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PHOTO RELEASE: Rubio Visits Treasure Coast, Calls For Action On Catastrophic Algal Bloom Situation

Jul 1, 2016 | Press Releases

Rubio: “[T]his is beyond just an ecological disaster; it’s an economic disaster with long-term implications. I’m in favor of answers. I want this problem to be solved.”

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today visited the Treasure Coast to view the Lake Okeechobee discharges through the St. Lucie Lock, St. Lucie River and the inlet/beaches, and observed the algal bloom during a waterway tour and ground tour. In a media availability following the tour, Rubio outlined ways to solve the harmful and toxic algal boom issue that is plaguing the Treasure Coast.

“There [are] a number of things that can happen immediately,” Rubio said. “Number one is I hope we can convince the Corps to perhaps even stop flows for a short period of time to allow water through here to kind of flush itself out. Second is get an emergency declaration from the President so that we can have some more assistance available to local business owners in the local community.

“Third is to get the CDC or an appropriate healthcare agency at the federal level to come down and do an assessment of the long-term health risks posed by this algae bloom,” Rubio continued. “The fourth thing is, we want to continue to move forward to get that water bill passed so the Central Everglades Planning Project can move forward and some of these key components that we’ve discussed here today can actually happen.”

Rubio supported Martin County’s request for a state of emergency earlier this week and said he would support a request from Governor Rick Scott to declare the area a federal disaster. He also urged the Army Corps of Engineers to take immediate action by stopping discharges from Lake Okeechobee, and the Corps announced it would reduce flows one day later.  

Below are photos taken from Rubio’s visit to the Treasure Coast: 

A partial transcript of Rubio’s remarks is below:

Senator Marco Rubio: “I want to thank all the local elected officials, the state legislators, in particular Senator Negron, [Representative Magar] and Representative Harrell and others, Representative Mayfield, that have joined us here today.

“This is a catastrophic situation, I don’t know if there’s a precedent for this situation anywhere in the country that’s ever been faced to this magnitude when it comes to an algae bloom. So certainly, we want to make sure that this doesn’t continue to happen.

“Look, I get people’s anger and frustration. My goodness, I mean when we went down to a homeowner who had a beautiful piece of property and his backyard, his little beachfront that he has there, his dock area, it smelled and looked like an open sewage pit.

“The impact this is going to have on tourism, the impact this is going to have on property values, the impact that it’s having on small businesses. I met a Capitan on a small little sailboat that hasn’t been able to go out in two weeks. This is the peak season for him and he’s not going to make any money for two weeks. Who can sustain that?

“So this is beyond just an ecological disaster; it’s an economic disaster with long-term implications. I’m in favor of answers. I want this problem to be solved. The fundamental problem is that water, heavy in nutrients, is meeting water also with nutrients, and the combination of those two things in this weather is creating these algae blooms that are having a catastrophic impact.

“So we need to deal with every aspect of it. We need to deal with the water North of Lake Okeechobee that’s coming down from the Kissimmee, the ability to retain more of it, the ability to treat it so that the water going into the lake is cleaner. We need to deal with water in the lake if that’s possible. We need to deal with how much water is released from the lake. We need to deal with where that water is stored as it comes out so that we can have the capability to store more of it and treat more of it.

“Ultimately, we want to see more of that water, in a better condition, flowing into the Everglades the way it’s supposed to flow. And there are projects in place to do that. I know that the state has stepped up and met its obligations in many of them. It has been difficult to get the federal government to do it.

In the five years that I’ve been there, we were able to get the Ten Mile Creek deauthorization, it’s a small piece of the puzzle, but that got done. We were finally able to convince my colleague, the Chairman of the Committee in Oklahoma, to agree to the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) which will allow us to move forward on authorizing a lot of the Everglades projects that will help with the treatment and the retention and the natural flow of this water.

“But I know that all of those are long-term projects that take time, and I know none of it provides the sort of immediate relief that people are looking for right now. So in the short-term I think one of the most important things we need to do is work with the Water Management District and in particular with the Army Corps to have them reexamine the schedule by which they’re releasing water.

“I believe that based on the improvements that have been made on several portions of the dike that they are capable of retaining a little bit more water than what they’ve been doing. And even if it’s half a foot more, that can make a big difference. I think that’s an important part of it.

“I congratulate and thank the governor in the state for retaining more water to the North because that’s what’s allowed them to stop the flows, or at least slow down the flows that we see now. [We can] potentially ask the Corps in the short-term to say, “Let’s not have any more flows for a couple weeks to allow this system to flush itself out. I know that the corps is focused on preventing a breach of the dike. That’s a potential risk. This is a real and present danger that we’re facing now.

“I think there’s work to be done. I hope the President will have an emergency declaration because that will open up the full portfolio of aid that the federal government can provide local businesses and communities that are being impacted by this.

