This New York Times article leaves me speechless: In a deal that environmental groups said would be the largest ecological restoration in the country’s history, a plan for the state to buy the nation’s largest producer of cane sugar was announced Tuesday by the governor and officials of U.S. Sugar Corporation. Governor Charlie Crist of Florida, with Robert H Buker Jr., the chief of U.S. Sugar, held up an agreement struck between the state and the sugar producer. The intention is to restore the Everglades by restoring the water flow from Lake Okeechobee, in the heart of the state, south to Florida Bay. That flow had been interrupted by commercial farming and the Everglades have suffered as a result. Under term of the tentative deal, U.S. Sugar would continue farming and processing for six more years before closing the business and allowing 187,000 acres of land to return to its natural state. For its part the state would pay U.S. Sugar $1.7 billion. For a born-and-raised Floridian like myself, I can't begin to explain how absolutely mind-blowing this news is. Big Sugar's sordid role in not only destroying the Everglades (by discharging massive amounts of phosphorous), but also actively obstructing any and all real attempts to help the Everglades recover from that devastation cannot be overemphasized. (See this classic and comprehensive Harper's piece from 1999, for one example, or, for a shorter, but still admirably comprehensive take, this blog post.) From the state's Everglades Forever Act in the early 90s to the federal government's Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan first put together in 2000, Big Sugar's tactic has been to delay, obstruct and hamstring any real reform efforts. That one-half of the two major Floridian sugar cartels ( the Fanjul brothers are the other) is about to be taken over by the state…well, it boggles the mind. Now, I'm sure U.S. Sugar is probably fleecing the state on this deal. If I had to guess---and this is only ungrounded (but logical) speculation on my part---they've done the math and realized that they don't have many productive growing years left. Cane farming is largely unsustainable, as it obliterates topsoil--if I'm remembering David McCally's awesome The Everglades: An Environmental History correctly, sugar cane farming in the Everglades eroded 10 inches of topsoil in the past 30 years. U.S. Sugar must have seen the writing on the wall and got out while the getting was still good. But at this moment, I don't feel like looking at the details of this deal too closely; I'll do that tomorrow. For today, I'm just going to dance a jig at this truly awesome news.
Brian Cook was an editor at In These Times from 2003 to 2009. He now works on the editorial staff of Playboy magazine.