Wilton Simpson will harm our waters – and he’s almost certain to be Florida’s next Agriculture Commissioner

When the bigwigs in Tallahassee are committed to corporate privilege over clean water, you get what we’ve got – a long crisis that can only get worse.

Case in point: Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, who is running for Agriculture Commissioner and all but guaranteed to win.

As Craig Pittman of the Florida Phoenix notes in this excellent piece, Simpson – often referred to as an “egg farmer” – himself runs a multi-million dollar agribusiness company and has a soft spot in his heart  for other multi-million or billion dollar agribusiness firms – like Big Sugar.

Simpson played a key role in the nefarious Senate Bill 2508, the dark-of-night Big Sugar water supply bill, which Simpson and his Senate allies sought to ram through with an absolute minimum of public scrutiny. Sen. Ben Albritton introduced the bill, but he was basically carrying water for Simpson, who is carrying water for, you guessed it, Big Sugar.

Here’s Pittman:

Although on paper the sponsor of SB 2508 was Sen. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula citrus grower, it was obvious that this rabbit belonged to a magician named Simpson (and no, I don’t mean Homer). He didn’t deny it, telling reporters at a Feb. 10 press conference, “I completely agree with the bill.”

There were tons of bad things for the environment in SB 2508 (more on that in a bit). But the provision that grabbed the most attention would have diverted funding away from the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. That’s a key project for managing polluted water from Lake Okeechobee so it would stop flowing to the two coasts, spurring toxic algae blooms. …


The governor also said — and pay close attention to this part – that the bill “is being rammed through the budget process, short-circuiting public engagement and leaving affected agencies in the dark.” That is an absolutely true statement.

So Albritton, who claimed all the opponents were merely “misinformed,” announced he was filing an amendment taking out that part about the reservoir. Some environmental advocates declared victory and retired from the field of battle — prematurely, as it turned out.

The bill, which had already sailed through its one and only committee vote, then passed the full Senate 37-2. It still had bad stuff in it, but the committee meeting was the public’s only shot at offering any comment. Simpson had sacrificed an outlandish goal to achieve a more insidious one.

“The intentions we had last week are the same intentions we had this week,” Simpson told reporters on Feb. 17.

The bill still includes something the sugar industry wants very badly: Continued control over the South Florida water supply.

And if Simpson succeeds in getting those provisions into the state budget, there is little the public — or DeSantis — can do about it.

This bill would enshrine in state law water supply rules that were first enacted in 2007 and benefit – who else – Big Sugar. Now would have been the time to revisit those rules, in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps’ drafting of the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, or LOSOM.

The Corps is trying to come up with a more equitable plan for all stakholders. Big Sugar – and Simpson – don’t want equity. They want the privilege they’ve always enjoyed; first dibs on the water.

And if that means everyone else has to ultimately deal with discharges, and harmful algal blooms exploding in their estuaries?

Too bad, so sad.

And Wilton Simpson in the legislative point man for all this perfidy.

So if and when Simpson becomes Agriculture Commissioner, expect the deck to even more stacked against clean water.

Expect additional measures designed to favor Big Sugar, and Big Ag in general, over seagrass and manatees, over oyster beds and boaters, over fish and the anglers who pursue them.

That means one thing: More ghastly images of dead sea life, more guacamole-thick blue-green algae blooms. The list of harms goes on and on.

You reap what you sow, and with elected officials like Simpson running the show, we reap a whirlwind.

The good news, if we can find any, is that the public if waking up to all this. The SB 2508 sneak attack jolted a whole bunch of people, who responded en masse and prompted changes to the original, beyond terrible bill. Now it’s merely bad; a win for Big Sugar to be sure, but not as egregious as it could have been.

The message, then, is not to let up once this particular furor dies down. Realize – as we say time and again – that there is but one solution to this:

Better elected officials, who fight for the people and their right to clean water, rather than Big Sugar’s “right” to run the table, always.