Heard on the Hill

This Republican Got a Little Help From Erin Brockovich

Brian Mast: ‘I’m not going to sit here and pretend that this is an easy bill to pass’

Erin Brockovich, left, and Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., held a joint press conference in Florida on Sunday. (Courtesy Brian Mast)

Rep. Brian Mast got a little help from a Californian in his anti-algae quest  – the real Erin Brockovich is standing up for him.

The legendary environmentalist, played by Julia Roberts in the 2000 eponymous film “Erin Brockovich,” travelled to Florida this weekend to talk algae blooms.

The congressman was pushing his “Stop Harmful Discharges Act” through local environmental groups when “it caught her eye and she came down and got involved,” he said.

The bill is aimed at toxins being dumped on a community. Sound familiar?

As we learn in the movie, Brockovich fought the Pacific Gas and Electric Company two decades ago over contaminated drinking water in Hinkley, California.

Mast’s bill, which he introduced on Sept. 4, would require the Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize public health and safety when determining how to release water from Florida’s Lake Okeechobee.

“There’s no consideration, when they discharge this water, to say, ‘Hey let’s think about the massive community downstream, … let’s think about their health and their safety,’” he said.

The Corps has been releasing nutrient-laden water from Lake Okeechobee to relieve pressure on the Herbert Hoover Dike, which surrounds the lake. That has led to algae growth.

Mast wants the Corps to minimize the potential of toxic cyanobacteria blooms and prevent discharges containing bacteria into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee watersheds — two rivers experiencing algae blooms — while ensuring the integrity of the dike.

“This is the biggest thing that I work on,” Mast said. He is the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee that handles maritime and Coast Guard issues.

Erin Brockovich holds Pandora, a miniature Pomeranian who was diagnosed with acute liver failure expected to be from contact from algae after eating a fish along beach of the St. Lucie River. (Courtesy Mast)
Erin Brockovich holds Pandora, a miniature Pomeranian who was diagnosed with acute liver failure presumably from contact with algae after eating a fish along the St. Lucie River. (Courtesy Mast)

“I’ve never seen a toxic algae bloom where there has been as little response to massive fish kills, manatees, dolphins sick, respiratory problems. People can’t get out on their boats, they can’t get out on the water, businesses can’t do business. I’ve never seen a situation like this, ever,” Brockovich said about the situation, according to WPTV.

That Brockovich made the trip means a lot to the congressman.

“It matters,” Mast said. “I’m not going to sit here and pretend that this is an easy bill to pass.”

“It’s time to rise up … it is worth the fight,” Brockovich told a crowd of supporters on Sunday, WPTV reported. “I’m no stranger to Florida. It sickens me to see what’s happening to your environment, businesses, tourism, wildlife.”

Many Americans are familiar with Florida, especially through vacationing, Mast emphasized.

“Everybody’s so connected to Florida,” he said. His district includes Martin and St. Lucie counties.

The congressman’s next step is getting more members of the Sunshine State delegation on board. He said Republican Rep. Bill Posey has been supportive, as was Ron DeSantis before he resigned from Congress on Sept. 10 to focus on running for governor.

He hopes to get Florida Republican Reps. Francis Rooney and Vern Buchanan to join him as well.

“I want [Rooney] to get on board with this bill because it matters to him too that the health and safety of his people are put above recreation,” he said.

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