Diane Roberts: Top state pols defend Florida’s right to filthy water

No doubt you’re wondering what new ways Florida’s alleged leaders have found to squander taxpayer money, suck up to the rich and further foul Florida’s environment.

Well, prepare to be impressed: The Rick Scott administration is suing the feds for trying to protect rivers and wetlands. I mean, why should water get special rights: Does water think it’s gay or something?

On June 30, Florida’s duly (if inexplicably) elected attorney general joined six other polluter-friendly states in a lawsuit against EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, calling the Waters of the United States rule “an attempt by two agencies of the federal government to usurp the states’ primary responsibility for the management, protection, and care of intrastate waters and lands.”

Pam Bondi huffed, “Florida is better suited than the federal government to establish the regulatory rules necessary to protect our unique waterways.”

Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, he of the obvious ambitions, jumped in with a big what she says on states’ rights: “The unconstitutional expansion of the EPA’s jurisdiction over the waters of the United States not only infringes on states’ authority, but also it threatens the sound environmental protection programs we have in place today.”

Let’s look at that so-called “sound environmental protection:” More than half of Florida’s “unique waterways” are designated “impaired” by inadequately treated fertilizer and sewage (“nutrients” is the polite term). The Indian River Lagoon is on the verge of ecological collapse. Large parts of the St. Johns, the Santa Fe, the Caloosahatchee, the St. Lucie and other great Florida rivers are choking under a filthy mat of toxic algae.

This algae isn’t just ugly as pig snot, it can make you sick: respiratory distress, liver damage, severe skin irritation. Sometimes it’s so bad, the state Department Of Health issues advisories against touching the water.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Prostitution hands out wetlands destruction permits like cheap candy. The governor and the Legislature continue to fight against numeric — that is, measurable — standards for Florida water, and claim Big Ag, Big Developer and Big Manure will, out of the goodness of their corporate hearts, voluntarily limit the crap they dump into lakes and rivers.

If they had to actually clean up the schmutz in their runoff before discharging it in our waters, it might cut into profits.

So Florida’s pollution-protectors make up stuff up to justify this dumb states’ rights lawsuit. Putnam’s been going around for more than a year telling Floridians that the new EPA rule is a “power grab” that means the federal gub’mint can control anything that might get mildly damp: ditches, farm ponds, mud puddles. Even your front yard after a heavy rain.

Small detail: it’s not true. The Waters of the United States rule clarifies EPA’s ability to regulate tributaries that run into rivers and lakes. You can’t get the dioxins out of the St. Johns or fertilizer out of the Indian River if you can’t control pollution in the streams that feed those waters.

EPA isn’t interested in anybody’s cow pond unless it’s within 1,500 feet of a water body already protected. Nor do they care about your soggy lawn. The revised rule expands EPA’s jurisdiction by only 3 percent.

Putnam, Bondi and Scott can say Florida’s best at taking care of its own waters till they’re algal blue in the face. They’re still demonstrably wrong.

Florida’s Legislature, abetted by Florida’s Cabinet, refuses to clean up Florida’s water. Just as bad, as we saw in the 2015 Session. They’ve been trying to stop other states cleaning up their water, too. Last year, Bondi joined a lawsuit by the American Farm Bureau Federation to stop restoration of Chesapeake Bay, once one of the world’s most biodiverse estuaries.

Happily, on July 6, a federal appeals court rolled it eyes and slapped the suit down.

By now you’ve probably figured out this is all about politics. Scott’s running for U.S Senate in 2018; Putnam wants to be governor.

Who knows what office Bondi craves: governor? Disney Princess?

In any case, they all need to appeal to the anti-science, anti-environment, pro-property rights, Obama-haters of the Florida Republican base who believe a cold winter in Boston disproves climate change and want  to monetize every inch of Florida ground.

Drain it, pave it, make a profit. Clean water? Doesn’t it come it bottles?

Diane Roberts teaches at Florida State University. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts teaches at Florida State University. Her latest book, “Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America,” will be out in paperback in the fall.


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