Barbs aimed at Florida governor during journalism conference

While hundreds of journalists gathered in Miami for the Society of Environmental Journalists national conference, Florida Gov. Rick Scott was firing another shot across environmentalists’ bow.

Scott wasn’t at the SEJ conference but his policies were the target of analysis, criticism and quips by various speakers and protesters outside.

In the past most governors have welcomed SEJ conferences to their states. This year, there was no response to a request that he come speak, said Jeff Burnside, conference chair and a reporter for WTVJ-NBC in Miami.

“As journalists we want all viewpoints and stakeholders to be here,” Burnside said. “Some we anticipate accepting our invitation and some we don’t. We wish everyone would be here.”

Floridaenvironments sent an e-mail to the governor’s press office on Monday asking why the governor did not attend but received no response.

Scott was elected last November as a Tea Party champion. Since taking office, he has vetoed spending for conservation land purchases, cut spending for water management districts and pushed to break up the state’s growth management agency.

He constantly vows to repeal “job-killing” regulations as he did in his weekly radio address, recorded apparently before he left Friday for an economic mission to Brazil.

Discussion about Scott started early when U. S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was asked by a reporter Wednesday during an opening dinner reception about the governor’s proposed Everglades restoration plan that would call for meeting water quality standards in 2022.

“We are encouraged we have a positive dialogue,” Salazar said while adding that the “jury is still out” on his Everglades plan.

Columnist and author Carl Hiaasen, also speaking at the opening dinner reception, was predictably not as polite. He said politicians such as Scott keep him in business with material to write about.

Hiaasen said the governor, wearing a pair of alligator hide boots, told media after election “if it were up to him they would just shoot the alligators.”

(Hiaasen also called the Florida Legislature a “festival of whores” but said he had to apologize to the world’s oldest profession because “these knuckleheads are far worse.”)

Other comments were more reserved.

On Friday, photographer Carlton Ward Jr. said during a photojournalism presentation that “Tallahassee is kind of challenged right now in terms of environmental leadership.” But he noted that federal agencies now are working ranchers in the Kissimmee River valley to protect land there.

During an Everglades panel on Saturday, moderator Michael Putney of WPLG-ABC in Miami said, “Now we have a governor who rails against regulation almost every single day.”

Shannon Estenoz, director of Everglades restoration initiatives at the Interior Department, said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard had hired top officials with Everglades experience.

“This has been helpful in the dialogue with state government,” she said.

And Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham said Scott still has time to make the environment a centerpiece of his legacy.

“He seems to have changed course,” Fordham said. “We are open to conversions here.”

Also Saturday, during a panel on water quality, Earthjustice managing attorney David Guest described Scott as a “Tea Party guy.”

And he said it would be “counter-intuitive” to expect his Florida Department of Environmental Regulation to come up with regulations that stop pollution when Scott is against regulating industry.

“That would be totally out of character,” Guest said.

DEP’s Drew Bartlett responded that his department is developing draft water quality standards to prevent waterways that now are OK from being placed on the state’s “impaired” waterways list.

Outside of the Intercontinental Hotel where SEJ held its conference about 150 protestors were beating drums and holding signs against a variety of issues.

Sierra Club member Debbie Matthews held a sign that said “Florida Fire Sale: Contact Gov. Rick Scott.”

She said the governor had tried to roll back water quality and air emission standards. But as she was questioned, she corrected herself and said President Obama was to blame for backing off ozone air quality standards.

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained at .)