“I also think it’s important to have the Centers for Disease Control or other appropriate health agencies of the federal government to come down and study: What are the long-term implications of this algae, of the toxins that it releases? And as it dies off and turns into that disgusting blue and brown film, what does that mean two years from now when this stuff gets in the air, when this stuff is embedded in the sand and soil, what does it mean to little kids who dig up that sand and touch it, or to people who are living by it

“So all of these things – It’s a complex and painful thing to talk about and it’s a very difficult thing to deal with because it doesn’t have one singular cause and it doesn’t have one singular project that solves it all. We all wish there was one thing we could do, just one magic thing that we can do. We’ve got to do a lot of magic things, and we’ve got to commit to doing [them] as soon as possible so we don’t continue to see this.

“For this community, you’ve been hearing this now over and over again. All these officials come down, they say this, and then next year it happens again. I get it. I really, really do. We’re going to do everything we can to continue to create a sense of urgency about the need to do stuff now, but also for the future.”

Rubio: “If I believe that the sugar industry was the only contributor to this then we would do everything possible to address that immediately, but there are multiple contributors to this and it’s not just agriculture. It isn’t. It isn’t. There are localized sources and they have been working hard here to deal with that and it’s difficult to do, I know because it’s costly, but that’s a reality.

“Ninety percent of the water in Lake Okeechobee does not come from the south, it comes from the north from the Kissimmee basin, it comes down and it’s bringing nutrients from cattle operations, but also from population centers. And now it’s ninety percent of the water that’s in the lake. The lake itself has deep embedded historical sediment on the bottom that also has nutrients in it. So there’s not just one causation here, that’s what I mean, there’s multiple causes to this.

“I understand their frustration. Listen, if I had to wake up every morning and see this garbage in the water, I’d be really angry too. If there’s one person or one industry we could blame, that’s a lot easier to do. But I’m telling you, they’re not the only ones. The causes of those nutrients come from multiple places and it includes people living in homes northwest of the lake and that’s the reality of modern Florida, we’re going to have to deal with that aspect of it as well.”

Rubio: “One of the problems that we have is that, that water is being released and it’s going east and west instead of South. Part of it is because the Everglades Restoration Program has not moved forward, largely because of the federal government’s shortfalls in funding for it. As a result, if it can’t go South and they don’t want to hold it, it’s got to go somewhere, and it’s going east and it’s going west and it’s impacting communities.

“That’s why this needs to be dealt with in a multifaceted way – in a way that allows us to retain more water, have the water that’s going into the lake be cleaner, have the water coming out of the lake be cleaner, the ability to hold more water over longer periods of time. All these things have to happen. One of them alone will not be enough.”

Rubio On His Efforts In Congress:

“We’ve been in constant contact, both through the staff level and personally, including conference calls that we’ve done. I don’t know the count, but there were several. But more important than the meetings, we’ve actually taken action. One of the top priority items the last time I was here is the deauthorization of the Ten Mile Creek Project, and that happened. The second was the Central Everglades Planning Project, which had a major impediment in my colleague from Oklahoma, Jim Inhofe, and over years of working with him, he’s finally agreed to move forward. It’s now in the water bill in the Senate. But there’s more that needs to be done. None of these things alone are satisfactory.”

Rubio On His Frustration’s With Washington:

“When I say I’m frustrated with Washington, this is one of the reasons why. We’re being impacted by the Zika virus in Florida and we can’t even get that appropriated. It gets mixed up in this partisan battle back and forth. So it is frustrating. In Tallahassee we used to meet for 60 days, we got a lot of things done in 60 days. In Washington, 60 days is like one day in the real world. And so it’s a very difficult process but we can’t give up. We’ve got to continue to push. It took me four years to get Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma to finally agree to even put the Central Everglades Planning Project in the water bill. It took four and a half years to get this to that point. That’s a lot of work. I know that’s not satisfactory for someone who has a bunch of algae sitting right off their dock and it’s killing their business and the value of their property, and their local economy, and their kids can’t go in the water, and the oysters that they used to grow up cultivating have now been killed off, fish are dying – I understand that, I really do. All I can tell you is we’re going to continue to work as hard as we can to ensure those projects that are in the pipeline happen, because they’re a critical component of ensuring that we’re not having these press conferences every two years.”

Rubio Outlines His Plan To Solve The Algae Issue:

“There [are] a number of things that can happen immediately. Number one is I hope we can convince the Corps to perhaps even stop flows for a short period of time to allow water through here to kind of flush itself out. Second is get an emergency declaration from the President so that we can have some more assistance available to local business owners in the local community.

“Third is to get the CDC or an appropriate healthcare agency at the federal level to come down and do an assessment of the long-term health risks posed by this algae bloom. The fourth thing is, we want to continue to move forward to get that water bill passed so the Central Everglades Planning Project can move forward and some of these key components that we’ve discussed here today can actually happen.”