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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

U.S. Sugar and the Florida Everglades

Theodore Roosevelt, creator of the National Park System, can reasonably be described as the first environmental President. Perhaps it is worth noting that he was a Republican in a time when unrestrained exploitation, rather than preservation, of the environment was standard practice.

Regrettably, most Republicans now fall on the side of exploitation but Governor Charlie Crist (R) of Florida, in a venture worth of TR, has negotiated a deal with U.S. Sugar to buy some 300 square miles (approximately 192,000 acres) of land in the Everglades. The cost is $1.75 billion and, after a six year transition period, U.S. Sugar will stop growing sugar cane and turn over the land to be restored as wetland, swamp, and a very slow moving very shallow river - much the way it used to be before out of control development and industrial scale agriculture became the norm.

In a true deal, both sides come out ahead. Certainly this outcome is better than some of the regulatory schemes that have been proposed for preservation of the Everglades: the objective is achieved, lawyers are denied vast fees and evasion of regulations (at vast cost to all) is avoided.

More importantly, a company has freely given up its property in exchange for a fair payment rather than having been coerced by a government exercising its powers of eminent domain. That is important to those of us who are disturbed by the way in which governments believe that they can circumvent the clear limits on their powers as spelled out in the United States Constitution.

Sometimes the market works better than we think it can.

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