Quigley Speaks at America's Everglades D.C. Summit
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representatives Mike Quigley (IL-05), who serves as Vice Chair of the Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition, spoke at the America's Everglades D.C. Summit, where concerned citizens rallied their voices in defense of the Everglades and federal funding of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir. Below are Rep. Quigley’s remarks, as prepared for delivery.
For the second year in a row, I traveled to one of our nation’s great National Parks in an attempt to better understand the mounting impacts climate change has on these national treasures, and all public lands around the country.
Earlier this year, I traveled to the Florida Everglades National Park with two of my colleagues in the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition—Carol Shea Porter from the New Hampshire and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who you guys know well and who’s own backyard abuts the glades—to visit the region and see firsthand the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma and other impacts of climate change.
The importance of the Florida Everglades is the reason you’ve traveled up to Washington today, and it is one of the world’s most unique places, as I can now attest.
The trip in February was my first time to the Everglades, and I was awed by the small but critical pineland ecosystems, tree islands in the middle of flooded swamps, and the massive, shallow turquoise water of Florida Bay, which is home to endless sea-grass meadows that species like manatees rely on. But this precious resource exists today in an almost constant state of stress.
One thing that became clear when spending time with the Audubon Society, the National Parks Conservation Association, and incredible experts at the National Park Service who dedicate their lives to protecting and maintaining our shared natural heritage, is that most of South Florida, and just about all of the Everglades, is essentially one big, shallow, slow-moving freshwater river.
The grassy, tree speckled marl prairies that we picture in our minds as the Everglades don’t look like a river, but the slow and constant movement of freshwater south from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay is the driving force for the entire ecosystem and the crucial supply of drinking water for the eight million Americans living in the area.
Sadly, due to human development and decades of water management practices geared towards local agricultural production, the Everglades has shrunk to under half of its historic size and survives today on just 40 percent of the freshwater it once relied on. Thus, the flooded grasslands, rivers, and bay are in a perpetual state of drought, and therefore, unable to adapt to things like rising sea levels and ocean temperatures, and severe storms like hurricanes, which the region knows all too well.
Climate change, which has already made all of these phenomena more prevalent and frequent, threatens to push the Everglades ecosystem over the edge, taxing an already strained ecosystem beyond its capabilities to adapt.
Experts at the Park Service are leading many of the efforts to build local resilience. Projects designed to help increase the flow of freshwater into the park, and therefore help prepare the Everglades for coming and inevitable climate impacts, are already underway.
But Congress must step in. Like all our National Parks, Everglades National Park has a substantial deferred maintenance backlog. Even though the Everglades doesn’t have many structures and only one main road, many of the facilities they do have were recently gutted by Hurricane Irma, which caused millions of dollars of damage inside the park. Money that the Everglades, which spends most of its resources on its conservation efforts, simply doesn’t have.
Rather than reducing funding for National Parks, which face new and mounting costs thanks to climate change, or opening our public lands to mineral and fossil fuel development, and idea so bad it would be funny if it wasn’t so terrifying, we must step up with the appropriations needed to ensure that future generations of Americans have the opportunity to take an airboat through Shark River like I did and marvel at the incredible landscape and plants and animals that call the Everglades home.
As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I’ve worked with Members like Mrs. Wasserman-Schultz to try to beef up the NPS budget to handle its deferred maintenance. In the recent FY 18 omnibus budget, we made some positive progress, but there is much more to go.
Something that became clear to me on the trip that I think is crucial for all Members of Congress and really all Americans to understand, is that even though the Everglades might be nestled at the end of a big peninsula, they matter to everyone. As a drinking water source, as a vacation destination, as home to endangered and spectacular species, and as part of our shared national natural heritage.
I’m so glad that all you have made this trip to Washington to advocate for the Everglades and for all National Parks, and I look forward to working with you to help provide the parks and the NPS with the resources they need.
In February, Rep. Quigley led a two-day climate change tour in the Everglades where Members of Congress and environment advocates discussed the threat of climate change and other environmental concerns in the face of the Trump Administration. The Members visited ground zero sites of Hurricane Irma destruction and met with National Park Service (NPS) employees and climate researches for a firsthand look at various climate change concerns, including the death of sea grass, the rise in land subsidence, and the destruction of habitats of numerous rare and unique species.