Thursday, January 14, 2021

PRESS RELEASE: Earthjustice sues on behalf of conservation groups to stop EPA rubber-stamping Florida wetlands destruction

 

Jan. 14, 2021

For Immediate Release

Contacts:  Tania Galloni, Earthjustice Managing Attorney for Florida, (305) 726-1627, tgalloni@earthjustice.org

Bonnie Malloy, Earthjustice attorney, (850) 322-8086, bmalloy@earthjustice.org

Jason Totoiu, Center for Biological Diversity, (561) 568-6740, jtotoiu@biologicaldiversity.org

Lindsay Dubin, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3234, ldubin@defenders.org

Cris Costello, Sierra Club, (941) 914-0421, cris.costello@sierraclub.org

Amber Crooks, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, (239)776-5601, amberc@conservancy.org

Preston Robertson, Florida Wildlife Federation, (850) 656-7113, preston@fwfonline.org

Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper, (904) 256-7591, lisa@stjohnsriverkeeper.org

Kelly Cox, Miami Waterkeeper, (305) 905-0856, kelly@miamiwaterkeeper.org

 

Earthjustice sues on behalf of conservation groups to stop EPA

rubber-stamping Florida wetlands destruction

EPA’s approval of developer-backed scheme to turn permitting over to state

violates U.S. environmental laws


*
Please visit
this link to view this release online *

Washington, D.C. Earthjustice filed suit today to stop an attempt by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow Florida to fast-track wetlands permits for construction projects that will degrade and ruin Florida’s natural landscape, all in violation of federal environmental laws. While a worldwide pandemic is threatening lives and livelihoods across the United States, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is green lighting Florida’s proposal to take over the federal program that issues permits when developers and others want to fill sensitive marshes, cypress forests, ponds and other wetlands – Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. In EPA’s rush to push this through, the agency skirted procedural requirements -- failing even to make the state program legally effective.

 

Earthjustice is representing the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation, Miami Waterkeeper, and St. Johns Riverkeeper in the case filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

 

“This reckless scheme violates several of our bedrock laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, and lets developers avoid the National Environmental Policy Act, also known as ‘the people’s environmental law,’ said Tania Galloni, Earthjustice Managing Attorney for Florida. EPA is lowering the bar to allow a state, for the first time, to run the federal wetlands program without meeting federal standards. Developers have called this the holy grail because it would make it easier, faster and cheaper for them to get permits for big projects with less oversight and accountability for environmental impacts.

 

Florida’s record of wetlands protection is already abysmal,” said Earthjustice attorney Bonnie Malloy, “and now is not the time for the federal government to turn over a massive Clean Water Act program to a state with a shrinking budget amid the economic losses in the pandemic. It is deeply troubling that EPA and Florida rushed this process in the midst of a pandemic when families are focused on their health, communities and jobs. They were so hurried, in fact, they failed to follow the necessary procedures to make the transfer of authority legally effective.

 

Jason Totoiu, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “The toxic algae blooms that now plague Florida are a direct result of the state’s decades-long failure to protect our waterways from wildlife-choking pollution. Now the state wants to make it even easier to dredge and fill wetlands that help filter these pollutants from entering our lakes, estuaries, and springs. Floridians will not stand for this absurd backward step that will only increase harm to the wild places that make Florida so special.”

 

Amber Crooks, Environmental Policy Manager for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said: “As Florida and its residents grapple with a never-ending onslaught of growth and development, protection for our natural resources should be strengthened, not further weakened."

 

Kelly Cox, General Counsel for Miami Waterkeeper, said: "EPA’s decision undermines the intent of the Clean Water Act 404 program - to provide important oversight and scrutiny over our vulnerable wetlands. Instead, it puts these places directly in the line of fire. This decision is deeply disappointing and runs contrary to the public interest. The state of Florida and the federal government have once again prioritized special interests and the development-driven bottom line over environmental protection."

 

In their lawsuit, the groups point out that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of Florida’s application to assume jurisdiction over the Clean Water Act permitting program is unlawful because Florida fails to demonstrate adequate authority to carry out the wetlands permitting program, fails to ensure protection of animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act, and fails to demonstrate it has sufficient funding and staffing to implement and enforce the program. The state program does not have equivalent permit requirements, enforcement authority, access to courts, public notice, public participation opportunities, and other components that are integral parts of the federal program. The EPA rushed to approve this program so that it may take effect by January 19, 2021, despite these and many other substantial gaps in the state’s proposal.

