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Phosphate Industry Review is Needed

The phosphate industry should not be permitted to externalize the costs of their operations in the form of degraded water supplies, the release of toxic emissions from the processing of phosphate ores, and the radioactive waste disposal of phosphogypsum at the public's expense.

To properly understand the impact this industry is having on Florida, all aspects of the industry need to be reviewed.

Florida's phosphate industry has enjoyed a phenomenal financial bonanza guaranteed to encourage rapid extraction of resources aided by inadequate environmental laws and regulations.

Phosphate Mining, Phosphogypsum Waste Disposal, and the Operation of Fertilizer Manufacturing Plants Must be Linked for Cumulative Impact Analysis.

Policy needs to address the effects of highly radioactive and toxic clay settling areas (toxic slime ponds), the health effects associated with the transportation of phosphate ore and gypsum, the public health and environmental impacts associated with phosphogypsum waste disposal, reagents used in mining and processing ores, and other phosphate waste disposal problems.

The health impacts of supporting activities such as electricity generation and phosphate ore transportation that will lead to a further deterioration of Florida's air quality must also be addressed.
Damage from the phosphate industry is not limited to Florida and other states mining and processing phosphate. Fertilizers and phosphates are major culprits in water pollution nationwide.

A cumulative Impact Air Quality Study is Needed

Ambient state and federal air-quality standards are standards that do not protect our health but rather are standards designating the maximum tolerable concentrations in the ambient air of substances identified as pollutants. These national standards are minimum guidelines designed to be applicable to all areas in the state or country and reflect the nation's most congested, industrialized, and polluted urban areas.

Because air pollutants often disperse over a wider geographical area than other types of contamination, it is possible that a relatively larger population may be exposed to any one of the pollutants released by the phosphate industry.

Emission and air quality standards need to be developed to enhance habitat quality beyond the minimum standards of maintaining state and federal air quality levels.

Phosphate Industry Energy Consumption Rates Need to be Evaluated

The industry receives significant subsidies, which enable them to continue their massive pollution. The industry receives cheap water and preferential power rates.

The impacts of supporting phosphate activities such as electricity generation and transportation will permit further deterioration of the region’s air quality.

The Overall Economic Impacts of the Phosphate Industry Need to be Assessed

The costs of pollution, loss of wetlands and other natural resources, and the contamination of surface waters have never been computed. If the latter were accomplished, the negative economic impact of phosphate mining would be even more apparent.

The phosphate industry cites the important advantages it brings to the state in taxes and employment, yet the long-term beneficial effect of mining on our economy will be slight. Mining has not played a significant role in the state’s economy since before 1960. Mining employs half the number it did 20 years ago and now accounts for less than 0.5% of Florida's Gross State Product.

Whatever taxes are realized are small when compared to the costs of the damage the industry creates. If the present extraction of phosphate is permitted, Florida will have centuries of costly water, air, and land cleanups ahead of it that will exceed any short-term profits and economic benefits of the industry.

The phosphate industry is creating an economic and environmental burden for the taxpayers of Florida in the form of increased air pollution, destruction of roads, depletion and degradation of drinking water supplies, loss of non-renewable mineral resources, and increased health costs.

A proper economic assessment can only be made when the following are
considered: costs for irretrievable use of fossil fuels to generate the electrical needs of the industry, the irretrievable commitment of chemicals used in processing, the hazards associated with redistribution of uranium resources and increased national security costs, the costs of contamination of surface waters, the costs of changes in hydrology, and costs of loss and disturbance of wetlands and other natural resources.

Spills from phosphate mining are not an everyday occurrence, but if phosphate mining continues to be permitted, the risk of spills must be accounted for. What is to be gained by allowing phosphate mining? Who gains? What is to be lost? Who loses? Who will write the check to pay for the consequences? Is the gain so great we're willing to take the risk?

The actual influence of phosphate on the state economy is minor when compared to the tourism, retirement, and related support service industries, which are largely dependent upon a healthy environment and safe drinking water supplies. Clearly, the net economic advantages of ensuring a safe source of potable water far outweigh the modest economic gains that may be realized by phosphate mining.

The Impact of Increased Mining Activity on the Tourist and Recreational Industry Needs to be Quantified

According to a study prepared for the Charlotte Harbor Estuary Program, tourism and recreation in the Peace River watershed provide us with $4.5 billion in sales. Commercial fishing adds $38 million to the economy and agriculture adds another $1.8 billion. Phosphate mining contributes a value of $530 million. More than one million people are employed in the fishing, tourism and recreation, and agriculture industries while phosphate strip mining has fewer than 10,000 jobs statewide (3,100 promised in the Peace River watershed).

The bottom line: the Peace River watershed has an economic value that exceeds $5 billion. These dollars come from the wetlands, meandering creeks, endangered and protected species, the Peace River, and its tributaries.

No Phosphate Mining Should Be Permitted Within the Watersheds of Florida's Drinking Water Supplies.

These watersheds occupy a critical role in maintaining the health, safety, and welfare of the people of Florida. Current permitting practices allow for phosphate mining in drinking water watersheds if the best possible technologies and best operating practices are employed by the mining industry.

It is economically prohibitive to the taxpayers of Florida to allow mining in these watersheds if drinking water supplies are polluted.

All phosphate-mining activities below the 25-year floodplain elevation should be prohibited.

Glenn Compton is the Chairman of ManaSota 88, a non-profit organization that has spent over 30 years fighting to protect the environment of Manatee and Sarasota counties.

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