Governor Claude Kirk’s concerns over the Everglades led him to sue the sugar industry

Former Florida Governor Claude Kirk had been out of office for 25 years when in 1995, along with Glades-area residents, he sued local sugar companies in Palm Beach County Circuit Court. , seeking to ban practices that he said had polluted the air and water and “damaged the health of the community.” Here’s how that trial unfolded and the effects it had today.

November 1995: The governor, a champion of environmental protection during his tenure, is taking the case to court, according to the complaint, “due to the government’s complicity in the offensive conduct of the defendants.”

This includes “intentionally started fires releasing large amounts of smoke, ash, soot and other particles into the air”. The lawsuit states that the money saved from harvesting the sugar companies’ crops “generated enormous profits for the defendants which they used in part to further their special interests at the expense of the public good by making enormous contributions policies”.

Survey Part 1:The smoke comes back every year. The sugar companies say the air is clean.

Survey Part 2:‘A complete failure of the state’: Authorities ignored calls by researchers to study health effects of burning sugar cane

Survey Part 3:Glades residents left behind: Nikki Fried’s ‘changes’ to burning cane only served Big Sugar

Pulitzer Recognition:Post/ProPublica Pulitzer Prize-winning sugar cane burning survey

March 1996: The sugar companies are responding by seeking to dismiss the lawsuit, saying it is not for the courts to interfere with industry operations and pointing to “comprehensive laws and regulations” by which federal, state and local agencies regulate practices that “complainants allege have harmed the environment. »

November 1996: Judge Thomas Sholts concludes that the activities complained of do not fall within his jurisdiction and that Kirk and the other plaintiffs should instead file complaints with regulators. He closes the case. Kirk’s attorney is appealing the decision within a month.

After:Remembering the wit and wisdom of Claude Kirk

March 1998: An appeals court rules that activities that create a public nuisance fall within the jurisdiction of a court.

June 2000: While the Supreme Court of Florida hears the arguments in the case which has now lasted for 5 years, Kirk, reached at his home in West Palm Beach, told a reporter from the Palm Beach Post: “In the meantime, the nuisance continues. For five years, the children I started to protect against asthma are still affected.

March 2001: The Supreme Court dismisses the lawsuit, agreeing with Sholts that Kirk and his fellow plaintiffs should raise concerns with regulatory agencies having authority over sugarcane cultivation practices.

June 2019: Glades residents are taking legal action against sugar companies seeking to end the burning of sugar cane, citing damage to their homes and health from smoke and ash from the fires.

October 2019: Lawyers for the sugar companies cite Kirk’s case as they ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit. According to them, the regulation of the burning of sugar cane is the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, not the judicial system. To back up their point, they attach guidelines announced by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried three weeks earlier.

February 2022: Glades residents drop their lawsuit and are barred from filing it again in the Southern District of Florida. That leaves action by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, or the sugar industry itself, as the only way to end the annual cane burning.

Antigone Barton is a reporter for the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Network – Florida. You can reach her at [email protected]

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Rachel J. Bradford