Florida Governor Embraces Polluters in Chesapeake

Just helping another state's waterways get as polluted as his.

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Let’s put this news item in the Yet-Another-Crazy-Florida-Thing-We-Swear-We-Didn’t-Make-Up file.

Florida, the state with water pollution so severe that multitudes of fish, dolphins, seabirds and manatees are washing up dead, has now taken bold legal action.

But it isn’t action to clean up Florida waters. No, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott have filed legal action to block pollution cleanup of Chesapeake Bay.

I’m sure many questions come into your mind, namely, “Huh?”

I’m going to let Florida writer Carl Hiaasen explain it for us, as he did so clearly in his recent Miami Herald column:

Why would the state of Florida try to obstruct the cleanup of public waters hundreds of miles away from our own? Because Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott are complete tools.

They aren’t suing on behalf of the citizens of Florida; they’re suing on behalf of big agricultural and development interests that don’t want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enforcing clean-water laws anywhere.

Among the lobby groups trying to dismantle the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint are the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Home Builders and those famously civic-minded folks at the Fertilizer Institute. They want us to trust them to regulate their own pollution, and to hell with the EPA.

Quietly these industries recruited Florida and 20 other states — most led by Republican governors, of course — to join the lawsuit attacking the Chesapeake Bay plan. Among the other shameless meddlers are Kansas, Alaska and Indiana.

And, Hiaasen notes, the bill for Florida’s legal action is being footed by Florida taxpayers. Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint is a plan to clean up rivers, estuaries and streams in the states that surround Chesapeake Bay. When polluters sued to dismantle it, a federal judge upheld the Blueprint. Now it is on appeal, and Florida has joined the appeal.

Hiaasen writes in his column:

Here in Florida, Bondi and Scott didn’t hold a press conference to announce they were joining the Chesapeake litigation. In fact, they’d be much happier if nobody knew about it except the special interests for whom they’re pimping.

Imagine the widespread anger down here if the state of Maryland or Pennsylvania sued to halt Everglades restoration. That’s how people up there feel about what we’re doing to them.

There’s a perverse irony in the fact that the Scott administration is spending public dollars to defend polluters up North while our own most precious waterways are being poisoned.

As you know, we here at Earthjustice have been trying to get Florida to set enforceable limits for the sewage, fertilizer and manure that spark these nasty algae outbreaks since 2009, when we sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Our clients are the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper and the Sierra Club.

We were hopeful when the EPA settled the suit by agreeing to enforce the Clean Water Act in Florida. But the pressure from powerful polluters over the past six years has prevented this from happening.

Our pollution is getting worse each year, chasing away tourists and wrecking drinking water.

Even though Florida polluters wrote their own bogus water pollution rules with the blessing of Florida’s cowed government, a federal judge has now ruled that the state’s lax rules meet the terms of the EPA settlement. We wholeheartedly disagree. And the proof is plain to see on our beaches, springs, bays, and rivers.

We are continuing to fight. We are now going back to court to appeal in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

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.