The Plank

Republican Makes Good On The Environment. No, Really.

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It might be politically convenient for Democrats if Florida Governor Charlie Crist, a possible John McCain running mate, were an environmentalist's nightmare. As of yesterday, alas, he appears not to be. Crist just announced the completion of a deal under which Florida would buy the U.S. Sugar Corporation--including its property in the Everglades swamp--at a cost of $1.75 billion.

Why is that important? And what, if anything, does it say about Crist? Over at Time magazine, Michael Grunwald explains:

The purchase would give the state control of nearly half the 400,000 acres (161,876 hectares)
of sugar fields in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) below Lake Okeechobee,
although sources said U.S. Sugar would lease back its land for six years.
Environmentalists hope that eventually, the area will become storage
reservoirs, treatment marshes and perhaps even a flow-way reconnecting the
lake to the Glades. This could help re-create the original north-south
movement of the River of Grass and eliminate damaging pulses of excess
water into coastal estuaries. That would be good news for panthers and
gators, dolphins and herons, ghost orchids and royal palms.

Crist has been mentioned as a possible running mate for Senator John McCain,
and they both took a lot of flak in Florida last week when they dropped
their opposition to offshore drilling. But Crist has been true to his pledge
to be "the Everglades governor," replacing many of Jeb Bush's
industry-friendly aides with eco-friendly appointees, blocking the
legislature's efforts to eliminate funding for restoration and stopping the
sugar industry from pumping polluted runoff into the lake. In a recent
interview with Time, Crist hinted that he was planning some "breathtaking
changes" for the Everglades. "Putting your heart and soul into it really
makes a difference," he said.

For the record, I know far less about environmental poilcy than my colleagues who post here--and who, perhaps, will have more to say on this later. [Update: Here's Brad with more.] Readers, too, are welcome to chime in, as always.

But Grunwald, who (full disclosure) is a friend, has pretty good bona fides on this. He's the author of The Swamp, an acclaimed history of the Everglades that chronicles, in depressing detail, the many decades of exploitation and neglect visited upon that natural wonder. Crist has cited The Swamp as influential in his thinking. Apparently, he meant it.

--Jonathan Cohn 

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