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District 19 Congressional Democratic primary: Water quality

August 23, 2018
Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Two Democratic candidates will face off in the Tuesday, Aug. 28, primary. The winner will go on to compete with incumbent Republican Congressman Francis Rooney and write-in Pete Pollard in the November general election.

The biggest issue facing District 19 this year is water quality. From the Caloosahatachee River to the Gulf of Mexico, cyanobacteria and red tide have caused environmental and economical havoc.

We quizzed the two candidates, David Holden and Todd Truax with five questions about their water quality platforms.

Article Photos

David Holden

David Holden:

My parents instilled in me the importance of a strong education and giving back to the community. Professionally, I have led nonprofits and businesses for 30 years-serving in leadership roles at the United Way, YMCA, and a statewide mental health consortium. Today, my wife Streeter and I co-manage a financial planning practice in Naples where we help everyday Floridians save for retirement-because everyone deserves a chance to succeed, not just those at the very top.

Todd Truax:

Todd Truax is a 20-year resident of southwest Florida. He has spent countless hours enjoying the natural beauty of its waterways on his canoe. As a candidate he has signed the Bull Sugar Pledge to protect our waterways and not accept donations from the industries he believes are responsible for the degradation of the environment. Truax stated he has been a strong advocate for our waterways, joining with Senator Bill Nelson in his community round tables, working with the Sierra Club, holding town halls with the SWFL Clean Water Advocate, John Heim, and studying the effect of green algae with Pete Quasius of the Audubon of the Western Everglades.

* Q: Should Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) funding be prioritized. If not, why not? If so, what would be your strategy to see it continues to receive the funding it needs from the federal government to keep moving forward?

DH: Anyone representing Southwest Florida in Congress has a duty to ensure that CERP funding is prioritized. We cannot keep kicking the can down the road pretending this problem is being fixed. It's not. The next Congress will be dealing with a bill on infrastructure, and it is imperative that we infuse CERP into the infrastructure bill so that we can speed up construction of the reservoir. I propose a two-coast solution teaming up with congressional representatives on the other coast to lobby and push through continued funding.

There is a bill-the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Control Act-before Congress right now. This bill would allot money to study how these blooms form and what we can do to fight them and is a companion bill to the amendment Senator Nelson introduced in the Senate. Stunningly, Francis Rooney isn't even a co-sponsor of this bill.

TT: Yes, the CERP funding should be prioritized. The 35-plus year plan at the cost of $10.5 billion was authorized by Congress nearly 20 years ago. The state and federal partnership has been stalled and back-tracked on the state level for the past eight years. We need to focus on not only supplying a consistent supply of clean fresh water to the residents of Florida, but to also restore the natural flow of fresh water to the Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve. The key to restoring this flow south is eliminating the root cause of the phosphorous pumped into the rivers, lakes and streams from agricultural and residential sources.

* Q: From the federal level, how would you work with state agencies to address the issue?

DH: One action we can take is to pressure the state Department of Health to request that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study the health impact of these blooms. I know that Senator Nelson has been rebuffed in his efforts to have the CDC launch a study on their own. As a Congressman, I will have a bully pulpit and a large megaphone. Rather than concentrate on photo op visits like Francis Rooney has done, I plan to be vocal in demanding action and accountability. Ultimately, we must bring all stakeholders to the table-federal, state, and local-to forge broad consensus on long-term solutions.

TT: From the Federal Level, I would be able to fund demonstration projects for the use of cattle and dairy farm waste as a natural fertilizer for the agricultural crops produced in our heartland. These waste products could be pumped out of manure lagoons currently encircling the northern edge of Lake Okeechobee, and injected 6 inches into the ground of citrus, tomato, and pepper crops, eliminating the threat of sheet flow run-off and the need for mining of phosphates and nitrates which are spread atop the surface. This process is already in place in Ohio, Iowa, Kansas and other states. It has been demonstrated that this would reduce run-off, create a savings for produce farmers, and also create an additional revenue stream for the dairy and cattle industry by making a profit off their waste products.

