U.S. judge blasts state on Everglades restoration; says ‘whole situation sliding backwards’

Apr 26, 2011

The following article was published in the Palm Beach Post on April 26, 2011:

U.S. judge blasts state on Everglades Restoration; says ‘whole situation sliding backwards’


By Christine Stapleton

The federal judge presiding over a contentious Everglades restoration lawsuit took a swipe at Gov. Rick Scott’s water quality policy Tuesday and announced his intention to strip to Florida environmental regulators of their role in enforcing the Clean Water Act and return those powers to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold issued a harsh, 117-page ruling to clarify the scathing 48-page ruling he issued in April 2010, in which he accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and South Florida Water Management District of failing to enforce the Clean Water Act.

Gold’s ruling was the latest action in a 2004 lawsuit filed by the Miccosukee Indians, who live in the Everglades, and the non-profit Friends of the Everglades, Both are pressing the state and federal governments to enforce the law and move ahead with the restoration.

The case is on appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, Gold said if the appeals court sends the case back to his court, he will strip the state DEP of its authority to issue permits under the Clean Water Act and turn over those responsibilities in Florida to the federal environmental agency. Normally, the EPA delegates enforcement to the state agency.

Gold blasted the state agency and the water management district for “not being true stewards of protecting the Everglades in recent years” and offered several examples.

Among them, the state’s adoption of what he called a “disingenuous” phosphorus rule in January 2002 and the failure of the water management district “to even implement its mandated duties .” Florida’s phosphorus rule establishes water quality standards for phosphorus pollution in the Everglades.

As further proof of the state’s resistance to EPA water quality standards, Gold cited Gov. Scott’s recent instructions to the DEP to petition the EPA to rescind its limits on nutrients in Florida waters – basically limits on how much phosphorus, mostly from farm runoff, is allowed in Florida waters.

Gold noted an executive order signed by Scott in January, which suspends all rule-making by state agencies, would likely hamper the state environmental agency’s ability to create rules to enforce water quality standards.

Also troubling is a recent proposal to cut $100 million from the district’s budget and the retirement of Carol Wehle, the district’s executive director, and Peter Silva, a top EPA water administrator, Gold wrote. “Simply stated, the entire situation is rapidly sliding backward.”

The judge’s vow to severely cut the DEP’s power pleased environmentalists.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” said David Guest, managing attorney for Earthjustice, a nonprofit, public interest law firm involved in Everglades litigation. “I think any rational decision-maker reading this order would understand that an impartial arbiter has reached the conclusion that the state is refusing to comply with its duties to clean up and restore the Everglades and is thumbing its nose at the Clean Water Act.”

The DEP issued a written response saying it is disappointed with the ruling, “essentially federalizing Florida’s Everglades restoration permitting process.”

Find this article here:  http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/state/u-s-judge-blasts-scott-says-hell-have-1434502.html