About Me

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He started his career in the family real estate and hotel business in Florida from which his concern for the environment steered him in public life. He has served six Florida governors and two presidents in many positions, including terms as chairman of the Florida Department of Air and Water Pollution Control, and Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Beyond his government service, he helped found 1000 Friends of Florida and has served as both president and chairman of the board of the organization. He currently or has served on the boards of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Geographic Society, Yellowstone National Park, Everglades Foundation and Hope Rural School.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

JACKSONVILLE - The Past, the Present and the Future

Remarks by Nathaniel Reed on November 15, 2011
Before the Late Bloomers Garden Club

In 1968, literally immediately after he swore the Oath of Office, Gov. Claude Kirk asked me to become his Environmental Advisor. He offered me a converted closet with a desk near his office and a $1 a year salary. After a brief conversation with my wife, who was with me at the Inauguration, I accepted.

Six weeks later, the two tired characters that were the titular heads of the Florida Department of Health briefed the Governor and me on the millions of gallons of raw sewage and a deadly cocktail of untreated chemicals that flowed into every river, lake and estuary the length and breadth of Florida. They highlighted the plight of the St. Johns River where raw sewage was compounded by chemical dumping and even hospital waste discharges!

We were aghast, especially when they informed us that there were no state laws that gave the state power to enforce far stricter water quality standards. The Federal Water Pollution Control agency was buried in the Department of Interior; their role was unclear, but appeared to be only advisory.

The governor stated clearly: “Nathaniel, this is your issue! I will give you my support to pass the needed state legislation to require our municipalities and counties to clean up their sewage and I will see to it that we will invent a department of government that will enforce both state and the oncoming federal laws.”

A couple of months later the governor informed me that he had accepted an invitation by the Jacksonville business leadership for me to come to Jacksonville for lunch at the River Club and take a close look at the governor’s new “environmental advisor”. Governor Kirk thought that it might be appropriate to discuss the “St John River problems” with this group.

A state police officer drove me from the Iveson Airport toward downtown. As we approached one of the major bridges crossing the St. Johns we were held up by a phalanx of men in work cloths that were “on strike”. I leaned out the window and asked one of the leaders what the issue or issues were. He informed me that the bridges crossing the St. Johns were aged and needed to be painted with rust-proof paint every few years, but that the city had failed to increase their hourly wages for years—therefore the strike.

I arrived at the River Club which was located above the Prudential Building and escorted into a beautiful private dining room. I stood in line with Mr. Ball and shook hands with forty of the Titans of Jacksonville. They looked seriously formidable.

As I was served lunch, I inquired as to the smell that permeated Jacksonville and even influenced the air-conditioned room. Ed Ball replied that the scent was a combination discharges from chemical plants, paper mills and paint companies and the combination was really “quite delightful once one got used to it”. He added: “Nathaniel, it is the smell of money being made!”

I opened my off-the-cuff remarks with the story of the striker and jokingly added that I thought they should be rewarded with higher pay because if they fell into the river they were sure to be victims of every known disease that might have been dumped into the river. I urged my audience to seriously consider the value of the St. John’s River as one of Florida’s greatest assets, and worth their efforts to enhance and protect.

In closing, I announced that one of my most pressing priorities was to have the Florida legislature pass a clean water bill to regulate the discharge of toxic chemicals and eliminate the discharge of raw sewage in Florida. Deafening, frigid silence followed my closing. There were no follow-up questions. I bid my ado’s and rapidly headed for the safety of the state policeman and his car.

When I walked back into the Governor’s Office in Tallahassee there was a note on my desk requesting an immediate visit with the governor. I felt that my tour of duty was coming to a swift, short conclusion.

Kirk bellowed as I entered the Governor’s Office: “Well you really made a lot of friends for me in Jacksonville! I have received a dozen calls demanding not only your resignation but your head!” I answered: “I told them the truth: a clean St. John’s could be one of the great features of a great city, but I struck out!” I repeated Ed Ball’s perspective that: “stink equaled money” and the governor laughed so hard I thought he was going to fall out of his chair. Then there was a long moment of silence and he stated quietly, but firmly: “This is the battle that you have spoken about all over this state for the last ten years and you have been studiously ignored. Now you have my full support. Clean up this state!”

It’s been a long 40 plus years, but I think that Jacksonville has truly come a far distance from where it was so long ago.

Indeed, Florida – statewide - has made notable progress addressing both air and water pollution compared to where we were.

But Florida continues to grow, and growth continues to adversely impact many of our state’s prized resources, and indeed set back our efforts to make greater progress.

