President Bush's Visit to Polluted Florida Bay Highlights Administration's Anti-Environmental Policies, Says NRDC

Conservation Groups Sued EPA Yesterday to Force the Agency to Clean Up Pollution in Florida Waterways

WASHINGTON (April 23, 2004) - President Bush today is visiting Rookery Bay, a polluted Florida estuary that the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to protect, according to a lawsuit filed just yesterday by two conservation groups. The groups, Florida PIRG, Sierra Club and Save Our Suwanee, charge that EPA is in violation of the Clean Water Act, which requires the federal agency to step in when states shirk their responsibility to protect local waterways. They filed their suit in federal court in Tallahassee.

"Fish in Rookery Bay are contaminated with mercury, posing a threat to the health of anyone who eats them," said Linda Young, southeast regional director for the Clean Water Network. "The state of Florida had done nothing to clean up the mercury, and EPA, which is required by law to step in when states shirk their duties, is sitting on its hands." (For the EPA Rookery Bay fish advisory, click here. (see table 3).)

Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials "frequently brag about how their method of removing hundreds of polluted waterways from the federally mandated cleanup list can be a model for other states that, like Florida, are trying to avoid cleanup," Young added. "Both President Bush and Governor Bush are protecting polluters at the expense of public health and the environment."

The electric power industry, a major source of mercury pollution, has played a key role in weakening clean water protections both in Florida and nationally. In Florida, the industry lobbied successfully to get the state to throw away all pollution data that is more than seven-and-a-half years old. Given that most of Florida's data on mercury-contaminated fish was collected in the early 1990s, the state threw it out, did not collect new data, and declared the problem solved, removing still-contaminated streams from its cleanup list. EPA agreed to this scheme, prompting the conservation groups to file yesterday's lawsuit. (The legal complaint is available upon request.)

At the national level, the electric power industry successfully lobbied the Bush administration to weaken proposed regulations for mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. (Click here for more information on sources of mercury pollution. For specific information about Florida, click here.)

"Rookery Bay is emblematic of how Bush administration policies to weaken mercury controls can come home to roost, "said Jessica Landman, an NRDC senior attorney. "How ironic that the president would visit Rookery Bay to talk about the environment only 24 hours after conservationists had to go to court to force his administration to enforce the law to protect Rookery Bay and other Florida waterways."