 

The groups are also challenging decisions that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made in connection with EPA’s review of Florida’s application to assume responsibility for wetlands permitting. Specifically, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to ensure there would be no jeopardy to protected animals and plants if Florida took over the program and granting broad protection to developers who “incidentally” harm protected species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also created an unlawful scheme for purportedly reviewing the state’s decisions on individual permits that may harm federally protected species. And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the Administrative Procedure Act and Rivers and Harbors Act with its grossly truncated list of waters that it will continue to oversee.

 

Cris Costello, Organizing Manager of the Sierra Club, said: "We are acting to set aright the present topsy turvy state of affairs. This is an especially egregious example of what the DeSantis DEP has done over and over again now -- join forces with Florida's most callous polluters in assaults on our environment all the while claiming to be doing it a favor. The fact that Trump's EPA blessed this assault is par for the course."

 

“Giving Florida the green light to issue permits to dredge and fill wetlands threatens the diversity of wildlife that live there,” said Lindsay Dubin, staff attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “Endangered Florida panthers, endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, and threatened Eastern indigo snakes are among the species that could be impacted if the state of Florida assumes permitting responsibilities without the proper laws, resources, and oversight in place. With more than 1 million species at risk of extinction worldwide, the clock is ticking. We should be protecting these species, not making it easier to destroy their habitat.”

 

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Friday, December 18, 2020

Free the Ocklawaha River! Take Action Now

Please join us in urging Governor DeSantis to restore the Great Florida Riverway. It is time to save the Ocklawaha, Silver, and St. Johns Rivers, as well as historic Silver Springs. 

Take action here!

The Great Florida Riverway is one of Florida’s environmental and economic treasures — and it needs your help.

This vast, 217-mile river system reaches from the Green Swamp in Central Florida all the way to the Atlantic Ocean via the Ocklawaha and St. Johns Rivers. The Great Florida Riverway is home to 50 freshwater springs: 25 at historic Silver Springs, 20 on the Ocklawaha River, and five in the Harris Chain of Lakes. Like the Everglades to the south, restoring the Great Florida Riverway is vital to improving the ecosystem and economic health of North and Central Florida.

The Ocklawaha, the heart of the Great Florida Riverway, was dammed in 1968. Constructed for a canal that was never completed, the dam flooded over 7,500 acres of forested wetlands, 20 springs, and 16 miles of the Ocklawaha River. The continued decline of water quality, spring flow, wetland forests, fish, wildlife, and recreation has led American Rivers to designate the Ocklawaha River as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2020.

Restoring the Great Florida Riverway by breaching this dam will re-establish access to essential habitat for manatees, bring back migratory fish, connect three river ecosystems, historic Silver Springs, and restore a lost riverway for anglers and paddlers from Ocklawaha’s Harris Chain of Lakes to the Atlantic. Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis has prioritized protecting and improving the state’s waterways, creating a historic opportunity to save the Great Florida Riverway.

Learn more here 

Go here to send the letter below.  

To: Governor DeSantis

As Florida's governor, I am asking you to reaffirm your commitment to Florida waterways by reuniting four ecosystems that create the Great Florida Riverway: the Ocklawaha River, Silver Springs, the St. Johns River and the South Atlantic. Like the Everglades to the South, restoring the Great Florida Riverway is vital to improving overall ecological and economic health for North and Central Florida. The Great Florida Riverway is a vast, 217-mile system of rivers and springs that flows north from the Green Swamp near Lake Apopka, is fed by Silver Springs, and continues past Palatka to the Lower St. Johns River estuary on the Atlantic Ocean. The Riverway is home to fifty springs: 25 at historic Silver Springs, 20 on the Ocklawaha River, and five in the Harris Chain of Lakes.

Over 50 years ago, the Great Florida Riverway was harmed when the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam was built as part of the misguided Cross Florida Barge Canal project, severing the Ocklawaha’s connection to the rest of the Riverway. The dam flooded over 7,500 acres of thriving forested wetlands, 20 springs, and 16 miles of the Ocklawaha River. Every day the dam is in place, it causes harm to this special place and all the fish and wildlife that depend on these waterways.

The continued decline of water quality, spring flow, wetland forests, fish and wildlife has led American Rivers to designate the Ocklawaha River — the heart of the Great Florida Riverway — as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2020. The environmental toll has reduced recreational use and negatively impacted the economy of Putnam and Marion Counties. These declines have also threatened the environmental and economic resiliency of downstream counties, including Duval County. As Florida’s Governor, you can restore this historic Riverway and radically improve the health of these important ecosystems.

