Campaign Blame Thrown Around for Florida's Algae Mess

Thick algae covers water at Stuart's Central Marine boat docks June 30, 2016, in Stuart, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Spencer)

Thick as guacamole and smelly as cow manure, a blue-green algae has mucked up the stretch of beaches that Florida’s tourist industry calls the “Treasure Coast.”

“The only way to describe how it smells is like a hundred dead animals that have been sitting in the street for weeks,” John Skinner, the owner of Central Marine, a marina on the Coast, told WFOR-TV. “And that’s probably still an understatement.”

But to hear the politicians tell it, their opponents’ performance on the question of this environmental crisis stinks worse than the algae bloom they are supposedly trying to stop.

NASA satellite photography shows the algae bloom is coming from Lake Okeechobee, as water pours through the gates of the Lucie Lock and Dam into the St. Lucie River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Scientists say septic tank discharges are exacerbating the problem.

And it stinks. But it’s more than an ugly, smelly nuisance. The algae can also create breathing problems.

And it certainly has attracted politicians who are buzzing over the algae like flies over a corporate hog farm.

“Marco Rubio is slinking around campaign photo ops pretending his absence didn’t contribute to worsening conditions,” Florida Democratic Chairwoman Allison Tant said in a statement.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R) toured the area over 10 days in late June and early July, issuing a dozen press releases.

“The smell is indescribable, the best thing I can use to describe it is as if you opened up a septic tank, or opened sewage in a third-world country. That is how nasty this stuff is. By the way, when it dies, it turns this dark green-blue color, and then it becomes even more toxic,” Rubio said during a Senate speech July 7.

“And sadly whenever there are emotional and heated issues like these, people on both sides are willing to exploit them,” Rubio added.

Well, yes.

Congressman Patrick Murphy, a Florida Democrat who wants his party’s nod to run against Rubio in the fall, declared a “Lagoon Action Day” July 11 and, along with environmental activists and community leaders from his district, pushed Congress to approve emergency funding to clean the water.

“I will never forget how impactful it was to have over 100 Floridians travel all the way to D.C. in 2013 to make our voices heard on this crisis in our waterways. Unfortunately, three years later, after El-Niño-fueled heavy rainfalls led to massive discharges starting at the end of January – which is nearly unprecedented – the situation in our waters is more dire than ever,” said Murphy.

Murphy also took the opportunity to criticize “Missing Marco,” as the Democrat has labeled the incumbent Republican, for ignoring the algae crisis until he could organize a photo availability around it.

“Marco Rubio was too busy plotting his run for president to take notice,” said Rep. Murphy. “For Rubio to show up now just adds insult to a long list of injuries to my constituents on the Treasure Coast. Floridians want a senator who shows up and fights when it matters, not just when there’s a camera.”

However, Republican Senate Leadership Fund spokesman Ian Prior lampooned Murphy for taking his family more than 1,000 miles away from Florida’s algae crisis to spend the Fourth of July weekend on his father’s 97-foot yacht parked off the Nantucket, Mass., shoreline.

“It is just so ‘Patrick Murphy’ to be partying on daddy’s yacht in Nantucket when his congressional district is under a state of emergency,” Prior said. “The bottom line is that Patrick Murphy isn’t qualified to be driving an ice cream truck, never mind serving in the United States Senate.”

Of course, the algae has also become a campaign issue as Tim Canova works to oust Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) from Congress.

Canova donned a face mask because of the health effects of the algae and proclaimed it to be “rotten and toxic” during a press event in Martin County, Fla.

“Big Sugar’s toxic algae has already hurt our environment, endangering wildlife and residents, but now it’s also threatening our economy,” Canova posted on his Facebook page. “We have our elected officials like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio to thank for this mess – they’re the ones who took their money and put their priorities ahead of ours.”

Wasserman Schultz blamed Gov. Rick Scott (R) and other Republicans in the state’s capitol of Tallahassee, who she said had “dithered, delayed, and derailed responsible steps to restore our famed Everglades.”

“My opponent’s suggestion that because he lived near a body of water in another state, that is a substitute for the more than two decades I’ve fought for Everglades restoration and for toughening water quality standards is laughable,” Wasserman Schultz added in a statement.

As far as Bradley Marshall, a Florida-based attorney with Earthjustice, a law firm that focuses on environmental issues, is concerned, they’ve all been dithering and delaying. Most importantly, he said, Republicans and Democrats have both been missing in action.

“We’ve never been able to get politicians to take real action to protect Florida’s waters, and now that a catastrophic bloom is occurring everyone says it’s not their fault and they want to try to fix it,” Marshall told the Sun Sentinel.

“The real question is are they going to try to do anything that will have a real impact,” he said. “I remain skeptical that once these blooms dissipate that they’ll do anything to prevent the next bloom.”