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The Trump Administration Tried to Sacrifice Florida’s Wetlands to Developers, But We’re Fighting Back

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Quick, is anyone looking? Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just rushed a last-minute gift to Florida’s developers. The EPA wants to give the state the power to fast-track wetlands permits for construction projects that will degrade and ruin Florida’s natural landscape, all in violation of federal environmental laws.

We won’t let the federal government abandon its duty to protect Florida’s unique ecosystems and the creatures that depend on them. Earthjustice is representing a coalition of environmental groups in a lawsuit challenging this unlawful move.

What did the EPA do, and why is it terrible for the environment?

  • The EPA greenlit Florida’s proposal to take over the permitting process when developers want to build on sensitive marshes, cypress forests, ponds and other wetlands. The federal government has managed this process for decades.
  • Florida’s program would lack many equivalent parts of the federal process, such as adequate enforcement authority and public participation opportunities.
  • The EPA’s hasty review overlooked glaring deficiencies in Florida’s ability to implement environmental protections. The state has consistently rubber-stamped massive wetland destruction and has let industry lobbyists write environmental rules to make them weaker.

How did the EPA break the law?

  • The federal Clean Water Act requires extensive consideration of environmental impacts before a permit can be issued. It is clear that Florida will not meet this requirement.
  • “Florida’s record of wetlands protection is already abysmal,” says Earthjustice attorney Bonnie Malloy, “and now is not the time for the federal government to turn over a massive Clean Water Act program to a state with a shrinking budget amid the economic losses in the pandemic.”
  • Florida has failed to demonstrate that it can ensure the protection of threatened animals and plants. Giving the state control of the permitting process therefore violates the Endangered Species Act.
  • The federal government granted broad protection to developers who “incidentally” harm protected species, which also violates the Endangered Species Act.

In the middle of a massive extinction crisis, the last thing we need is to weaken protections in habitats that support hundreds of endangered species.

  • Florida’s wetlands supply clean drinking water and fuel the local economy. They are a haven for migratory birds and an essential spawning habitat for many species of fish and shellfish.
  • Wetlands are a natural defense against climate change. They act as carbon “sinks” that naturally remove climate-heating CO2 from the atmosphere.
  • Pollution has critically damaged Florida’s wetlands, leading to lethal algal blooms in Florida’s beaches and waterways.
  • Rampant development has paved over critical wetlands habitat for endangered species like the Florida panther, eastern indigo snake, and the American alligator.
Female panther at the Picayune Strand State Forest in Collier County.
Female panther at the Picayune Strand State Forest in Collier County. (Tim Donovan / Florida Fish & Wildlife)