EPA to Take the Lead on Florida Water Quality

     (CN) – A federal judge in Florida ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should take over water quality permitting from the state. U.S. District Judge Alan Gold’s decision expressed urgency for the conservation of the Everglades, and attempts to end 23 years of litigation over water quality in Florida.

     The United States sued the Florida environmental department in 1988 for failing to enforce water quality standards. The Miccosukee Tribe and Friends of the Everglades filed suit in 2004 to compel compliance with the Clean Water Act.
     Push and pull on the issue by both federal and state agencies shows “a lack of cooperation among the participants responsible for administering restoration and conservation efforts,” but the “time to act is now,” Gold wrote (emphasis in original).
     The judge added that the EPA seems committed to complying with a 2010 court order in which he directed the agency to establish specific milestones for Clean Water Act compliance.
     Since a January deadline for the state to correct permit deficiencies has elapsed, the EPA should now step in and take the reins on water quality regulation, Gold wrote.
     In the interest of putting enforceable permits into place quickly, Gold denied a motion to void the pending permits. He instead declared them submitted, which triggers a federal-review process that directs the EPA to conform the permits to the act, Gold wrote.
     The permits should be issued without individual compliance schedules, he added.
     Gold set a July 1 deadline for the parties to submit a description of progress made.
     Water quality in Florida continues to be a contested issue. Several parties last year challenged a 2009 agreement replacing narrative water quality regulations in Florida with stricter numeric standards.
     The 11th Circuit recently issued a few important rulings relating to the Everglades. In one ruling, the appellate court upheld a “water transfer rule,” allowing a water district to pump agricultural runoff into Lake Okeechobee without a permit. In another, it allowed phosphate mining to continue at a strip mine southeast of Tampa.

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