As a congressional block to an executive order to restore federal protection of smaller waterways looms, environmental groups in Florida are trying to draw attention to the potential harm of not having those protections in place.
Standing on the steps of St. Pete City Hall Tuesday, Environment Florida and other groups held a press conference highlighting findings tying corporate contributions and lobbying to bad laws for the environment.
“It's clear that when powerful special interests spend their millions and billions of dollars to influence elections and to lobby decision makers, they drown out the voices of everyday Americans,” said Bill Newton, executive director of Florida Consumer Action Network. “The polluters have been disproportionately influencing Congress for decades, it's not really new. But they've ramped it up tremendously in recent years because of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McHutcheon.”
Using public records, the report lists companies that are doing the polluting, how much toxic sludge they're adding to waterways, how much they contributed to campaigns over the 2014 election cycle and how much they spent lobbying in 2014.
“The same companies that are polluting our rivers with toxic chemicals are polluting our politics with their spending,” said Jennifer Rubiello, a spokeswoman for Environment Florida.
In Florida, according to the report, Koch Industries-owned Buckeye Technologies, Inc., which operates a plant in Perry, FL that produces "cellulose products used in baby wipes and tires," released 264,460 pounds of pollution into the Econfina-Steinhatchee River. And they spent $13,800,000 on lobbying and $7,703,185 on campaign contributions last year.
“The result of Koch's influence is dead zones, dead rivers, enormous loss of resources in the Gulf of Mexico," said Linda Young, director of the Florida Clean Water Network. "This is known as privatizing profits and socializing pollution, an art that has been mastered by the Koch brothers.”
Since its initial passage in 1972, the Clean Water Act once protected waterways small and large, but some protections were eliminated during George W. Bush's administration. The Obama Administration is trying to bring those protections back, but Congressional Republicans are filing legislation to preempt that.
One supporter of such legislation is U.S. Rep. David Jolly, A Republican who represents the bulk of Pinellas County, which irks St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Darden Rice.
“Opponents of these clean water actions including, unfortunately, my representative, David Jolly, who received a great deal of support from the Koch affiliated super PACs and special interests, is claiming that this rule is bad for cities and counties," she said. "But I respectfully disagree. Hundreds of public officials across the country, like myself, have signed on in support of this rule. We have seen this law help revive many of our country's worst polluted lakes and rivers. So to continue to weaken it through loopholes and non-enforcement is gravely irresponsible.”
She said protecting Florida's small waterways, ones like St. Petersburg's Crescent Lake, is crucial to the state's environmental health.
"So if we want to get serious about protecting the Bay and larger bodies of water, we need to make sure that the smaller tributaries and wetlands that flow into them are not paved over with sprawled development or polluted with toxic chemicals, because all water is connected,” she said.
Rubiello said the EPA will likely finalize the rules in April, but then they have to withstand congressional review — assuming Congress doesn't block it before that.