If construction were halted, FPL's lawyers wrote, it would cost $1 million per day in delays. And besides, they argued, federal courts did not hold the proper jurisdiction to decide the case. FPL asserted that the plaintiffs had virtually no chance of prevailing.

At a hearing in October, two Fish and Wildlife biologists testified that they had written up some concerns about the power plant during the permitting process but that supervisors had effectively ignored them. Judge Middlebrooks heard them out, but he wondered aloud whether he even had jurisdiction to address many of the issues in the case.

After the hearing, Tsolkas was still hopeful: "We're supposedly spending $10 billion restoring the Everglades. You would think they would have jurisdiction at the federal level."

C. Stiles
Members of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (including Alex Larson, right) visit the site where a natural gas pipeline was being laid. Millions of gallons of oil will be stored nearby as backup fuel.
Deirdra Funcheon
Members of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (including Alex Larson, right) visit the site where a natural gas pipeline was being laid. Millions of gallons of oil will be stored nearby as backup fuel.

He noted that if it weren't for Alex Larson's reading the paper three years ago, "you could be out there fishing in Loxahatchee, look up, and go, 'Oh my God — what the fuck is that?' "

As the federal case progressed, environmentalists marked their calendars for October 27, the date of the last big administrative hearing for Unit Three before the matter would go to the governor and Siting Board for final approval.

But the hearing was abruptly canceled. All of the official parties involved had filed a joint motion saying they had no qualms about the third unit, so there was no reason for a hearing. The judge relinquished his jurisdiction to the Department of Environmental Protection. With that move, the Siting Board was now irrelevant. The governor's approval was no longer needed for Unit Three. There would be no more hearings. The environmentalists were effectively shut out.

Tsolkas sent out a call to storm the offices of DEP on the 27th instead.

On that Monday, about 20 young environmentalists in jeans and T-shirts showed up. They were met by about a dozen representatives from DEP, mostly in pressed shirts and khakis, who invited them to sit around a conference table. Tsolkas took control and laid out seven points of concern. DEP staff politely took notes.

Attorney Barry Silver, wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt, spoke up in a grave voice. He pointed to a piece of DEP letterhead. "It says here 'more protection, less process,' " he noted. "I suggest you remove this phrase from your letterhead." He then pointed to the state flag in the room. "There are two things on there that have been obliterated by the government of Florida," he said, referring to the Seminoles and the wetlands. "If that flag means anything besides decoration, you should try to protect them." He offered free legal representation to any staff scientists who might defect from DEP and join the environmentalists' cause.

Mike Halpin, the DEP administrator in charge of the siting process, weighed in by phone from Tallahassee. "My job is to execute the law as it's written," he stated. FPL had met every regulatory requirement. If the environmentalists weren't happy with regulations, he suggested, "Go talk to your legislator."

As the tone deteriorated, the meeting was snapped to an end, with DEP staff bristling at the suggestion that they were somehow at fault.

"We don't work here for the money," noted one.

"Whether you like it or not, FPL has rights," another said.

"Why don't [these environmentalists] apply for jobs at DEP?" another asked.

Tsolkas walked out to the street corner, where he assumed a familiar pose. He slipped a devil mask on his face, turned toward passing traffic, and unfurled a banner that read "DEP: Don't Expect Protection."

Later that day, FPL Group released news of its third-quarter profits: $774 million, up from $533 million last year.

Electricity usage? Down 4.3 percent.

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