* Q: Are better or additional regulations needed to lower pollution into Lake Okeechobee, and if yes, what would you propose?

DH: Before we decide on new regulations, we should be enforcing those in place. For example, there have been attempts in the past to control pollution of Lake O, all of which have lapsed under the current state administration. There was the Harmful Algae Bloom Task Force that was defunded by the state in 2001, designed to track the buildup of harmful algae blooms (HAB), warn us of the coming dangers, and help us in preparing to combat its effects. In addition, Gov. Scott cut the budget of state water management agencies for five straight years, an action that reduced monitoring of Lake O to all but meaningless. One solution I will propose in Congress is a tax credit for users of natural, non-polluting fertilizers-particularly large users such as farms, golf courses, and commercial institutions.

TT: As has been demonstrated by the Army Corps of Engineers, Florida is responsible for what Florida puts into its waterways. The Army Corps is only responsible for the flow of water and maintenance of the dike around Lake O. The past 8 years of "regulatory burden" removal have lead to a denial of global warming, a reduction in EPA funding, a weakening of environmental protections and a free-for-all for polluters leading to this historic devastation along our coastlines. Voters will need to think twice before electing corporate funded candidates, who answer to their biggest donors before their constituents.

We have seen in Dunedin that the local government has taken steps to ban fertilizers for residential, commercial, and agricultural uses. We need to act locally to re-enact septic system inspections, limit fertilizer use, and mitigate the addition of pollutants to our waterways. The natural flow of rain from hurricane seasons will flush the system within a year or two. We simply need to stop adding phosphates and nitrates to the system, which not only feed our crops and lawns but also our red tides and toxic blue-green algae blooms.

* Q: What solutions would you present, federally, if any, to assist businesses and employees being impacted by current water quality issues?

DH: Senator Nelson has proposed a tax credit for businesses financially impacted by the algae. As Representative, I will explore with the Small Business Administration the possibility of extending low-interest loans to these businesses. This is our Deepwater Horizon moment, and I think we need to meet this crisis head-on.

TT: On a federal level, I would support the development of clean energy systems. Many of the farm workers, and phosphate miners could be put to work developing our solar, geothermal and wind energy systems. These jobs are the key to a cleaner, greener future for Florida. With additional funding for job training and grants to spur additional development of renewable energy sources, Florida could lead the way in demonstrating sunshine is not just for tanning.

Appropriations from Congress, could be put in the next budget which would fund clean water initiatives and ensure compliance with regulations restored to ensure industrial compliance. Other actions I would take from the Capitol include: ensuring our national parks are fully funded, budgets for oversight and enforcement are not slashed and staffs are not cut. We could also take steps to protect our fishing industries by providing education and training in sustainable harvest methods, support farming of shellfish and inspection of harvests for consumption.

* Q: Should agricultural subsidies at the federal level continue?

DH: For far too long, Washington politicians have enacted agricultural subsidies while simultaneously accepting campaign contributions from the industries they affect. This happens on both sides of the aisle, and it needs to stop. I am proud to not accept corporate PAC donations to my campaign, and I will fight to end Citizens United and curb the role of dark money in our politics. In Florida, the sugar industry plays an outsized role in dampening the will of politicians to enact environmental measures around Lake O. The entire agricultural subsidy program needs a complete and objective review, and subsidies that no longer serve their intended purpose should be eliminated.

TT: Agricultural subsidies, at the federal level, should help to ensure the small farmers across our country as they provide for crops to feed our nation. Subsidies should not be used to fund multi-national corporations who profit globally, feeding the world only to then stash their earnings in off-shore accounts. Agricultural subsidies should be used to fund experimental crop development and diversification to ensure pests and blights like citrus greening are thwarted from destroying key commercial crops entirely.



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