Don't let agricultural pollutants kill magic waterways, they say
Algae outbreak on the Santa Fe River in May of 2012. (John Moran)
In a fantastic show of grassroots support for clean water, Floridians packed a Environmental Protection Agency meeting in Tampa on Jan. 16, saying they are fed up with repeated slimy algae outbreaks on the state’s beaches, rivers, spring and streams
More than 150 protested, and they wore fluorescent green T-shirts saying, “Ask me about slime.” They asked the EPA to stay strong and enforce pollution limits for sewage, manure and fertilizer—three culprits which are fueling algae outbreaks all over the state.
"I'm tired of seeing green slime outbreaks on the St. Johns River and having to explain to my boys why we have fish kills every summer," St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said at a press conference that clean water advocates held outside the EPA meeting. “Florida waters bring magic to the state and we can't let that magic die on our watch."
St. Johns Riverkeeper is one of five groups Earthjustice represents in our legal fight to enforce the Clean Water Act by setting enforceable, numeric limits on the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen allowed in state waters. Our other clients are the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.
We’ve become increasingly concerned that the EPA could cave into pressure from powerful polluting industries who want the EPA to abdicate its Clean Water Act enforcement and instead approve weak, substitute rules proposed by the polluter-friendly Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
"EPA officials say they are prepared to withdraw their proposed strong rules and transfer Clean Water Act authority to Florida DEP. That would be disastrous," said another one of our clients, Sierra Club Florida staff director Frank Jackalone.
The folks who showed up at the EPA meeting also had stickers with the simple message: “EPA Yes, DEP No.”
This is the worst possible time to rely on Florida’s environmental agency. The Florida DEP is in shambles because of the anti-environmental bent of Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature. The Scott administration is not just going soft on polluters—it is actively eviscerating the state environmental protection agency, firing experienced regulators and replacing them with people who come from polluting industries.
There’s long been a joke that the DEP stands for ‘Don’t Expect Protection,’ and in this case, it’s never been more true.
As reader of this blog will remember, the EPA in November announced it is setting enforceable, numeric limits on the amount of pollutants allowed in Florida’s waters. The EPA’s number limits apply to about 85 percent of state waters. Unfortunately, the EPA allowed Florida to impose ineffective state rules for 15 percent of streams, canals and estuaries, and has been signaling it might withdraw its proposed rules for 85 percent of Florida's waters and transfer that authority to the DEP.
Our position is that we need EPA’s enforceable numbers for 100 percent of the state’s waters. It was great to see so many people show up in Tampa to give the EPA that message. Let’s hope the EPA heard us loud and clear.