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Washington, DC — Reversing his February promise to protect coral reefs, Governor Jeb Bush is moving at a Cabinet meeting tomorrow to open Southeast Florida’s endangered nearshore coral reefs to excavation by multinational telecommunications companies seeking to build more than a score of trans-Atlantic cable crossings.

Concerned that Gov. Bush’s plan concentrates cable crossings in Florida’s most sensitive coral reef areas, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) today announced plans to petition the Federal Communications Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer and the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force to ensure that any fiber optic cable permits are subjected to full environmental review.

Over the past eight months, PEER and other groups have worked with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to craft a fiber optic cable “corridor” concept that would bar companies from damaging coral reefs occurring south of Cape Canaveral, where the most vulnerable reef ecosystems are located. Under the “corridor” plan put forward by the environmentalists, five landing sites in the Panhandle, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Daytona, and Port Canaveral would be designated in reef-free areas where companies could lay cable. An existing corridor near Miami-Dade County would have been “grandfathered” into the plan.

Seeking to build cables from Latin America, industry lobbyists have opposed designation of corridors outside the reef-girded Miami-Dade area. Overruling his own agency specialists, Gov. Bush, adopted the industry plan:

(1) allowing the placement of cables in three, 10-mile wide “zones” across the vulnerable nearshore reefs of southeastern Florida – this action lifts prohibitions on laying cable in ecologically irreplaceable reef areas, such as the Oculina Bank near Cape Canaveral;

(2) giving significant price breaks on the cost of cable landings. By treating telecommunication companies as public utilities, the Bush Administration proposes to charge only $15,000 per cable – hundreds of thousands of dollars less than market rates.

(3) allowing companies to build artificial concrete reefs as compensation for any damage caused by the cables to natural reefs.

“If this policy is allowed to go forward Florida’s most sensitive coral reefs will be sacrificed to the telecommunications revolution,” said Dan Meyer, General Counsel to PEER. “Even worse, Governor Bush wants to give huge taxpayer-funded discounts to multi-national corporations for despoiling the state’s most sensitive coastal areas.”

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