By restoring the Great Florida Riverway by breaching the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam, you can restore a lost riverway for anglers, boaters and paddlers from the Atlantic Ocean to the Harris Chain of Lakes; attract more federal funding, create new jobs, boost the northeast Florida economy, bring back migratory fish, connect three river ecosystems, and provide access to essential habitat for manatees. During these challenging times, outdoor recreation is growing, and enhancing this riverway will benefit our communities, all Floridians and out-of-area visitors.

We urge you to restore the Great Florida Riverway in accordance with Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway Unit Management Plan. Your leadership can provide a legacy of improving the health and resiliency of three river systems and the economic vitality of northeast Florida.

Thank you for your engagement on so many environmental challenges. We know we can count on you to save the Great Florida Riverway, which in turn will revitalize the Ocklawaha, Silver and St. Johns Rivers, as well as historic Silver Springs.

 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

FLORIDA WETLANDS IMPERILED BY REMOVAL OF FEDERAL OVERSIGHT


For Immediate Release                          

December 17, 2020

Contact: Deborah Foote, 850.727.4039, deborah.foote@sierraclub.org  


 **PRESS RELEASE**

FLORIDA WETLANDS IMPERILED BY REMOVAL OF FEDERAL OVERSIGHT

TALLAHASSEE, FL-- Today the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it has granted the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the authority to oversee dredge and fill permits. This authority will allow the state to formally take over the longstanding federal program that protects marshes, cypress forests, ponds and other wetlands under the Clean Water Act.  

The stated purpose of this change is to give the DEP the ability to fast-track the filling (destruction) of Florida’s wetlands. The Trump Administration has proven again that it serves developers’ interests over the water resources upon which Floridians depend. 

Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director said: "Today's decision by the Trump EPA will lead to the destruction of many of Florida's remaining wetlands and will harm the state's wildlife and fisheries dependent on those wetlands for survival.  Delegating the power to grant wetland dredge and fill permits to the State of Florida is a dream come true for the developers, miners, and road builders who spend lavishly to elect, influence, and control Florida politicians.  The developers will get more permits to build massive housing developments over wetlands, the rock miners will get more permits to extract limestone under Florida's natural landscape, and the road builders will get more permits to pave over the ponds, lakes, rivers, and swamps in Florida's paradise.  The big losers will be millions of Florida residents whose quality of life will be greatly diminished." 

Diana Umpierre, Everglades Restoration Campaign Organizing Representative, stated: “This is an act of hypocrisy by an administration that claimed to care about America's Everglades. The Sierra Club and the Everglades Coalition have made it clear why allowing Florida to permit wetland dredge and fill applications is diametrically opposed to the restoration of the Greater Everglades—an ecosystem largely composed of wetlands. It will be the proverbial fox guarding the hen house. The Army Corps’ involvement has provided the only meaningful public participation and federal reviews for Florida’s massive and costly Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects; Florida does not have a state law that parallels what is required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  With this change the state is poised to fast-track permits requested by powerful interests that love ribbon cutting ceremonies and claiming victories, even for projects that fall woefully short of adequately cleaning our waters, restoring wetlands, or protecting wildlife.”

“It was madness to speed through the public comment and hearing processes in the midst of a pandemic -- when Floridians have been focused on protecting their families and their jobs -- but there was method to the madness. This is one more instance of the DeSantis Administration claiming it is “green” but acting in the interest of developers to the peril of the state’s most valuable resources,” stated Cris Costello, Sierra Club Senior Organizing Manager.

“The Florida Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t have the capacity to take over the wetlands permitting that has been run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for decades. It can’t even manage to enforce the environmental laws already under its purview,” said Deborah Foote, Deputy Chapter Director for Sierra Club Florida. “To believe it can take this over with no additional financial resources is a pipe dream.” 

BACKGROUND:

Environmental organizations across the state, including the Everglades Coalition and the Florida Conservation Coalition, have been ardently opposed to the granting of 404 permitting authority -- find here examples of our collectively submitted comments:

https://05f26a35-5b6b-410a-9bb4-2a2484fa59fc.filesusr.com/ugd/599879_4dc6bf6c4d914191bb776892e7007a31.pdf

https://05f26a35-5b6b-410a-9bb4-2a2484fa59fc.filesusr.com/ugd/599879_4074a71ce6c748ff8fd529d28bada00e.pdf

https://05f26a35-5b6b-410a-9bb4-2a2484fa59fc.filesusr.com/ugd/599879_1752fad35df74c18a139fb2b5f03aae0.pdf  

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1XH0NNqkkRo-TArr5PMRF0jnT8bzdMX9D/view?usp=sharing 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1hZq1vmLwwqwnpSd0wXnUDybbaKMYjJ-a/view?usp=sharing 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1S09o4uTaIF97kyLIEF90SaIvRz1KRSMS/view?usp=sharing 

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Friday, November 20, 2020

Commissioner Nikki Fried Stands With Sierra Club to Oppose M-CORES and Florida's Assumption of the CWA Section 404 Program

These days, we don't often have the opportunity to thank an elected official for standing up for Florida's environment. With Thanksgiving on the horizon, it makes perfect sense to send our gratitude to Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried for taking a stand with us on two important matters. 

