EPA Abdicates Oversight Role in Protecting Florida Waters
State Pollution Permitting Standards Warped to Accommodate Corporate Agenda
Tallahassee — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has shirked its duty to enforce minimum national standards required by the Clean Water Act, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, EPA has stood by as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has systematically gutted water pollution safeguards.
While Florida has been delegated authority to enforce the federal Clean Water Act, EPA retains co-equal authority as well as the responsibility to ensure that delegated states do not fall below national standards. During the Scott administration, EPA has yet to intervene despite numerous breaches, such as –
- Violation of conflict-of-interest rules by DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard and his top deputy, Jeff Littlejohn. EPA has sat on PEER complaints detailing these violations for more than two years;
- Refusing to take enforcement action in water pollution cases where the state has either refused to take action or reached slap-on-the-wrist settlements with polluters; and
- Stalling on requiring that Florida adopt enforceable, numeric water quality standards.
“EPA’s inaction undermines the very purpose behind the Clean Water Act, of safeguarding the quality of waters in all states without exception,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. “By sitting on its thumbs, the EPA is aiding and abetting environmental crimes.”
Meanwhile in Florida, water quality protections are being shunted aside –
- This week, a state administrative law judge excoriated DEP’s Littlejohn for overruling the state’s top wetland expert and issuing permits without verified wetlands credits;
- Last fall, Littlejohn ordered DEP professional engineers to set aside their qualifications in signing off on permit documents; and
- DEP is shifting away from individual permit standards to short-form all-purpose general permits in which companies are allowed to self-certify compliance.
“For ideological reasons, Florida is engaged in a race to the environmental bottom,” Phillips added, noting that the federal conflict-of-interest rules were intended to prevent the corporate capture of water pollution permitting as appears to have occurred in Florida. “I shudder to think how low Florida must sink before federal intervention can no longer be avoided.”