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February 14, 2012

Club Helps Preserve Strong Florida Fertilizer Regs

Cris-Costello-at-rally

On February 3 in St. Petersburg, the Florida Sierra Club held its fifth press conference in 11 days to protest a bill in the state legislature that would have scuttled local fertilizer regulations during the torrential rainy season, June through September. That's Sierra Club organizer Cris Costello, above, speaking to the media.

Three days later, the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation killed the bill, prompting the House to table HB 421, its version of the measure. Asked if it was dead, the bill's chief sponsor replied, "In three letters, yes."

Longtime Sierra Club staffer Frank Jackalone calls the victory against Big Fertilizer, Big Pest Control, and Big Turf a true grassroots success story.

At the St. Petersburg press conference, Club activists rallied behind Costello, holding signs and displaying photographs taken by Pinellas County staff showing lawn care companies applying fertilizer while it was raining—a recipe for runoff pollution.

Costello-at-St-Pete-rally
Photo courtesy of WTSP Channel 10 News

"Despite the provisions of the local ordinance and despite basic common sense, these companies sent employees to apply fertilizer during a rainstorm," Costello told WTSP-TV News, the local CBS affiliate. "The rainy season ban is the backbone of meaningful fertilizer management."

The St. Petersburg rally followed similar media events on January 23 in Sarasota, Fort Myers, Clearwater, and Stuart. That's Club organizer Katie Parrish, below, speaking in Fort Myers.

Katie-Parrish-at-rally

The events were pulled together in collaboration with elected officials and allied citizen groups—a network of allies that has been built up over the last five years by the Club's Red Tide Campaign. The campaign arose in response to efforts by fertilizer, pest control, and turf companies to end local government regulations on urban fertilizer use.

Nutrient runoff from fertilizers is polluting area lakes, Tampa Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico. Researchers say excess nitrogen and phosphorus runoff is responsible for a thick layer of muck in upper Tampa Bay, and links have been found between nutrient pollution and red tide in the Gulf.

Last November the Sierra Club helped successfully defend strong fertilizer pollution controls in Tampa. But HB 421 would have stopped local governments from implementing the most important provision in the state's local urban fertilizer ordinances—the rainy season application ban. "Without the ban," Costello says, "local fertilizer ordinances become close to meaningless."

St-Pete-press-conference
Photo courtesy of WTSP Channel 10 News

When HB 421 was passed out of committee on January 25, the Club and its allies—including local elected county commissioners and city council members from seven counties—took their case to editorial boards in Tampa, Sarasota, and Fort Myers, where they received published support.

Elected officials and staff then traveled to Tallahassee while the Sierra Club orchestrated an all-out barrage of phone calls and letters to legislators from the grassroots, capped off by the St. Petersburg press conference, which garnered widespread media coverage.

"This bill [has] unintended consequences to our environment and our economy,” Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah told the Senate committee. "It's a job killer. Tourists don’t come to see blue green algae, the destruction of sea grasses, and dead fish on the beaches." That's Judah below, speaking at the press conference in Fort Myers.

Ray-Judah-in-Fort-Myers

Learn more about what the Sierra Club is doing to combat nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and protect America's waters.

 

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