M-CORES

Last week Commissioner Fried released a comment on the development of a new 330-mile toll road system in Florida known as M-CORES. Sierra Club Florida opposed the legislation that created M-CORES and has been a leader in continued opposition during the Task Force process through the No Roads to Ruin coalition

“While I recognize the importance of long-range planning for future population growth and the need for economic development, I am troubled by M-CORES’ overwhelming lack of support, lack of demonstrated need, and the millions in general revenue diverted from a state budget facing economic shortfalls reminiscent of the Great Recession. As Florida deals with billions in projected revenue losses due to COVID-19, this project would put an unnecessary strain on the state's ability to fund urgent priorities. Just as compelling are the effects these unnecessary toll roads will have on Florida's environment and agricultural lands, with the potential to destroy millions of acres of farmland, state forests, and wetlands in their paths. This project threatens the unique character of our state’s rural lands and last undeveloped landscapes. I urge Secretary Thibault and the Governor to listen to over 10,000 Florida residents who have voiced their opposition to M-CORES and utilize the 'no build' option. We cannot afford to divert money into more toll roads while millions of Floridians continue to suffer.

SECTION 404 ASSUMPTION

On August 20, the EPA received a request from Florida's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to take over the administration of the Clean Water Act’s (CWA) Section 404 program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters within the jurisdiction of the state. In the 43 years since the CWA was amended to provide for state assumption, only two states have assumed administration of the Section 404 program, Michigan and New Jersey. Sierra Club Florida has long opposed Florida's 404 Assumption. 

Early this month, Commissioner Fried shared her concerns with this proposal. Of particular note is this comment:

The elimination of additional federal scrutiny for projects that have the potential to significantly impact Florida’s natural resources requires existing state programs to demonstrate the ability to protect those resources. A significant number of stakeholders have indicated noteworthy concerns that adequate evidence has not yet been provided to sufficiently demonstrate that DEP has the resources to tackle the substantial increases in workload that will be required by the delegation, or that existing state regulatory programs are adequate, to provide sufficient protections to the water resources of Florida in the face of increasing development impacts that continue to reduce the state’s open lands and agricultural landscapes. Given the value of the water resources and wetlands to the citizens of our state, any delegation of permitting authority to DEP must contain assurances that existing levels of protection of the natural resources will be preserved, and that sufficient resources are available for DEP to implement regulatory programs in an efficient and effective manner. Without those assurances, DEP will face the same fate as Michigan and New Jersey, the other two states that have assumed 404 permitting authority and required remediation of their state programs due to struggles in maintaining the required levels of regulatory integrity and resources to adequately implement the program.

TAKE ACTION!

Sierra Club Florida applaudes the Commissioner for both these stances and we encourage you to contact her and share your thanks for her opposition to M-CORES and Florida's proposed assumption of the Section 404 program. Here is how to reach her:

Phone: (850) 617-7700
Twitter: @NikkiFriedFL
Mail: The Honorable Nikki Fried
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Plaza Level 10, The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0800

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

PRESS RELEASE: MUCK CITY CAN’T BREATHE: Glades Area Black Lives Matter Organizes to Fight Back



For Immediate Release

November 10, 2020
Contacts: Robert Mitchell, MuckCityBLM@gmail.com, (323) 395-6895

 **PRESS RELEASE**

 MUCK CITY CAN’T BREATHE

Glades Area Black Lives Matter Organizes to Fight Back

BELLE GLADE--On Saturday, November 7, history was made on the steps of Belle Glade City Hall when the Glades community came together to announce the formation of Muck City Black Lives Matter (BLM).  In honor of Henry Bennett III “Scooter,” Belle Glade resident killed by the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office in 2016, Muck City BLM organizers laid out their current focus issues -- local government corruption, voting rights, and responsibilities, economic injustice and exploitation, mass incarceration, police violence, community mentoring for at-risk youth, and environmental racism associated with pre-harvest sugar field burning -- and asked community members to bring their hearts and souls to the fight.  The Cry of Black Youth (COBY) organization started the fight for Black lives from 1969 to 1971 and now the time is right and ripe for Muck City BLM in the Glades. The juxtaposition of the announcement of the Biden-Harris victory on Saturday was noteworthy; the power of the Black vote and the demand for change in the Glades is a reflection of the wider national movement for black lives.  

