The Florida-based environmental group Friends of the Everglades today filed a legal response against the EPA, enjoining the agency to replace its proposed phosphorus standards with “a truly ‘enforceable’ and ‘mandatory’ ‘framework’ to achieve … Water Quality Standards in the Everglades Protection Area as quickly as possible.”
Phosphorus, a key ingredient in fertilizer, has long been regarded as one of the most dangerous nutrients in the Everglades and, even with the implementation of almost 40,000 acres of storm-water treatment areas, persists in the area. Coupled with heat and other nutrients (like nitrogen), phosphorus can cause widespread algal blooms that inhibit oxygen production and lead to fish kills. Environmental lawyer Albert Slap says that even in small doses, the nutrient can be lethal: “A little bit of phosphorus is like being a little bit pregnant — it eventually gets worse and takes over.”
Friends of the Everglades acted as the lead plaintiff in a 2003 suit that claimed the EPA was violating the Clean Water Act by permitting continued pollution of the Everglades. Judge Alan S. Gold ruled in the favor of Friends and co-plaintiff The Miccosukee Tribe in 2008, requiring the EPA to detail a set of remedies for phosphorus pollution in the Everglades. According to a press release issued by Friends, the EPA’s response is “solid on technical merits,” but provides no real methods of enforcement or funding:
There are serious issues with protecting water quality during the phase of expanding storage treatment areas. Judge Gold was clear in his instructions to the EPA, and Friends asks the court to; 1) Reject EPA’s Amended Determination, 2) Order EPA to file a civil enforcement action in federal court against the [South Florida Water Management District], the permittee, to stop poisoning the Everglades with phosphorus pollution, 3) Order EPA to develop interim limits that will control the discharge of pollution to the Everglades during expansion of treatment marshes, 4) Require EPA to provide adequate funding to meet its remedies and enforceable structure, and 5) Order EPA to develop a multi-agency, federal-state financing plan and solid commitments to fund all projects that have been promised to protect and restore the Everglades.
In a Monday morning press conference, Friends’ Vice President Alan Farago and environmental lawyer Slap made it clear that the South Florida Water Management District needs to be held accountable.
“The SFWMD is the permitee and, as such, is the one being regulated by the EPA,” said Slap. ”They control the water and the big treatment centers that discharge into it. They are the biggest source of funding and the judge already threatened to bring them in. There is a hearing scheduled for Nov. 3 on whether or not they’ll be a party in this case. They’ll always be peripherally involved.”
Farago calls the EPA’s response an “aspirational document” and says that, though its technical merits are a step forward, the fact that it lacks enforcability makes it a “one-legged stool.”
Slap says that, even set against the backdrop of the recent economic crisis, funding is imperative to help restore the Everglades:
What Friends is saying [in this filing] is that the SFWMD has funding capabilities through taxes. [EPA administrator] Lisa Jackson could marshall resources of the federal government and this could gain traction. I understand that business are scared of being shut down and people are scared of losing work, but you can’t pollute the water. If a business has to shut down and regroup, they have to shut down. There’s no exemption under the Clean Water Act. The Department of Environmental Protection [has the authority to] tell businesses to figure out a way to treat their own pollution. The Water District has said they can’t afford the funding, but they aren’t even at their maximum millage rate. If they were … they could generate enough revenue to fix these problems. From a federal standpoint, The Corps of Engineers, the Department of Interior … they aren’t being de-funded. Money will end up somewhere; either to save the Everglades or build a bridge to nowhere.