Sierra Club: The Planet-- 1996
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The Planet
Making Everglades Everlasting

In February, Vice President Al Gore announced a historic and comprehensive government plan to restore the Everglades, south Florida's premier ecosystem, by forging a partnership with the state government and the regional sugar industry. Everglades activists are excited by the plan's intentions, but are looking for a stronger commitment from the region's biggest polluter-- and an enforceable guarantee.

The plan would increase federal funding of water and land management programs, create an Everglades Restoration Fund, accelerate restoration projects and commit to water quality standards that will protect the Everglades and Florida Bay. It also calls for the expansion of Everglades National Park, the creation of buffer zones and the selective acquisition of agricultural acreage to be used for water storage and other hydrological enhancements.

Most significantly, Gore said that those who had benefited so long from public investment -- and have been largely responsible for the Everglades' environmental degradation -- would share the costs of restoration. Gore asked that the sugar industry contribute "its fair share" to the $1.5 billion, seven-year plan by putting "a penny a pound" toward enhancing water quality and restoring the environmental health of the region.

But environmentalists are concerned that the administration's proposed tax lets the industry off the hook and would require taxpayers and south Florida residents to carry the burden. "The Everglades Committee fully supports every component of the program, except the per-pound tax," said Craig Diamond, Florida Chapter Everglades issues chair. "Big Sugar wanted to contribute nothing while we sought a two-cent levy to do the restoration job right, so the penny per pound represents a compromise that the industry is sure to fight -- just as they've fought to maintain price supports.

"It's great to have the backing of the administration," added Diamond, "but many of these actions still have to be approved and funded by a Congress that hasn't made environmental protection a priority. The plan looks impressive, but the question remains, When?" To take action: Urge your congressional representative to insist that the sugar program be put to a floor vote during final votes on the Farm Bill. Ask them to also provide full and prompt funding for each element of the administration's plan. Remind them that the health of the Everglades is not a partisan issue.

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