After more than a decade of presiding over the federal lawsuit that brought national attention to the need for Everglades restoration, Judge William Hoeveler has been forced to step down as a result of accusations that he was biased against the sugar industry. Big Sugar filed a motion to remove the judge from the case last spring, after he reprimanded the Florida legislature for passing a new law allowing the sugar industry to continue overloading the Everglades with phosphorous pollution.
“The sugar industry knew that they could not make their case in court, so it decided to attack this extraordinarily distinguished judge,” said David Guest, Managing Attorney for Earthjustice’s Tallahassee office. [Click here for a downloadable soundbite from attorney David Guest. (377 kb downloadable AUDIO)]
For years, the sugar industry has fought state and federal efforts to limit agricultural runoff from sugar-cane fields into the Everglades. After years of litigation in which the United States Department of Interior sued the South Florida Water Management District for failing to prevent pollution in the Everglades, Judge Hoeveler approved a consent decree that, starting in 2006, will prohibit discharges to the Everglades containing more than 10 parts per billion (ppb) of phosphorus.
Last spring, the Florida legislature passed a law, written and backed by the sugar industry, in an attempt to undermine the stringent 10 ppb standard and allow polluters to circumvent the consent decree by giving them an extra 10 years to comply. Judge Hoeveler immediately reprimanded the legislature for jeopardizing the health of the Everglades and announced that the new state law would not affect pollution cleanup on federal lands – as far as federally owned portions of the Everglades are concerned, Judge Hoeveler made clear, the 10 ppb phosphorus limit must still be met by 2006. Judge Hoeveler also declared that he would appoint a special master to ensure enforcement of the limit and the 2006 deadline. Shortly thereafter, the sugar industry filed a motion to remove Judge Hoeveler from the case, arguing that the widely respected judge was biased against their interests.
“Judge Hoeveler knew that the new law would allow the sugar industry to ease pollution controls, further damaging the Everglades,” said Guest. “The judge’s statement that the new law would result in increased phosphorous pollution to the Everglades is far from a biased opinion – it’s a fact. Putting Judge Hoeveler through this indignity was totally unnecessary, and it certainly will not help Big Sugar’s case.” [Click here for a downloadable soundbite from attorney David Guest. (1,099 kb downloadable AUDIO)]