- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Aug. 1

Miami Herald on climate change in Florida:

The headline on a Herald front-page story last week nearly says it all: Florida leads nation in risk to property by climate change. The report measures the state’s vulnerability in dollars-and-cents and finds, not surprisingly, that we’re No. 1. But not in a good way.

Most sentient people in what we like to call the Sunshine State already knew that Florida was Ground Zero for climate change. Our peculiar geography is both a glorious bounty - wonderful, world-famous beaches at our fingertips - and the reason that our state is so dangerously exposed to rising seas and other effects of global warming.

Now we learn that Florida has more private property at risk from flooding linked to climate change than any other state. And, if that’s not enough, the level of risk could double in the next four decades, according to a new report by the Risky Business Project.

The numbers are so big that they are hard for the average person to fathom, but here’s one measure of how bad it is: The $69 billion in Florida coastal property that is not at risk today but could flood at high tide in the future is nearly as big as the current state budget for Florida. And that is projected to climb to $152 billion by 2050.

Short of moving to Iowa - not that there’s anything wrong with Iowa - what are we supposed to do? The short answer is for everyone to become aware that there is no time to lose. And, perhaps more important, for business leaders to get into the game.

The projections cited above are within the lifetime of most people reading this. Which means it’s later than you think. It’s not about the far-distant future, nor is it a problem we can pass on to future generations. It’s about us.

The leaders of the Risky Business Project, like co-chair and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, put the report in modest terms. “We are just simply looking at the risk.”

Yet the report is much more than a mere accountant’s ledger of the costs of climate change. It’s a call to action on the part of the business community, a plea for those who have the most at stake to get involved in the biggest challenge facing this generation and future ones. Mr. Paulson and his colleagues believe that putting the problem in a business perspective should arouse the business community to become more active.

That’s a smart approach. Business leaders, acting in unison and on a nonpartisan basis, can influence government in a way that special-interest groups can’t. They are better equipped to get the ear of government leaders. Ultimately, only changes mandated by government can create the policies that can help keep us safe from climate change, but government leaders are unlikely to act without being prodded into action.

In concrete terms this means that Gov. Rick Scott, a climate-change denier (“I’m not a scientist”), might be more willing to listen if his friends in the business community told him the facts.

It means government leaders might be more willing, even eager, to design a building code that can withstand the coming changes (and offer incentives for energy-efficient structures) if builders and developers lobby for it.

It means the four-county South Florida Compact that has been working for years to address the risks might act with urgency if it has the active backing of the business community.

The worst effects of climate change are rushing toward us. At least, thanks to efforts like the Risky Business Project, we can’t say we weren’t warned.




Aug. 3

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on drilling for oil in the Everglades:

Just because there might be untapped oil reserves in the Everglades doesn’t mean the state should continue to allow private companies to set up drilling operations in such a fragile ecosystem.

Yet the possibility exists that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will issue a permit to a company wanting to look for oil in the southwestern part of Broward County.

The DEP should refuse to issue the permit. If the Everglades aren’t off-limits, then what is?

Yes, some small-scale drilling operations have occurred in the Everglades since the 1940s and continue today. But as the state and the public become more aware of the importance of protecting the Everglades, the idea of issuing more permits to explore for oil there seems obscene.

Especially with the BP oil spill fresh in the minds of every Gulf Coast resident. Drilling may be safer today than in years past, but it only takes one accident to cause irreparable harm. And the activities related to oil production - from the roads needed to accommodate the heavy machinery to the waste products - are incompatible with a wildlife area that is home to endangered plants and animals.

The recent permit request is from a Miami company that owns 20,000 acres in southwestern Broward County.

According to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper, the company wants permission to drill 2 miles down on a 5-acre tract about 5 miles west of the town of Miramar.

The company, Kanter Real Estate LLC, promises “to complete the project safely while protecting Florida’s environment.” But there’s no sense in risking even a remote chance of spoiling even a small part of the Everglades, which is undergoing billions of dollars of restoration to reverse the damage caused by misguided government flood-control projects.

The Everglades is an extraordinarily important ecosystem. It is the only wetland of its kind in the world and is considered a national environmental treasure. …

Private companies are interested in knowing what might be available in what is known as the Sunniland Trend oil deposits under the Everglades. The oil being pumped from the Everglades has been a low-grade crude used mostly in roads and lubricants.

Questions about how much oil might be underneath the Everglades have piqued the interest of companies since the first discovery in 1943. But even in the most generous scenario, it wouldn’t begin to equal the vast reserves thought to exist in other states and off the coasts in other parts of the country.

Those reserves represent enough to affect the domestic oil production in meaningful ways.

Why open the Everglades to more drilling for a payoff that might benefit the companies but has little impact on the nation’s dependency on foreign oil?

We’re not against exploring for domestic oil reserves in this country where it makes sense. But it makes no sense to expand in the Everglades, a sacred environmental resource that should be treated that way.




Aug. 5

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on state’s elections and voting process:

With the 2016 presidential election on the horizon and the ghosts of elections past still haunting it, you would think Florida would have an acute sense for ensuring its voting processes are working as smoothly and efficiently as a Ferrari engine.

A recent report, though, indicates the state still is operating like a ‘74 Gremlin.

The state auditor general, an independent officer hired by the Legislature, recently identified seven weaknesses with Florida’s voter registration system, a computerized database of voter information. They included:

- Inadequate maintenance and performance controls to reduce the risk of equipment failures. Officials said the system crashed eight times just between December and February; one failure lasted three days.

- Disaster recovery plans that have not been tested in the last four years.

- Fourteen state employees who had “inappropriate” access to the database.

- Employees who had been on the job nearly a year who received no security training.

- Security controls intended to protect the confidentiality of data needed to be improved.

To summarize, the state’s voter database is at risk of failing and/or being compromised. That would make for some potentially chaotic voting scenarios in a high-stakes national election - everything from valid registered voters being denied the opportunity to cast a ballot, to allegations of voter fraud.

Hanging chads would seem quaint by comparison.

The database has been the subject of controversy in recent years when Republicans led by Gov. Rick Scott attempted to eliminate non-citizens from the voter rolls. That project was bungled when legitimate voters got caught up in the purge, the victims of corrupted and confusing data. Apparently it still is unreliable.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner, whose office is charged with administering elections, didn’t dispute the auditor’s report and instead responded with a list of ways the department is working to resolve the problems. That’s encouraging, although the ongoing hiccups and setbacks with Florida’s electoral system long ago became frustrating. Will they never end?

More troubling, though, was the reaction by the state’s local supervisors of elections. In a letter to Detzner, Brian Corley, the Pasco County supervisor of elections who is president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, criticized the secretary and his office for failing to communicate with the supervisors, the ground troops who are tasked with carrying out state election policies. In particular, Corley complained that at a meeting last month with the secretary to discuss the voter registration system, Detzner did not share the results of the audit even though he already had responded to it a month earlier.

That’s not the first time county supervisors of elections have said the secretary has given them the cold shoulder. They also have clashed with him over the database purge and the new online voter registration bill passed this year.

“This lack of communications, left unchecked, will do nothing more than create an environment that obstructs the efficiency and innovation of our collaborative work,” Corley wrote.

If that conflict produces Election Day disorder, the biggest losers will be Florida voters, and the Sunshine State’s national reputation for electoral incompetence will be further justified. The clock is ticking on getting the bugs out of the system - particularly human error.



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