This morning I’d like to address two specific issues of critical importance to our home state: comprehensive land use planning – sometimes simplistically jargoned as “growth management”, and water resource management. Either topic alone could encompass all my and your available time today. The topics are tightly intertwined, but I would like to address each of these topics in the very specific context of our current economic situation and how this is influencing important policy considerations. My comments reflect my personal perspectives from all the “good experiences”, as well as a few bad experiences, over my past forty years of public service in Florida.

Much of our current dilemma may be due to the fact that Florida has always been the ultimate “pyramid scheme”. The Ponzi premise – as long as you can recruit new suckers to pay back the existing club members – you’ll be okay. This pretty much sums up the management strategy of Florida over my 40+ years of observation and participation. I would invite you all to name one public program in Florida – transportation, education, public health, environmental resource management, where we have actually put the cost of meeting the immediate needs upon the immediate population.

Florida’s history has been to expect that future growth will cover the cost of the current needs – next year’s new taxpayers will get the bill for existing infrastructure deficiencies – and their new demands will in turn be paid, not in full by them, but by their successors. As the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald staff in Tallahassee reported: “For years, governors and legislators relied on population growth to create jobs, avoid raising taxes, and shield the state from recession. They saw Florida’s population swell annually by 2-3% per year, adding the equivalent of a new Miami or Tampa each year”.

We’ve marketed ourselves as a low-tax, low-cost retirement haven. We have further convoluted the scheme with an absolutely archaic tax scheme, full of exemptions intended to provide short-term growth incentives but higher future costs – which will supposedly be covered by distributing those costs over a larger taxpayer base in the future.

FSU President T.K Wetherell observed that Florida is a state unwilling to face its challenges and noted: “You can’t be a world-class state and use the tax system that we have. This system is not going to produce the resources that we need to run one of the largest states in the nation and provide the services that people want. You can’t keep putting Band-Aids on it.”

The Palm Beach Post - in their 2009 New Year’s Day editorial – summarized brilliantly our past and possible future: “For decades Florida and the officials running the state, counties, and towns have perpetrated the myth that growth will pay for itself and provide a prosperous lifestyle for everyone who buys into the myth. With special tax breaks for long-time residents, the expectation that an ever-increasing supply of newcomers, snowbirds and tourists would pay most of the bills was as enticing a Ponzi scheme as any that Bernard Madoff promised. Now, Florida’s growth scheme has collapsed. The growth myth should collapse along with it. Yes, the real estate market will come back – let’s hope in a more rational form. But unbridled growth never again should be seen as Florida’s perpetual money machine.”

Some might argue that Florida hasn’t really had unbridled growth, but rather truly managed growth, Governor Scott says over-managed – a rather hard premise to accept given the obvious massive over-building, and 1920’s style Boom-Time speculation that which has glutted the state housing market. Little wonder that we are now the poster-child for the foreclosure debacles.

Governor Scott and the developers who control the majority of the legislature had their way in the last legislative session: they have eliminated growth management in Florida.

I think all levels of Florida’s government, must face the fact that a sound economic policy must also be a sound environmental policy – or we’re just once again pawning the true costs into the future - with compounded interest!

The current economic catastrophe placed us squarely at the crossroads of Ponzi Place and Sustainable Avenue. We had the opportunity to break out of the old More Growth No Matter What syndrome – and we failed. Under the chorus call of “Jobs, Jobs, and More Jobs”, we removed even the most prudent, practiced, and minimal of restraints on Ponzi planning.

In times of stress, especially, we hear calls for “leadership and courage”. But re-election is much more dependent upon following the public will than trying to lead it – and the public will is currently much more concerned with immediate personal problems than the long-term future of Florida. We need to recognize that many Floridians would willingly accept another future problem - which they won’t likely live to face - in exchange for a fix to their immediate financial woes.

Throughout the last decade, we had somewhat adopted the catchphrase “smart growth” to imply greener, more sustainable efforts. It’s been perhaps most accurately considered a desirable “goal”.

I would argue that any growth that doesn’t pay for itself isn’t smart at all!

And what the Governor and the legislature have done isn’t less than smart, its truly stupid - and wholly irresponsible pandering. In one year, they’ve set Florida back by forty years. The cumulative shared growth legacy of five successive governors; Kirk, Askew, Chiles, Martinez, and even Bush, has been negated by one business promoter with no apparent understanding of the importance of sound growth planning.

If I sound angry, I am! And disgusted that the state legislature has lost all those great Floridians (Kirk, Askew, Chiles, Martinez, and Bush) whose vision included our citizens of the future, rather than just knee-jerk responses that might look good in their re- election a few months later.

