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Carl Pope

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Field Notes Archive

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Carl Pope's Field Notes

Red Tides
27, 2004

Tampa, FL

Once again the Bush administration is on the wrong side of a backyard issue. The Gulf Coast of Florida has been hammered by more frequent, severe and longer-lasting red tides. These algae blooms used to be occasional and brief, but now -- sustained by agricultural and sewage run-off -- they end up sitting for weeks, sometimes months, along the beaches, where their toxins make it impossible even to take a walk without risking pulmonary distress.

So what have the Bush brothers done? Well, George has slashed funding that might have helped cities improve their sewers. Together, the brothers have savaged efforts to reduce nutrient run-off from the sugar industry north of Lake Okeechobee. George Bush's EPA fired its chief wetlands scientist in south Florida for trying to protect wetlands that would filter out nutrient run-off before it reached the ocean. And the developers of some of the projects that are exacerbating the problem are (surprise, surprise) big campaign donors to both Bush brothers. To add insult to injury, the Bush administration has also dramatically cut and limited scientific research that might have documented just where the nutrient problems were coming from.

So the Sierra Club is launching a campaign along the Gulf Coast to focus attention on the pollution component of the red-tides, and to demand that the President start funding science, enforcement and pollution cleanup. Somehow my guess is that this campaign, like so many others, will only really make headway if we get new leadership in Washington. I'm not really expecting the letter I just signed to the President to turn him around. But Florida voters, many of whom are planning this time to cast their votes, as allowed, a week before election day, may turn him around by turning him out (Since in 2000 so many Florida voters didn't get their votes counted at all, they are at least going to follow half of the famous dictum of the Chicago political machine: vote early and -- well -- once.)

Many of the media I meet with in Tampa are from Republican outlets, with Republican perspectives. It doesn't matter. They don't like or trust either Bush, and they think both Bush brothers are putting the whole state at risk.