USF environmentalists demand climate change action at U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's Tampa office

02/19/13 Janelle Irwin
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Two dozen students and environmental activists marched on U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s Tampa office Tuesday demanding he address climate change. The environmentalists are fed up with Rubio’s reluctance to accept that there is a problem. Activists also want Rubio to switch his position on the Keystone XL pipeline.

The pipeline would carry oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada into the U.S. in Nebraska. That’s something environmentalists worry could contaminate land if the pipe were ever to burst. Jim Shirk, an activist with the Sierra Club lagged a little behind the rest of the group as they marched across the USF campus. He recently returned from Washington D.C. where hundreds of activists rallied against construction of the pipeline, including some people who feared their homes would be damaged.

“Those people are going to have their property ruined by leakage from the pipeline. There are reports that the pipeline, as installed, is less than perfect. It’s going to leak. The Ogallala Aquifer supplies drinking and irrigation water for half the state of Nebraska and much of the great plain states. All those stand to be damaged irrevocably by a breech of the pipeline. The people there were very respectful, but these are people who are facing the loss, not only of their livelihood, but of their homes and their health.”

The group filed into a large, glass-front building where Senator Rubio’s district office is located.

Their visit took about ten minutes. No press was allowed to listen. But afterward, Kendall Donahue said the staff member from Rubio’s office was very polite and welcoming.

“But they were not very open. They said – he basically emphasized that the U.S., because of China and India and other countries with huge populations not being on board with climate change – with implementing policies that would decrease climate change or circumvent things – that therefore, the U.S. should not put their best foot forward and make an example.”

She said the group tried to reason with Rubio’s staff by calling attention to possible risks in his own South Florida Community. The Sierra Club’s Phil Compton was one of the more than 20 activists who piled into the small office.

“When we do have a two-foot sea level rise what will happen in Miami and Monroe County is that we’ll lose 15% of the landmass in Miami-Dade, 59% of the landmass of Monroe County – the Keys – and 135,000 who now live in Southeast Florida will lose their homes and of course a lot of prime real estate along the Atlantic Ocean will be under water. This is the kind of thing that people in Southeast Florida are preparing for and what we told Senator Rubio’s staff today is that, he was born and raised down there. He needs to get with his community, with his regional planning council and work to provide the resources to prepare Southeast Florida and the rest of Florida.”

In addition to speaking with staff, the environmental group also left a letter for Rubio. In it they criticize remarks made in Washington last week by Rubio where that climate change would not affect Florida. Compton said that’s not true evidenced by the impacts of hurricanes and storm surges. He said Rubio needs to support preventative measures that are already being taken by some other states.

“They’re raising the bed of their roads. North Carolina along its coastline is making its roads four feet higher because they don’t want them to be washed out when the tide rises with a storm.”

The group also targeted President Barack Obama for not taking swift action on environmental issues. Shaza Hussein is with the Student Environmental Association at USF.

“Obama has climate change in his platform but has yet to make definitive decisions as to what he’s going to do about climate change and his actions in Keystone XL have shown that we need to come to him with our demands and demand that he act.”

Following the meeting at Senator Rubio’s office USF students and Sierra Club activists marched across campus again to the Patel Center where a town hall meeting addressing environmental concerns was taking place. The USF Student Environmental Association is part of a larger group called The Florida Youth Environmental Sustainability Coalition, or FL YES.

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