During its infancy, comprehensive planning in Florida wasn’t really strongly linked to water issues. Comprehensive plans focused more on balancing residential/industrial/commercial uses, providing adequate green space etc. Water was considered primarily in the context of drainage needs and potable supply needs. The need for water conservation criteria evolved in the early process. “Demand management” became the new focus; requiring water-conserving fixtures in new homes and more efficient irrigation systems.

Meanwhile, the Water Management Districts were finding that groundwater withdrawals in some areas were approaching unacceptable levels and risked environmental damage or well-field damage by salt-water intrusion. Especially in South Florida, the traditional solution of “stick another straw in the ground” wasn’t an option anymore; too many straws guaranteed too little water left. Across the state, the Water Management Districts, through their regulatory permitting processes forced the utilities to pursue new alternatives. We were once the nation’s leader in water management.

From a water resource perspective, the Governor’s gutting of the autonomy of the water management districts with the mantra that the citizens shouldn’t be governed by non-elected boards, and the desire for legislative control of their budgets to supposedly save taxpayer dollars, promises to be another fiasco. Can anyone in the room point to something that the Florida legislature has managed so successfully that you now can feel comfortable with them now managing your water supply? Schools, Transportation, Public Health?

Close to your homes, the battle between JEA, Jacksonville and Duval County's giant power and water utility unwillingly faced the fact that growing evidence indicated that pumping from the aquifer had reached or even exceeded sustainable limits. New research indicated that the city’s well fields were playing a part in the dramatic drawdown of lakes in the interior of northeast Florida. I won’t replay the incredible political decisions that over-ruled sound science and will lead to lawsuits and confusion in years to come as Jacksonville’s power brokers convinced Governor Scott and his designee to grant a 20-year pumping permit when all the evidence indicates that present pumping is impacting aquifer levels even in the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers. Water wars are bound to be the result of political meddling with sound science. Expensive lawsuits are inevitable.

Governor Scott and the leaders of the Florida legislature have nearly crippled one of the most innovative water management systems in the United States, if not the world. It’s easily accomplished: simply force major reductions in the water management budgets, retire all critics and sound scientists that don’t agree with the orders of the day.

A good example is the dramatic shift that has taken place within the St. John’s Water Management District. The District has essentially stopped rule making and ended an updated water supply plan, once a top priority said to be legislatively mandated the all-important road map of the future.

Less than a year ago, the SJRWMD was sounding the alarm that Northeast Florida was reaching the sustainable limits of the aquifer. However, the District recently issued an unprecedented CUP (Consumptive Use Permit) to the JEA utility that could eventually result in a 40% increase in withdrawals from the aquifer. The permit was issued despite U.S. Geological Survey models that indicate current Northeast Florida groundwater use is already adversely impacting springs and waterways to the west. Florida legislators have also made it more difficult for citizens to achieve standing and to have a voice in the decision-making process that impacts the water resources that belong to all of us. This was an outrageous effort to prevent public input in vitally important issues.

Rather than continue to lament Florida’s movement back into the Dark Ages, I’d like to now focus on where we go from here.

As the saying goes “this too shall pass”, though painfully. The pendulum has been swung too far, too quickly, and the effects will certainly lead to an attempt to correct the errors. That’s the nature of government.

In a few weeks, former Governor Graham, several dozen members of the legislature, and a cadre of environmental leaders will meet on the Capitol steps to announce our intent to challenge Governor Scott and begin planning for the post-Scott era.

Without doubt, growth management planning, and water supply management deserve thoughtful review and careful scrutiny, and some portions of programs could possibly be eliminated or modified, but the basic premise of state oversight to insure comprehensive, affordable planning remains sound. The necessity to insure that our water supplies are adequate to meet our future growth is an absolute fundamental necessity.

We are trying to throw the economic recovery of Florida on the back of construction workers – that may be a quick fix – but we can’t expect to continually build ourselves out of trouble – just ask Spain, France or Italy what eventually happens when you run out of ways to grow and have created an unsustainable economic framework.

The water problems in the Everglades remain perhaps even more acute than those of the St. Johns River basin; however I’m not going to talk about the great Everglades ecosystem and the giant efforts that are underway to restore this once world-class natural feature.

I just want you to know that one of your finest, Joe Duke, is a member of the Everglades Foundation’s Board of Directors that within a few short years has engaged the finest staff imaginable - fully capable of taking on misguided efforts by the state of federal agencies to misjudge what restoration entails. Our board and staff are totally committed and we have strong allies in the Congress even though we have lost key supporters in the legislature and in the governor’s chair. Every statewide poll indicates strong support for restoration in every corner of this elongated state.

