Three former Florida environmental protection secretaries sent a letter to EPA today seeking a delay in federal rules designed to clean up Florida’s water pollution.
Statement by Earthjustice attorney David Guest regarding the letter:
“The widespread pollution of Florida’s public waters happened on these DEP secretaries’ watch. It’s no surprise that now they want to try to save face. They did such a bad job protecting public health that the federal government has had to intervene to get Florida to clean up water pollution.
It’s unconscionable that these former officials are siding with polluters to block cleanup instead of standing up for the public’s right to clean waters. It is an insult to ordinary Floridians.
These former secretaries are at drastically at odds with public opinion. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that it has received 22,000 public comments on the proposed new standards to control nutrient pollution, and 20,000 of those comments were in support of the standards.
The public is appalled at watching Florida’s waterways get destroyed by this very preventable pollution. It was sickening to watch a 100-mile-long algae bloom cover the St. Johns River once again this summer, with dead fish washing up on riverfront property along the river’s length.
Florida is rock bottom in the U.S. in terms of protecting its waters from pollution. Across the United States, scientists report that 30 percent of bays and estuaries and 44 percent of streams have unsafe water. But in Florida, it is much worse -- more than 98 percent of the state’s bays and estuaries, and more than 54 percent of its streams, are unsafe to swim and/or fish in.
Florida has 22 major beaches that are unsafe to swim for at least two weeks out of every year. The state ranks fourth-worst for drinking water quality in the U.S. and tenth in the number of Clean Water Act permit violations. Pensacola was ranked as the worst in the nation for drinking water, followed closely by Jacksonville at tenth worst.
If these former secretaries had been doing their jobs, this would not have happened.
Sewage, animal manure and fertilizer pollution from excess nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen trigger toxic algae outbreaks. Exposure to these algae toxins – when people drink the water, touch it, or inhale vapors from it - can cause rashes, skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upset, serious illness, and even death. Fish and wildlife can also be killed by the toxins.
The EPA committed to set nutrient pollution limits after Earthjustice, representing Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, and St. Johns Riverkeeper, filed a major lawsuit to compel the EPA to set strict limits on nutrient poisoning in public waters.
The July 2008 suit challenged the unacceptable decade-long delay by the state and federal governments in setting limits for pollution from fertilizer, sewage, and animal waste. A 2008 DEP report concluded that fully half of the state’s rivers and more than half of its lakes had poor water quality – a dangerous reality for a state with an economy based on tourism and water-based recreation. EPA agreed to settle the case and proposed new limits for nutrient pollution in January, 2010.
EPA will finalize pollution limits for Florida’s freshwaters and lakes in November 2010. Pollution limits for estuaries and flowing waters in South Florida will be set by August 2012.