Orchids and Strip Mines Don’t Mix 2013

The phosphate mining company Mosaic is currently seeking permits that will allow them to mine more than 50,000 acres in Manatee, DeSoto and Hardee Counties. These mines will negatively affect the Peace River watershed water and Myakahatchee Creek which provide both Sarasota and North Port with drinking water, and encroach on Myakka State Park. Since Mosaic now owns exclusively all the phosphate reserves in west central Florida, people may wonder why you can scarcely turn on a radio or television these days without hearing or seeing their advertisements? Why do they blanket area newspapers with their reassurances and promises, with direct mailings and billboards extolling their virtues as trustworthy “stewards of the land,” planters of trees, and conservers of water resources? The answer is simple: Mosaic doesn’t need to sell its product in Florida since its main customers are huge fertilizer consortiums in Brazil, India and China. Here Mosaic needs only to sell its image and its brand.

Part of Mosaic’s current strategy to enhance their image and their brand is to align themselves with environmental causes through their charitable foundation. Their most recent partnership happens to be with one of Sarasota’s most prestigious attractions: Marie Selby Gardens. During the month of October the Selby Gardens website home page prominently featured the Mosaic name and logo at the top of the page. It is particularly disillusioning to see this association, since Selby Gardens in their mission statement describe themselves as champions of “environmental conservation,” emphasizing the ecological importance of epiphytes and the conservation of epiphytes and their natural habitat. Do they not have any idea of the hundreds of thousands of native orchids that have perished and will perish if the latest round of Mosaic strip mine applications is permitted? Not only will the orchids themselves be destroyed by strip mining but so will all the unique and complex environmental conditions that would ever allow them to grow there again.

Outside the virtual world of image-making and branding, Mosaic is responsible for the utter destruction of literally tens of thousands of acres of native Florida eco-systems and wildlife habitat – plunder that has been going on, decade after decade, for over a century. The rural southern portions of Polk and Hillsborough Counties have been ravaged. Phosphate mining has left vast disposals of clay slimes laced with fuel oil and other toxic chemical wastes, overgrown by pernicious and invasive grasses. Elevated low-level radioactivity occurs throughout their operations. Mountains of phosphogypsum – an acidic radioactive waste product of fertilizer production – dot the landscape near their manufacturing facilities with no disposal solution in sight. Water levels have dropped on an area-wide scale, springs have dried up and a major river is disappearing. It was recently revealed that Mosaic dilutes their waste effluents with clean water from the aquifer in order to meet regulatory water quality standards. If Mosaic is allowed the permits they are currently seeking, they will perpetuate their grim harvest for at least another four decades into the future, and beyond.

For a company that recently reported annual sales of its products at $10 billion it is probably less expensive to launch a massive media campaign to enhance its public image than it is to devote itself to trying to repair the environmental damage their strip mining operations and fertilizer production have caused.

Incidentally the fertilizer giant was recently sued by EPA. Mosaic had to agree to pay $32.4 million in civil penalties and for upgrades of their air emission systems in Mulberry and elsewhere.

Do the distinguished directors of Selby Gardens have no awareness of these matters? Are they so mesmerized by Mosaic’s promotional efforts that they actually believe them? Or are they so strapped for money that they just hold their nose and put out their hand?