In an April 25 ruling, US District Court Judge Alan Gold ruled the state of Florida has failed to protect the threatened Everglades and the US Environmental Protection Agency must step in to enforce anti-pollution rules. According to the Associated Press (April 26), “Gold set a July 1 deadline for EPA and others involved in the case to show what steps are being taken to comply with the ruling and pollution reduction goals under the federal Clean Water Act.” Judge Gold admonished the state of Florida for “not being true stewards of protecting the Everglades in recent years.”
As many of our members know, the state of Florida is fiercely resisting cleaning up Florida’s waters under federal standards. Friends of the Everglades believes these standards, incorporated in the nation’s most important environmental laws, are all that stands between the goals of our organization and a badly polluted future. In a 76-page ruling, Judge Gold wrote, “There is no possibility of reversing the damage that has been done to the Everglades, and there only the chance to preserve what remains in its current state.”
Friends of the Everglades believes that more is possible: when water conditions are returned to the remnant Everglades that sustain the base elements of life, significant restoration will occur. Getting from here to there has consumed our organization and volunteer leaders since its founding by Marjory Stoneman Douglas in 1969. The Gold case is only one of several federal actions brought by Friends of the Everglades and the Miccosukee Tribe to stop pollution of the Everglades. Our small organization is virtually unique in a determined focus to apply federal laws to both federal and state agencies.
In the past, no fewer than four federal judges have ruled that the state of Florida has not done enough to protect the Everglades from destructive pollution. The Gold case, brought seven years ago, has turned into a focal point for the hope of Florida’s environmental movement for progress in the absence of state leadership.
Judge Gold’s rulings, in favor of Friends and the Tribe, have ordered the EPA to develop a set of remedies that are enforceable and include timetables for action by the State and South Florida Water Management District. The State and SFWMD have rejected EPA’s guidance and sided with the polluters. The federal Clean Water Act is a cooperative federalism law. This means that EPA sets minimum standards for clean water. The States can make their laws stricter, but not less so. Judge Gold’s actions and EPA’s actions are not an assault on states’ rights . EPA is doing what Congress authorized and required it to do– by assuming control over federal permitting when the State is unwilling or unable to issue permits that comply with federal law.
Judge Gold, in his April 25 ruling, expressed deep concern about recent actions by state leaders, stating “the entire situation is rapidly sliding backwards.” While recognizing economic hardships in the State, he noted that current fiscal issues do not excuse the continued destruction of the Everglades.
In a recent poll by the Tarrance Group for the Everglades Foundation, 81 percent of Floridians agree that Florida needs to manage new development to protect our rivers, lakes, streams and beaches from pollution. 84 percent of Floridians say the Everglades is a “very important” source for fresh drinking water, and 65 percent of Floridians say restoring the Everglades is extremely or very important to them personally.
Judge Gold’s ruling is a victory for the citizens of Florida and the American people as a whole. Without the dedicated work of Friends of the Everglades volunteers and attorneys, this victory would not have occurred. Nor would it have occurred without the support of our members who provide invaluable contributions to our future.