.


Today the fight against the WCEC continues to gain momentum and grassroots support, with over 1000 signed petitions, dozens of protests, actions and news stories, two administrative legal challenges—one regarding the deep-well injection system, the other a permit for the Gulfstream gas pipeline—and a third challenge in federal court alleging violations of the EPA's Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, specifically noting a lack of oversight on massive CO2 emissions. The Gulfstream Pipeline company offered the PBCEC an undisclosed six-figure settlement/payoff to drop our challenge and leave their pipeline alone (maybe the Marshall Foundation and Audubon Florida shoulda played a little hard to get). Gulfstream even suggested that the money could be used to challenge the power plant, claiming that their pipeline is going in independent of FPL's plans even though the WCEC is their sole customer at the moment. The PBCEC declined the offer. But being a named plaintiff on the challenge, and part of the decision-making to decline the offer, i have to say it was a feeling of pressure that i had never experienced before. We discussed the possibility of a manuever to accept the money and use it to fight the WCEC on other grounds, or to fund future efforts (i even found myself thinking ¨damn, maybe i could use this to pay-off last months rent that i still owe¨). I can see why some well-intentioned folks take these sort of offers, and i can imagine the fear of becoming dependent on that money and risking it being pulled away from you. The temptation is real, and we need to understand why groups fall for it. But our struggles are also real, and no amount of money can buy us out of the ecological nightmare we have created. We will have to fight our way through with honesty, integrity,determination and a raging green fire in our eyes.

Gulfstream has already paid off multiple environmental groups for the prior 700 miles of pipeline crossing the Gulf of Mexico, from Texas to Martin County (where FPL has the Barley Barber facility, the fourth largest fossil-fuel power plant in the country.) But our little Coalition will not be joining that list. And Everglades Earth First! is committed to standing firm with the PBCEC to stop the WCEC and Gulfstream Pipeline's 34 mile Phase III project, by any and all means necessary.

While some of the individuals and organizations named above may have cringed all the way through this article (if they made it that far), we hope that they also see value in our uncompromising position. Lawsuits and protests may not have been the "Art Marshall way" during his lifetime (as i hear he preferred sticking with research and negotiation), but we hope that our actions to defend the Everglades and to expose both political and environmental corruption will be recognized as efforts to honor his vision and restore his tarnished legacy.

¨Out of the concern of Florida, and south Floridians, with such enlarging cities of energy and growth we must accomplish a vital feat in record time... The task is no placid one. Philosophically it involves recognition of the wrenching fact that many of the deep troubles of today result from the successes of yesterday—the momentum which established a great region can as well destroy it. If we elect to stay reasonably within the bounds of our life support system...we shall have to discard as a working philosophy our habitual drive to provide endlessly for the needs of ´projected growth.´ The essential question now is whether we shall have the wisdom and courage to do it, or shall simply pass the issue to a subsequent generation.¨

Arthur R. Marshall, Director, Division of Applied Ecology, 1973, from speech on ¨Energy and Growth¨

[For more of Art Marshall´s original writings visit: ]

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