Big News In Fight Against Florida Slime

On November 30, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed to set numeric pollution limits for some 100,000 miles of Florida waterways and 4,000 square miles of estuaries.

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We’re happy to report that our long fight to clean up the green slime that’s been plaguing Florida waterways for years hit a major turning point on Nov. 30. That’s the day the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to set numeric pollution limits for some 100,000 miles of Florida waterways and 4,000 square miles of estuaries.

We fought every polluting industry in Florida for four years to get this result. These slime outbreaks—caused by pollutants in inadequately treated sewage, manure and fertilizer—are a pestilence, contaminating water, killing fish, destroying property values and chasing off tourists. Now the EPA has to stop dragging its feet and deal with it.

Using extensive data it has been collecting and analyzing in concert with Florida Department of Environmental Protection scientists, the EPA will impose numeric limits on the allowable amount of phosphorus and nitrogen—so called “nutrient” pollution—in the state’s waterways.

The EPA began working to set pollution limits for Florida in 2009—part of a settlement in a 2008 Clean Water Act we filed 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.

EPA’s response here in Florida will set the standard for the nation. What we’ve lacked is a set of quantifiable numbers that are basically a speed limit sign to make the law clear and enforceable. The EPA will now start painting the numbers on that speed limit sign. It will be abundantly clear what the rules are.

The EPA got several court-granted delays in the multi-year case and was seeking another, which U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle failed to grant on Nov. 30. In a last-minute decision, the EPA also conditionally approved a set of state pollution limits developed by the Florida DEP, which will cover a fraction of the waters in the state—about 15 percent. The other 85 percent of the state’s waters will be subject to the numeric federal standards.

We oppose EPA’s conditional approval of the state’s bogus pollution rules because they don’t comply with the requirements of the Clean Water Act. Specifically, the state’s rules fail to provide numeric limits to protect the water quality of downstream lakes for polluted streams; they don’t cover the vast majority of Florida’s flowing waters and Florida estuarine, coastal, and marine waters; and the state’s rules substitute industry-written, multi-year studies for polluted waters instead of the EPA’s more enforceable rules.

Politically, it looks like the state will work on behalf of polluters to try to get the EPA to withdraw its numeric standards, and we’ll be fighting against that. And since it looks likely that Gov. Rick Scott’s administration will continue to collaborate with polluting industries to substitute bogus state rules, our partners are working to mobilize citizens to fight back.

The EPA has set public hearings from 1–5 pm on Jan. 17 and 9 am–12 pm on Jan. 18 at the Hyatt Regency, 211 North Tampa Street, in Tampa.

David Guest worked at Earthjustice from 1990 to 2016, as the managing attorney of the Florida regional office. His countless legal battles were, in one way or another, all about water. His motivation to protect Florida’s water came from years of running boats in the state’s rivers and lakes, which convinced him that waterways are many people’s spiritual connection to nature.

The Florida regional office wields the power of the law to protect our waterways and biodiversity, promote a just and reliable transition to clean energy, and defend communities disproportionately burdened by pollution.