Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Scott agreed to pay upward of $1.3 million in legal fees for repeatedly breaking Florida's open-records laws. Of course, he's paying for those mistakes with taxpayer money, so voters actually get the bill for his crimes.
Even for Scott, that's a tough act to follow. But the governor is nothing if not enterprising in finding new ways to outrage Floridians. Enter his latest scheme: backing a new natural gas pipeline through the Sunshine State built by a company with a sketchy environmental record that he just happened to have personally put a six-figure investment into.
The new $3 billion Sabal Trail pipeline would snake from Alabama to Central Florida as part of a 500-mile interstate connection. In Florida, that would mean burying a three-foot pipe beneath hundreds of miles of state land, including underneath some fragile wetlands like the Santa Fe, Suwannee, and Withlacoochee rivers.
What's the danger in that? Well, things like this can happen:
That bubbling geyser of water on the horizon is a burst pipeline under the Arkansas River near Little Rock that spewed 4 million cubic feet of natural gas back in May, causing more than $1 million in damage to the area.
The company behind that ruptured pipeline? None other than Spectra Energy, the firm that Florida's Department of Environmental Protection — which is personally overseen by Scott — is backing to build the Sable Trail project through Florida.
Environmentalists have already sounded the alarms. The WWALS Watershed Coalition, a group based in southern Georgia, has filed a legal petition challenging the deal.
"The Sabal Trail pipeline’s path... would require boring underground pipelines beneath the Withlacoochee, Flint, and Chattahoochee rivers as well as numerous smaller streams and will course underground above the Floridan aquifer," says the WWALS Watershed Coalition. "While the Sabal Trail pipeline’s parent companies would have residents believe their three-foot-diameter pipe is a benign neighbor, the history of gas pipeline accidents and environmental ills paints a different picture."
So why would DEP support a project like this? There's no clear answer from the state, but Florida Bulldog went digging through Scott's financial disclosures and found that last year the governor reported owning a $108,000 stake in Spectra and its affiliates. (His most recent form doesn't include any stake in the company because those investments were moved to a blind trust.)