Robert Mitchell, Community Organizer:  "I stand before you as your Brother, Neighbor, and Friend to send the message of “Get Your Knee off our Necks, and Let Us Breathe”! I need you to know my people that our Black Lives Matter! That our Black and Brown Communities Matter!"

Colin Walkes, Former Mayor of Pahokee:  "Muck City we need to stand up. We have to be responsible for our vote. What does that mean? It means getting involved in our community. That means we attend local commission meetings. We need to organize in our community. We need to hold our voices together and hold those we elected accountable to create policies that support us. We cannot keep doing the same dance muck city."

 Joshua Walkes, Pahokee High School sophomore: "Muck City BLM represents goodness, strength, courage, understanding, and wisdom of humanity."

Kina Phillips, “Apostle” Community Organizer:  "For too long we've been silent. Whispering. Sitting in the comfort of our homes about the effects of a very outdated practice, and still we struggle to breathe.  The sugar industry has banked on our silence and has taken advantage of it. How long will we allow them to rape us of the value of our lives, to put a death sentence on our loved ones?  It is time to let your voice be heard to help bring about a change.  It is time to stop the burn."

Jerry Campbell, “The Champ” Life Coach: "Everything is an example to everything that happens, we need to start teaching our kids not to look up to football stars and to rappers, We need to stop pointing to people who are not real leaders as an example to follow, examples of real leadership for our community must start at home first."

Eric Brandon-Oce, Community Organizer with Food not Bombs:  “We are here to put the call out that Muck City BLM is on the map.  We know how to build the power that forces change and accountability on the PBSO, Geo Group, and the sugar industry whose single-minded pursuit of profit have turned the blessing of black soil into a health-sapping and life-shortening curse. It is necessary to look beyond our own communities and towards others nearby and far away for solidarity and support. So this is why I am here today.  In Solidarity.”

Robert Mitchell closed up the press conference with a call for Muck City residents to sign up and join the movement.  Supporters can join the movement by connecting to Muck City BLM on Facebook and Twitter @BLMMuckCity.

Photo Gallery

Robert Mitchell opening remarks

Colin Walkes remarks

Kina Phillips remarks

Jerry Campbell remarks

Eric Brandon-Oce remarks

Robert Mitchell closing remarks



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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Cocoa Votes to Become Florida's 11th 100% Clean Energy for All City

Cocoa becomes 2nd city in Brevard County to join clean energy movement sweeping the Sunshine State


Cocoa, FL -- Tuesday night, the City Council of Cocoa unanimously passed a resolution committing the city to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy for the entire community by 2050 and for municipal operations by 2035. Cocoa became the second city in Brevard County, joining The City of Satellite Beach, which made a similar commitment last August. Cocoa is the eleventh city in the state to commit to powering their entire community with 100 percent clean, renewable sources of energy, like solar and storage.


Dr. James Fenton, Director of UCF's Florida Solar Energy
Center
in Cocoa, offers FSEC's expertise to help 
Cocoa meet its 100% clean energy goal. 

The City will begin developing a plan immediately to achieve both goals. The resolution emphasizes inclusion and transparency in the planning process which will establish interim milestones, budget estimates, equity metrics and financing mechanisms with community residents and stakeholders over the next two years. 


Cocoa joins a growing group of Florida cities that includes  Orlando, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Tallahassee, and Gainesville among others, and joins the more than 160 other cities to commit to this goal.

Cocoa’s commitment to move toward renewables is not just aspirational neither is it radical. As a community, by signing on to Ready for 100, we are pre-positioning ourselves to leverage the solar tipping point.  In the not so long term, this move will provide reduced costs along with clean energy and a better environment to our citizens, Cocoa City Council Member District 4, Lorraine Koss.   


“Because Cocoa has a Sustainability Action Plan in place, the city has been well on its way to moving toward a cleaner and healthier community.  The passing of this resolution shows that Cocoa wants to make their community a leader in the fight for a just and equitable transition to 100 percent clean energy.  By committing to 100 percent renewable energy goals, Cocoa is paving the way for other communities to follow suit, and we look forward to working with the city to make this transition, said Leslie Maloney, Political Chair of Turtle Coast Sierra Club Group. 


Brooke Alexander, Ready for 100 Organizer

Sierra Club Florida

Email: Brooke.Alexander@sierraclub.org