Conservation Groups Announce Plans to Sue EPA to Protect Florida's Waters

EPA Giving Florida a Free Pass to Pollute

TALLAHASSEE (March 18, 2004) -- Two national conservation groups are asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take over the water pollution control duties of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The groups, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and the Sierra Club, and a Florida resident, Linda Young, said they will sue EPA to compel it to enforce the federal Clean Water Act and ensure Florida's waters are fishable, swimmable and drinkable.

"As Floridians, our way of life depends on clean rivers and unpolluted beaches," said Linda Young, Southeast director of the Clean Water Network. "Governor Bush and the federal Bush administration are more interested in protecting corporate polluters than our state's waterways. We have no other choice but to sue to force them to take action."

The notice of suit cites numerous examples of how the EPA has turned a blind eye while DEP let industries dump unsafe levels of pollution into state waterways. For example:

  • Across the state, industrial-scale dairies are polluting Florida waters with manure and excess nutrients, but the state only has established voluntary regulations, which a Florida judge this month flatly concluded violates the Clean Water Act.

  • Unpermitted pollution from industrial mining pits in Charlotte, Hardee and other counties has seeped or spilled into surface waters, causing algal blooms and killing fish.

  • Paper mills in the state are operating under permits that expired up to a decade ago, and their discharges contain dioxin, one of the most toxic man-made substances on Earth. DEP claims it has no authority to force the mills to meet water quality standards for this deadly chemical.

"The Jeb Bush administration has failed Florida communities time and time again, and the Bush administration in Washington has consistently ignored the state's failures," said David Bookbinder, the Sierra Club's litigation director. "There is a better way. By asking that EPA take control of the situation, we are hoping to hold all parties accountable for enforcing the Clean Water Act. Both Bush administrations should be protecting the waters that Floridians use for fishing, swimming and drinking."

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it gave EPA the responsibility for ensuring compliance. Over the years the agency turned over to the states the job of issuing pollution permits and taking enforcement actions. Florida assumed that role in 1995, but, according to NRDC and the Sierra Club, has done an "utterly miserable job." After years of watching DEP do virtually nothing to protect Florida's waters, the two groups will now sue to force EPA to reassume control over permits and enforcement in the state.

"It's the big corporate polluters and wealthy developers who are benefiting from DEP's failure to enforce the law," said Jessica Landman, a NRDC senior attorney. "And who's paying the price? Florida residents and visitors who want to go swimming or fishing without worry, or, for that matter, take a drink from the tap. It's their health -- and their livelihoods -- that are at risk."