As I write this, half of the 75-mile long Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida is covered by nauseating green slime. It’s a heartbreaking sight – dead fish wash up along the banks, and waterfront homes have a pricey view of a stinking mess.
One dismayed homeowner told me he plans to petition local government to lower his property valuation because his waterfront lifestyle is now so gross that no one would ever want to live there.
It is so bad that local health authorities are warning people not to even touch the water, fish or let their pets near it because it is toxic. This toxic algae outbreak is a direct result of too much phosphorus and nitrogen that comes from fertilizer, sewage and manure pollution.
This is the same thing that happened last summer on the St. Johns River outside Jacksonville – a 100-mile swath of green slime essentially shut the river down to boaters and fishermen.
This is the water that supplies kitchen taps for Florida families. This is the water that tourists come to play in, contributing badly needed revenue into our state economy.
The maddening reality is that this pollution is preventable. We sued under the Clean Water Act, and in 2009, we negotiated an historic settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency in which the EPA agreed to set enforceable numeric standards in Florida for phosphorus and nitrogen. On Nov. 15, 2010, EPA set nutrient pollution limits for Florida’s freshwaters and lakes after spending years coordinating with state scientists to get the right numbers.
That’s when the maddening political posturing began. Florida sued the EPA to block the new pollution limits. Florida’s new governor, Rick Scott, is doing everything he can to help polluters fight Florida’s water cleanup, even though everyone knows Florida’s tourism-fueled economy depends on clean water.
Florida Congressman John Mica acted for polluters and against his constituents by sponsoring H.R. 2018, legislation he characterized as an effort to "rein in" the Obama administration EPA, which he claimed has “run roughshod” over states.
Mica’s very bad legislation – which will hamstring the EPA’s ability to enforce the Clean Water Act in Florida and elsewhere — passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by a vote of 35–20 on June 22.
As my colleague Joan Mulhern in Washington so aptly described it:
This is not about the state versus the EPA. This is about clean water versus dirty water, plain and simple. This legislation turns back the clock to a time when the Cuyahoga River was on fire, where there were oil spills all across California beaches and the majority of our drinking water was unfit to drink.
These politicians are obviously living in a very different universe than the people on the Caloosahatchee River, who look out at the green slime, warn their pets and children away from the water, and ask: Why isn’t someone doing something about this public health crisis?