Thursday, November 12, 2009

Earthjustice Responds to Today’s Attack on Clean Water for Florida Citizens

I call this "Polluters Pay to Play" Part V.......

● Florida’s water pollution problem is a matter of public health, and the public must be protected. A 2008 Florida Department of Environmental Protection report found that half the state’s rivers and more than half of its lakes had poor water quality.

● After years of foot-dragging, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is finally agreeing to set legal, enforceable limits on the state’s worst water pollution problem: excess nutrient poisoning from fertilizer and manure runoff.

● The claim that it will cost $50 billion to upgrade Florida’s sewage treatment plants is ridiculous. The cost of upgrading all the sewer pants in the entire U.S., (including federal grants, state contributions, and leveraged bonds) between 1988 and 2007 was $58 billion. (EPA statistics

“For it to cost Florida $50 billion, they’d have to provide gold-plated toilets for every citizen,” said Earthjustice lawyer David Guest.

● The new nutrient standards won’t be “arbitrary.” The standards will be set by scientists at the EPA, using data from the Florida DEP. Lawyers are not involved.

● It is ludicrous to call enforcement of the Clean Water Act a “federal water tax.” Cleaning up Florida’s waters is a public health necessity, and it is long overdue.

● In January 2009, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael W. Sole acknowledged the nutrient pollution problem and responded to the EPA’s action in this statement:

“The State of Florida recognizes that more needs to be done to address nutrient pollution in our rivers, streams, lakes and estuaries, and these actions will help our State and all of our stakeholders prevent and better manage sources of nitrogen and phosphorus from entering our waters.

“Excess nitrogen and phosphorus levels (nutrient pollution) in water bodies can cause harm to aquatic ecosystems and threaten public health. Nutrient pollution can lead to water quality problems such as harmful algal blooms, low-oxygen “dead zones” in water bodies and declines in wildlife and wildlife habitat. These effects also disrupt recreational
activities and pose threats to public health.

“Water quality degradation from nutrient pollution is a significant environmental issue in
Florida. Florida’s 2008 Integrated Water Quality Assessment revealed that approximately
1,000 miles of rivers and streams, 350,000 acres of lakes, and 900 square miles of
estuaries are impaired by nutrients. The actual number of miles and acres of waters
impaired for nutrients is likely higher, as many waters that have yet to be assessed may
also be impaired.”

● Nutrient pollution is causing toxic algae blooms, contaminated drinking water, beach closings, rivers fouled with green slime, dead fish, dead lakes, and polluted fresh water springs.

● In June 2008, a water treatment plant serving 30,000 people shut down after a toxic blue-green algae bloom on the Caloosahatchee River threatened the plant’s water supply.

● Exposure to blue-green algae toxins – when people drink the water, touch it, or inhale vapors from it - can cause rashes, skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upset, serious illness, and even death.

● The state’s biggest polluters are now trying to get out of complying with standards that will make our public waters clean. Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson is using tax dollars to side with the polluters instead of protecting the public.

● Florida has allowed polluters to voluntarily control their messes, in a weak regulatory program called “Best Management Practices.” The green slime covering the St. Johns River shows, starkly, that they don’t work.

The program has developed into a secret “honor code” system for politically powerful industries. A political favor, now enshrined in state law, says agricultural operations don’t have to install pollution controls unless the measures will either increase a company’s profits or are cost-neutral.

What about the taxpayers’ cost for billions of dollars in water pollution cleanup? The Everglades cleanup now stands at $11 billion. In California, cleaning drinking water plants polluted by nutrient-fueled algae blooms cost $200 million per plant.

● The only fertilizer that runs into lakes and rivers is fertilizer that’s wasted. Properly applied, it is supposed to be on the plants. When agriculture operations apply fertilizer more judiciously, they will save money and protect waters.

● Earthjustice filed its clean water suit in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club in July 2008. The suit challenged an unacceptable decade-long delay by the state and federal governments in setting limits for nutrient pollution. The EPA’s action settles that lawsuit.