The Christian Science Monitor

February 14, 1994, Monday


LENGTH: 856 words

HEADLINE: Your Taxes Go to Sweetener But Sour the Everglades

BYLINE: James Bovard; James Bovard is the author of the forthcoming
book, ''Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty'' (St.
Martin's Press, April 1994).

The subsidies sugar producers receive dwarf the amount they
now pay to restore Everglades

THE Florida Everglades is rapidly deteriorating, largely as the
result of sugar-cane farming and various artificial disruptions of
The Christian Science Monitor, February 14, 1994

natural water flows.

Since 1988 the federal government has been seeking to force
sugar growers to cover part of the costs of repairing the fragile
south Florida environment. Unfortunately, the Clinton
administration is showing far more compassion for corporate welfare
recipients than for consumers or the environment.

In July the administration and Florida sugar growers reached a
tentative agreement to finance an Everglades cleanup. United States
Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt hailed the agreement as
opening the way to ''the largest, most ambitious ecosystem
restoration ever undertaken.''

The agreement has been praised as a triumph of the ''polluter
pays'' principle. In reality, it is another fraud on the American
public and another potential danger to the Everglades.

Several of the largest Florida sugar producers have, since the
agreement, complained that the government has shown bad faith. The
agreement may be revised, and its details suggest that the Clinton
administration has almost totally caved in to the sugar industry
The Christian Science Monitor, February 14, 1994

and will likely cave in again in any future Everglades cleanup

Under the agreement Florida sugar growers would pay $ 232 million
to $ 322 million in cleanup costs over 20 years. (The final cost
remains to be determined.) On an annual basis, this amounts to
between $ 11.6 million and $ 16.1 million a year.

While sugar producers claim that this would be a heavy burden,
it is almost invisible compared with the federal sugar subsidies
they receive.

US sugar import quotas and the Agriculture Department's sugar
price-support program load American sugar growers with subsidies.
The world sugar price is roughly 11 cents a pound; the US price is
22 cents a pound. Based on the difference between US and world
sugar prices, Florida growers receive a government benefit of 11
cents for each pound of sugar they harvest.

The state's sugar-cane producers will harvest an estimated 3.5
billion pounds of sugar this year. Thus, the total federal subsidy
to Florida cane producers will amount to roughly $ 380 million this
The Christian Science Monitor, February 14, 1994


The pact between the US government and the sugar growers
acknowledges that sugar farming accounts for many of the
Everglades's environmental problems. Yet, under the Clinton
administration agreement, the federal sugar program would continue
providing Florida sugar farmers between $ 24 and $ 33 dollars in
benefits for each $ 1 that sugar farmers paid to reduce the
environmental damage of their farming practices.

The US Department of Commerce has estimated that the sugar
program costs American consumers $ 3.5 billion a year in higher
prices. Based on Commerce's estimate, the amount that Florida sugar
farmers would be required to spend in order to reduce the
environmental harm of sugar production is less than 1 percent of
the annual cost of the US sugar program to American consumers.

The pact is expected only to decrease the rate of the
destruction of the Everglades. The first federal lawsuit to reduce
agricultural pollution of the Everglades was filed in 1988. Since
then more than 30,000 additional acres of Florida land have been
put to sugar production. Florida sugar producers had record
The Christian Science Monitor, February 14, 1994

harvests in 1991 and 1992. This is proof that federal sugar
subsidies are far more effective at increasing sugar production
than federal legal and regulatory pressures have been at reducing

If it were not for the federal subsidies, there would be little
or no cane-sugar production in the US. Third-world nations have an
overwhelming competitive advantage in sugar production - due to
climate, lower costs of land, and the availability of cheaper

There is no reason why the US must produce its own sugar cane.
Sugar is cheaper in Canada primarily because Canada has almost no
sugar growers - and thus no trade restrictions or government
support programs. Paying lavish subsidies to produce sugar in
Florida makes as much sense as creating a federal subsidy program
to grow bananas in Massachusetts. The only thing that could make
American sugar-cane farmers competitive on the world market would
be massive global warming.

After more than five years of litigation and negotiation between
the government and sugar growers, little or nothing has been
The Christian Science Monitor, February 14, 1994

achieved to reduce the pollution of the Everglades.

President Clinton could yank the plug on Everglades pollution by
working forcefully to abolish the federal sugar program, yet he has
voiced no criticism of sugar subsidies. How many more alligators
should we sacrifice to further pad the wallets of a handful of rich
sugar plantation owners?