The Perils of Ownership

At first [okay, maybe only right away], this article about efforts to save the Everglades benefitting U.S. Sugar appeared to be the apotheosis of green: environmentalism that made sense fiscally, actually working to save an industry whose competition – sweetener not from sugar but corn –  was wrecking the ecology, not to mention the health, of the country. Also, being so easy to find right up near the top of the page of the Times on a Monday morning, surely it might also be a positive harbinger – you see, this is what green is supposed to mean.

Boy, talk about projection.

In its current form, the deal’s only clear, immediate beneficiaries would be United States Sugar, a privately held company based in Clewiston, Fla., and its law firm, Gunster, which is expected to collect tens of millions of dollars in fees for its work on the sale, according to current and former United States Sugar executives.

The sale, scheduled to close March 31, amounts to a lifeline for the company, which entered negotiations at a time of profound weakness; it was facing a costly shareholder lawsuit, sinking profit margins and increased foreign competition. The deal would enable it to wipe nearly all the debt from its books.

United States Sugar had an unusually powerful advocate in Gunster, a West Palm Beach law firm that had represented it since 1990. Gunster’s chairman, George LeMieux, was Governor Crist’s chief of staff when the deal was first conceived. Mr. LeMieux, who began working at the law firm in 1994, returned to it in January 2008 as the deal was being renegotiated.

So, on top of the long-obstinate landowners getting to profit by allowing a lifeline to clean water for the ecosystem, their competitors, the Native American tribe that lives on the land, conservation groups and the feds were all locked out of negotiations right up until before they were announced. It’s not that this alone doomed the project, but it certainly didn’t help – mainly because the governor and U.S. Sugar created a dynamic whereby their efforts would naturally be opposed, instead of engendering a sort of automatic support – the kind I had when I first glanced at the headline.

Because (uh-oh, the Adventures of Positive Boy), as North Americans, cynicism is not our default setting. But that’s not where I was going… oh yeah. There is a disconnect, a patented (that’s a crazy, if illustrative, euphemism: only in this country – where, oddly, everyone’s gotta own everything but everything that is not privately owned has some taint and is not worth anything) separation between a ‘best of both worlds scenario’ and  the ‘worse possible combination’ that are so close to each other that they travel the same pathway. Yet we persist in believing them to be completely different. The path to health for the environment and positive economic outcomes is the same. Not to say this path is an easy one but, Occam… gesundheit.

We can have eminent domain on all kinds of levels, but we must only use it to benefit commercial interests. We can’t allow ‘the state’ to value the Everglades – the only subtropical wetlands ecosystem of its kind – in its own right; it must be attached to profit and ownership in some form.

How about we engage in a little trade for a euphemism-to-be-named-later: we change the concept to manifest domain, in exchange for eminent destiny.

Can you tell who’s had a supposedly free morning? jeez.

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