You should also be aware that there are a minimum of two major federal lawsuits against the state for failure to provide clean water to the Everglades. It will be the ultimate challenge to see if the state will comply with the decisions that survive legal challenge - probably all the way to the Supreme Court. So far, EVERY federal court ruling has favored Everglade’s restoration efforts, with federal judges consistently unwilling to accept further state delay, or half-measures in lieu of adequate protection.

I’d like to take a final moment to address one last critical water issue that has recently been at the forefront of our state’s environmental news – the problem that excessive nutrients are still polluting hundreds of lakes, rivers and our once productive, clean estuaries. From the beginning of water quality management in Florida, we have relied on non-numeric criteria to manage run-off. I passed this standard in 1970. We knew nothing – nothing about nutrient pollution!

Our state’s water quality law says you cannot degrade a water body by the agricultural discharges. The law essentially says that you can’t degrade a water body without telling you when you’re doing so. We’ve relied upon “improvement plans” without a link to the actual needs of our various diverse natural systems. Best Management Practices (BMP’s) have proven to be a myth. They aren’t enforced and they don’t work!

Despite doing various “good deeds”, we haven’t provided true protection: more than 300 water bodies in our state have been classified as seriously in danger from unregulated discharges of phosphorus and nitrogen. That's just the beginning. Further testing will prove that there are another 200 or 300 bodies of water that are dying because of floods of nutrients. I can’t give you an exact number, but it is safe to say that MANY are…primary examples: Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie, Caloosahatchee, and St. Johns Rivers. Most of our major river systems and lakes are on the wrong side of the nutrient balance.

To its credit, the St. Johns District has spent decades developing and implementing impressive plans, and land acquisitions, to reduce inputs to the St. Johns from large farm operations, but the problems continue. The St. John District is miles and years ahead of the other WMD’s in controlling excessive nutrients entering your major water systems but there is still much to be accomplished.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency was finally forced by a brilliant Florida lawsuit to in turn force the State of Florida to face its major nutrient pollution problem. The state, as usual, has never established stringent numeric nutrient regulations as federal law requires, and after months of negotiations, EPA decided that enough was enough and announced that they would establish workable standards and enforce them.

All hell broke out. Our congressional delegation raced to the congressional appropriations committees and begged them to deny funding for EPA’s determined effort.

The Members of the Florida Legislature went bananas.

Adam Putman, our brilliant Secretary of Agriculture and a young man with a great future mobilized every Chamber of Commerce, every agricultural interest to oppose any involvement of EPA to enforce nutrient standards. It was a hysterical reaction, as EPA cannot enforce non-point standards – but under Florida law DEP can! The most commonly used phrases were: “we cannot afford to comply” which translated into common English means “we prefer dirty water versus trying to have clean water”.

The second complaint by our “leaders” was this was an example of overreach by the federal government - EPA reaching into Florida and mandating a significant action.

The polluters won. President Obama’s political advisors overruled the EPA experts and forced the Administrator of EPA to agree to a Florida plan that is clearly inadequate and will be again challenged in court, as it is still in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The charade continues. As leaders in your community, ask yourselves, is it worth paying for major improvements to the sewage systems of this city to remove nutrients and have DEP enforce nutrient standards upstream or are you satisfied by a St. John’s River that reeks on incoming tides during the warm summer months when the nutrients create a vast green algal bloom that stretches miles and can develop into a very serious human health issue?

It is an issue worth your close attention. We must insist that DEP be required to enforce state law.

We all are in shock at the jobless figures, a dysfunctional Congress, our fiscal dilemma, the incredible gap in our national budget, the loss of so many fine young men and women in two far off wars of questionable value that now cost $2 billion a week to support and the growing problem of the national debt that forecloses so many options for rebuilding America into the powerhouse that it can be.

Winston Churchill’s final address before his school where he had been beaten, bullied, failed in class work, stumbled from lack of coordination, and even developed a lisp was simple. He tottered to the podium as the school children and faculty waited breathlessly for this seminal address. They were stunned when the great man’s final speech was simply: “Don’t Give Up!” He turned to walk to his seat but paused and returned to the podium. He stared across the rows of young men who would become the leaders of Great Britain and stated firmly, “No, Never, Never give up!”

We must find men and women with courage to defy quick fixes and think about the legacy we want jointly to leave our successors.

I leave you today with the hope and expectation that the superb city and county in which you live will show the way to a better Florida.

It’s up to us, all of us to halt the determined, short-sighted attack on the state which we love. Governor, Members of the Legislature: we will not GIVE UP!

Thank you for the honor of being your guest.