The comments below were given to the Senate Committee on Rules on March 4, 2021 by Executive Director Aliki Moncrief.
We see SB 88 as a direct response to an environmental injustice caused by the burning of sugarcane fields. Plain and simple, this bill takes away the ability of everyday Floridians to seek legal remedies when agricultural operations are harming their quality of life and their health.
Thanks to the Sierra Club of Florida and tireless work by communities south of Lake Okeechobee, the harmful practice of sugarcane burning has been exposed. Its impact on predominantly Black and Latino communities within the agricultural areas south of Lake Okeechobee is undeniable, with residents reporting BLACK SNOW and too many days when burning exacerbates asthma attacks and increases trips to the hospital. The industry’s practice of avoiding burning when wind conditions would direct the pollution towards whiter, more affluent communities has been documented.
By expanding the definition of farm operation to include “particle emissions” — the bill is specifically increasing protections for sugarcane burning and taking away the ability of affected communities to seek legal relief.
Ironically, while the bill on the one hand extends protection to air pollution that can travel for miles — only people within one half mile of the agricultural operation can bring a claim. And even then, compensation for the harm they endure is limited to the reduction of their property’s value.
What happens when the “particle emissions” — or water pollution for that matter — extend for more than a half mile? What happens when the people harmed don’t own their property? Under this bill the answer is: nothing, because it protects the agricultural practice over the people who are harmed.
The bill creates a number of additional barriers to Floridians who, because of Florida’s now lax growth management approach, find themselves close to an agricultural operation that is harming their quality of life or their health. It elevates the burden of proof while at the same time awarding costs and expenses to the agricultural operation should the injured person’s claim fail to meet that exceedingly difficult burden.
Rather than remedying environmental injustice, this bill makes it worse and for that reason I ask you to vote no on SB 88.