Florida Continues Conservation Tradition

As you probably know already, Florida has made a tentative deal with Big Sugar to purchase 187,000 acres of Sugar's Everglades property for $1.75 billion so the area can be returned to its natural state.

This could be the end of a long and arduous battle between environmentalists, Big Sugar and the state. For years, environmentalists have been complaining that the state and federal government is spending hundreds of millions to restore the Everglades while sugar companies continue to dump contaminants and excess nutrients into the fragile ecosystem. In addition, Big Sugar has benefited from federal farming subsidies that have cost taxpayers $800 million to $1.9 billion per year. The government has even purchased leftover sugar from companies unable to sell all of their supplies. This dichotomy of spending heavily to clean-up the Everglades while propping up a major contributer to its pollution had left many Florida environmentalists dumbfounded.

In 1988, U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen sued Big Sugar for damage done to the Everglades. He lost the lawsuit but his work led to the Everglades Forever Act which mandated that Big Sugar reduce its phosphorus contamination by 25%. The industry accomplished this goal and more by reducing contamination by 56%. Eventually, in 1996, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring Big Sugar pay for the Everglades clean-up. The legislature never translated the amendment into actual law. Other opportunities to charge Big Sugar for its contributions to the Everglades' pollution have failed including a penny per pound tax on sugar that would be used to restore the wetland. Even as recently as 2006, several environmentalists tried tying state lawmakers to Big Sugar campaign contributions to highlight the industry's political clout with policy makers.

Finally the wars can end. Environmentalists and Big Sugar can stop spending millions on public relations and lawyers and can instead celebrate the end of an era. The industry has six years to farm their crops in the Everglades before they are forced to stop. In addition to ending sugar farming in the Everglades, this purchase will draw a line in the sand for developers who have been edging closer and closer to the Everglades with new neighborhoods and shopping areas.

This new Everglades purchase continues a tradition of conservation in Florida that should continue. A few years ago the state purchased an area in Central Florida to conserve it from development and to protect important habitat. In fact, as of March of this year, the state had conserved almost 2.5 million acres of land through the Florida Forever and Preservation 2000 Acts.

If you'd like to read the full Washington Post story on the new Everglades deal, go HERE. To see the land conservation statistics for Florida from the state's Department of Environmental Protection, go HERE.

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