Concerned Floridians told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today that the continued slime outbreaks in the state’s public waterways are harming Florida’s tourism business, contaminating drinking water, killing wildlife, and repeatedly threatening public health. They joined together in a public demonstration and urged the EPA to stay strong and enforce the Clean Water Act, despite pressure from polluting industries.
Protesters gathered at the Tampa Hotel, where the EPA is holding the first of two public information meetings (January 17 from 1–7 pm and January 18 from 9 am–1 pm).
"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 Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club's Florida staff director.
"Governor Scott and DEP Secretary Vinyard are neither willing nor able to stop the flow of manure, sewage, and fertilizer into Florida's springs, lakes, rivers and bays. They are crippling clean water enforcement and doing the dirty work of polluters. Theirs is the reign of red tides and green slime," Jackalone said.
“The joke that DEP stands for ‘Don’t Expect Protection’ has never been more true,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest.
Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is firing experienced DEP staffers and replacing them with people who come from polluting industries. Records show that enforcement cases against environmental lawbreakers have plummeted at the DEP.
“This is a critical time for us to get a handle on the sewage, manure and fertilizer pollution that’s causing these repeated algae outbreaks which devastate rivers like the St. Johns,” said St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman. “The St. Johns River is at the center of the northeast Florida economy. Green slime and massive piles of dead fish along the banks hurt us all. We want EPA to stand strong and do its job enforcing the Clean Water Act.”
Andrew McElwaine, President of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, noted that Sarasota County had to remove 4.5 tons of rotting fish from its public beaches due to red tide, which is worsened by this pollution. In addition, Sanibel Island had to cancel a youth fishing tournament, green slimy algae keeps shutting down a drinking water plant for 30,000 people, and the state has banned shell fishing in some areas.
“We were encouraged in November when the EPA announced it is setting enforceable, numeric limits on the amount of pollutants allowed in our waters,” McElwaine said. “The EPA’s number limits apply to about 85 percent of Florida waters. Unfortunately, the EPA allowed Florida to impose ineffective state rules for 15 percent of streams, canals and estuaries.”
“Now EPA is signaling that it is might withdraw its proposed rules for 85 percent of Florida's waters and transfer that authority to the DEP,” McElwaine said. “That’s the wrong way to go.”
“We need EPA’s enforceable numbers for 100 percent of the state’s waters,” said Earthjustice attorney Guest. “We’ve seen that the Scott administration is far more interested in coddling polluter lobbyists than it is in cleaning up our public waterways. We know that polluted water is a job killer for everyone who relies on the tourism industry here in Florida—and that’s pretty much all of us.”
Florida Wildlife Federation President Fuller added: “The DEP rules are ineffective, convoluted and never result in enforcement. Meanwhile, pollution of Florida's waterways continues to worsen.”
The EPA began working to set pollution limits for Florida in 2009—part of a settlement in 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. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club. The suit challenged the decade-long delay by the state and federal governments in setting limits for the pollution.
The public supports the EPA pollution limits. In response to a call for action, more than 40,000 citizens wrote the White House in 2012, urging the Obama administration to stand firm on imposing effective federal standards for Florida waters.