Investigation Sought Into EPA Mishandling of Florida Water

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 3:18 PM PDT
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Investigation Sought Into EPA Mishandling of Florida Water

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MIAMI, Florida, August 19, 2008 (ENS) - A series of federal court rulings that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been derelict in its duty to protect the water quality of Florida's Everglades has prompted calls for a probe of the agency's regional operations.

The most recent federal court decision takes the EPA to task for repeatedly violating the Clean Water Act that it is supposed to administer.

On July 29, 2008, Miami U.S. District Judge Alan Gold found that the agency had shirked its duty to enforce basic water quality standards and, in so doing, "violated its fundamental commitment and promise to protect the Everglades."

Judge Gold ruled that the EPA turned "a blind eye" to a change in water quality standards enacted by the Florida Legislature in 2003 and in so doing "acted arbitrarily and capriciously."

Brought by the Miccosukee Tribe and Friends of the Everglades, this case is complex. It is a continuation of litigation over the Everglades that started in 1988. Since then, the litigation has resulted in numerous court decisions, an overall settlement agreement, and then litigation over it.

And this is only the latest in a long series of cases stretching back more than a decade that have all gone against the EPA.

Two organizations, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility based in Washington, DC and the Council of Civic Associations, based in Lee County, Florida, Monday asked the EPA's Office of Inspector General to find out why the agency has been so derelict in its duties on both the Everglades and other water quality issues throughout Florida.

"Federal judges appointed by both Republican and Democratic administrations have repeatedly found EPA guilty under the highest standard in civil jurisprudence which cannot be explained away as mistakes or misunderstandings," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "We want to know specifically who at EPA is responsible and why they are still on the public payroll."

However, the call for an investigation may fall on deaf ears. The position of EPA Inspector General is vacant right now and the OIG is headed by Deputy Inspector General Bill Roderick.

EPA finances and is supposed to oversee the State of Florida's clean water program, but the EPA has almost always deferred to the state even when the state's actions have been clearly wrong, Ruch says.

Restoration of the Everglades, the largest public works project in the country, revolves around restoring water quality to the enormous wetland, but official missteps have the project bogged down in delays and uncertainty.

The result is that Florida waters, especially in the southern portion of the state, are in poor shape. Harmful algal blooms, fish kills, saltwater intrusion and drinking water emergencies are becoming more common.

Changes in weather patterns that affect water supply magnify the importance of keeping the remaining supplies unpolluted.

"Unfortunately, it is common knowledge in South Florida that EPA regional managers will do everything possible to accommodate the state and the only way to get them to enforce the Clean Water Act is to sue them, which is a very sad commentary," said Ann Hauck of the Council of Civic Associations.

"The bottom line is that the Everglades continues to deteriorate," she said.

According to EPA Region 4's own recently released Everglades Assessment Report, the area of the Everglades negatively impacted by discharges from the Everglades Agricultural Area has increased under the current Region 4 management."

Ruch and Hauck say that a review by the EPA Inspector General's Office would help inform the next administration about what changes are needed in the EPA Southeastern Regional Office, Region 4 based in Atlanta, which is responsible for Florida.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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