By TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers Editorial Board
Patience is said to be a virtue. But not when it leads to complacency. Or acceptance of the unacceptable.
Which is why some remarks Gov. Ron DeSantis’ chief science officer made during a recent interview with TCPalm are so troubling.
The state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force, empaneled by DeSantis in 2019, released a report earlier this month noting most of its recommendations for cleaning up the state’s waterways haven’t been followed.
Mark Rains heads that task force. Yet he seemed remarkably unbothered by the current state of affairs.
“As we’re continuing to make progress, I’m not overly concerned about where we are today — I’m concerned about what we do tomorrow,” Rains said in an interview the day after the task force’s lack-of-progress report was released.
Rains said the state’s pollution problems have been brewing for 175 years, and solutions won’t come overnight.
If those problems had been discovered yesterday, Rains’ response would seem perfectly reasonable.
However, in light of the state’s history of inaction in addressing those problems, Rains seems about as disingenuous as the corrupt police captain portrayed by Claude Rains in the 1942 classic movie, Casablanca.
In the movie, Claude Rains’ character professes to be “shocked — shocked — to find that gambling is going on” in the casino the Germans have ordered him to close.
One can almost imagine Mark Rains feigning similar surprise, with a similar amount of credibility, about the state’s water conditions.
It’s true, on the most superficial level, that cleaning up water pollution is a monumental task that requires a multi-faceted approach to accomplish.
It’s not like trying to solve the riddle of the Sphinx, however. There are a lot of practical ideas for how to make it happen.
Within months of its formation, the task force made up of scientific experts came up with a list of steps for improving water quality. According to its follow-up report, 87% of the recommendations haven’t been followed.
In some cases, legislation to address some of the issues has been proposed, but not approved by the Legislature and signed into law.
In other cases, it appears no action has been taken at all.
For example, consider the state’s efforts to track the amount of pollution entering Lake Okeechobee at various points along the waterway. In January, TCPalm published an investigation illustrating how and why those monitoring efforts have been ineffective.
Rather than using available technology to monitor pollution levels, the investigation found state regulators were essentially taking polluters at their word about the amounts of toxic materials flowing into the lake, many of which eventually end up being released into the St. Lucie River.
The investigation also detailed how the state allows property owners to follow a set of voluntary best management practices, rather than enforcing pollution restrictions with fines or other penalties.
In response, state lawmakers did virtually nothing to address those issues in this year’s regular legislative session or the special sessions that followed. Maybe if Disney were one of the alleged polluters, our elected leaders might have found some steel in their spines.
But ensuring clean drinking water apparently isn’t as sexy of a political issue as whatever culture war debate is dominating the day’s headlines.
There are lots of other steps state officials could be taking to address these problems, including providing more money for septic-to-sewer conversions, improving stormwater treatment infrastructure, and investing in new pollution-reduction technologies.
There are activists in Florida who have spent large portions of their lives advocating for cleaner water. You could fill a small cemetery with advocates whose time ran out before meaningful progress was made.
To them and people who share their views, preaching about patience and the virtues of long-term solutions rings a little hollow.
Florida native Tom Petty sang that the waiting was the hardest part. But he was just talking about the time he spent between concert performances.
In their quest for clean water, Floridians have something more substantive at stake. And we have waited long enough.
This editorial comes from TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers, which is part of the Invading Sea collaborative of Florida editorial boards focused on the threats posed by the warming climate.