Washington, DC — A long series of federal court rulings that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been derelict in protecting the water quality of the Everglades is prompting calls for a probe of the agency’s regional operations. The most recent federal court decision takes EPA to task for repeatedly violating the very Clean Water Act that it is supposed to administer.
On July 29, 2008, Miami U.S. District Judge Alan Gold excoriated EPA, finding 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” and “acted arbitrarily and capriciously.” This is only the latest in a long series of cases stretching back more than a decade that have all gone against EPA.
Two organizations, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) based in Washington, D.C. and the Council of Civic Associations, based in Lee County, Florida, are today asking EPA’s Office of Inspector General to find out why the agency has been so derelict in its duties on both the Everglades and 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,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “We want to know specifically who at EPA is responsible and why they are still on the public payroll.”
EPA finances and is supposed to oversee the State of Florida’s clean water program, but EPA has almost uniformly deferred to the state even when the state’s actions have been clearly wrong. Meanwhile, restoration of the Everglades, the largest public works project on the nation’s docket, revolves around restoring water quality, but official missteps have the mega-project mired in delays and uncertainty.
The upshot of EPA maladministration is that Florida waters, especially in the southern portion of the state, are in perilously poor shape. Algal blooms, fish kills, saltwater intrusion and drinking water emergencies are becoming ever more common. Changes in weather patterns that affect water supply only 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,” commented Ann Hauck of the CCA. “The bottom line is that the Everglades continues to deteriorate. 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.”
A review by the EPA Inspector General 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.