Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Judge’s Decision Leaves Florida’s Public Waters Unprotected


Polluters Win; People and Wildlife Lose

Judge’s Decision Leaves Florida’s Public Waters Unprotected

January 7, 2014

David Guest, Earthjustice Attorney; (850) 228-3337
Manley Fuller, Florida Wildlife Federation; (850) 567-7129
Frank Jackalone, Florida Organizing Manager, Sierra Club (727) 824-8813 x 302
Lisa Rinaman, St Johns Riverkeeper (904) 509-3260
Becky Ayech, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida (941) 322-2164
Jennifer Hecker, Director of Natural Resource Policy, Conservancy of Southwest Florida; (239) 961-1900

TALLAHASSEE, FL. – Today’s decision by a U.S. District Judge allows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to avoid applying Clean Water Act protections for two-thirds of all Florida waters, including streams and canals. The decision permits EPA to simply change its mind and not protect most streams and canals.

“Florida’s clean water regulations just aren’t working, and we need EPA to step in and do the job,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “We have so much sewage, fertilizer, and manure contamination that we have toxic slime outbreaks happening all over the state. Hundreds of dead manatees, dolphins, fish and birds have been washing up on shores in South Florida.  The Clean Water Act is supposed to prevent things like this.”

“We are considering an appeal of this decision,” Guest added.

Devastating algae outbreaks, like the ones which have broken out on many Florida springs, the Indian River Lagoon, the St. Johns River, the Caloosahatchee River, Charlotte Harbor, Estero Bay, and Tampa Bay are a public health crisis and an economic nightmare – killing wildlife, hurting property values and devastating tourism revenue.

“Florida water pollution is now so bad it’s featured on the national news,” said Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller. “We’ve got dead fish, dead oysters, dead manatees and dead birds. We clearly need EPA to do its job and enforce the Clean Water Act.”

Instead of preventing the pollution at its source, the state and EPA have allowed polluter lobbyists to write huge loopholes into rules that are supposed to prevent toxic algae outbreaks. Together, these loopholes leave about two-thirds of streams, canals, tidal creeks and similar waters unprotected from sewage, manure and fertilizer contamination.

“This is simply outrageous. The lower St. Johns River has been plagued with a toxic green algae outbreak that tests show is 100 times more toxic than the standards that the World Health Organization sets for recreation,” said Lisa Rinaman, St Johns Riverkeeper. “When you have waters that have 100 times the amount of toxins that the world’s top health experts say is safe, you know Florida’s regulations are not working. This is not the time for the EPA to turn its back on Florida's waters."

The EPA agreed to set pollution limits for Florida to settle a 2008 Clean Water Act suit filed by Earthjustice in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club.  The suit challenged the decade-long delay by the state and federal governments in setting limits for phosphorus and nitrogen -- so-called “nutrient pollution.”

The public supported the EPA’s action. When the EPA asked the public to comment on the water pollution limits, the agency received 22,000 comments, and 20,000 were in support of the EPA’s standards. In response to a call for action, more than 40,000 citizens wrote the White House.

“Instead of protecting people from water pollution, the state is bending over backwards to do the bidding of a small number of politically-connected polluters, like Big Sugar, who just won’t  clean up their own mess,”  said Becky Ayech, of the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida. 

Florida has also eviscerated the programs designed to manage and prevent this kind of pollution, hacking the budgets of the state Water Management Districts and the Department of Environmental Protection, firing many experienced enforcement and scientific staffers, eliminating the state land-planning agency, and approving these weak, polluter-friendly water standards. Last year, the Legislature even voted down a common-sense measure that would have merely required the state to make public the number of illnesses and pet and wildlife deaths from the toxic algae outbreaks.

“On the heels of recent state and Congressional hearings on the dangerously poor water quality in our state, it is imperative that citizens contact all of their elected leaders right now, including President Obama, urging them to set numeric nutrient water quality standards for all flowing waters in Florida to control pollution at its source,” said Jennifer Hecker, Director of Natural Resource Policy of Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “This ruling, if not challenged, will reinforce the status quo of allowing too much pollution into our waterways, damaging our tourism- based economy and expecting taxpayers to pick of the tab for massively expensive clean-up projects.”


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