Washington, DC — A frustrated federal judge stopped just short of a formal contempt of court finding against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to stem mounting pollution in the Florida Everglades. The court did suspend the State of Florida’s authority to issue water pollution permits and ordered EPA to immediately undertake dramatic remedial action to reduce Everglades pollution levels.
The April 14, 2010 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Alan Gold followed a contempt hearing into repeated violations by EPA and Florida’s of a 2008 ruling by Judge Gold directing the agencies to comply with phosphorous limits for sensitive Everglades waters. In withering language, Judge Gold found EPA guilty of “dereliction of duty…contrary to the Clean Water Act” and –
- Ordered EPA to formally notify Florida that it is in violation of federal law and “establish specific milestones to ensure that the State of Florida does not continue to ignore, and improperly extend the compliance deadline for meeting the phosphorous…criterion in the Everglades Protection Area” (Emphasis in original);
- Suspended the power of Florida to issue any new water pollution discharge permits affecting the Everglades until EPA certifies the state is in compliance with the judge’s order; and
- Required EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to “personally appear before this Court on Thursday October 7, 2010 at 9:00 am to report to the Court on compliance with the order.”(Emphasis in original)
Judge Gold is still holding in reserve whether to make a formal contempt finding, carrying civil or criminal penalties, against EPA and Florida.
This severe court action underlines the profound breakdown of EPA’s clean water program in Florida, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). “In Florida, EPA’s clean water program is an utter basket case,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that this is only the latest in a long string of adverse court rulings suffered by the agency. “While this case has long roots, today Judge Gold takes EPA to task for decisions and evasions entirely within the Obama administration.”
EPA still has yet to even name a Regional Administrator to oversee its programs in Florida and other southeastern states, several months after the agency named “RAs” for most of the other regions. Ironically, today Administrator Lisa Jackson is delivering an address at the “Coming Together for Clean Water” conference on healthy watersheds.
At the same time, EPA has been forced by other court rulings to directly set water quality standards for all Florida waters but that effort is beset by many of the same deficiencies found in its handling of the Everglades. PEER and the Council of Civic Associations (CCA), a citizens group for government accountability, have severely critiqued EPA oversight and have repeatedly called for a house cleaning in the EPA Southeastern regional office.
Read Judge Gold’s latest ruling
See the 2008 court decision with which EPA has yet to comply
View the call by PEER and CCA for changes in EPA Florida operations
Look at the weak EPA effort to address worsening pollution in Florida’s waters
Examine the CCA testimony this week on proposed water standards