Despite the fact the EPA has been whittled to the bone -- its daily operations comprise less than one percent of federal expenditures -- the federal agency is charged with regulations that could, if implemented and enforced, crack down on polluters who dominate state legislatures and local governments like ours, in Miami-Dade.
Over the course of decades Florida's polluters, including the ubiquitous Big Sugar billionaires, had succeeded in rebranding their destructive activities as economic necessities; deploying stand-ins like the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries and the various components of the Growth Machine as fig leafs to mask their profit motives. Under this long-term pressure, the Florida Department of Community Affairs and the state Department of Environmental Regulation disintegrated into quasi-advance troops for polluters.
The inability of Florida regulators to insulate against take-over by special interests is the reason Florida environmental groups (including Friends of the Everglades, where I serve as volunteer president -- you can make your end of year contributions here) sued the EPA repeatedly in federal court -- to force the feds to crack down on recalcitrant states -- , where the chances are ever so slightly better for complying with laws meant to protect public health, water, and wildlife.
The AP reported yesterday: "The federal government ordered tough water pollution rules for Florida on Friday in a victory for environmental groups after a lengthy court battle. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson filed a notice in federal court in Tallahassee saying she has complied with a consent decree requiring adoption of the rules. They are designed to curtail pollution from such sources as fertilizer, animal waste and, sewage effluent that have been blamed for causing toxic, slimy algae blooms that have choked Florida's waterways. The blooms can kill fish and make people sick. State officials as well as agriculture, business and utility interests opposed the rules, arguing they'd be too expensive to implement."
That is the understatement of the 2012. What is less well known is that the EPA, under pressure from big campaign funders/antagonists, has also shirked its responsibility for regulating water pollution for so long, that the state of Florida is plunged in dirty water. For example, if the EPA had been doing its job, Miami-Dade County would not be on the brink of a multi-billion dollar plan to fix its aged, decrepit wastewater system.
My parents taught me, when cooking in the kitchen, always clean up as you go. Don't let the sink pile up with filthy, unwashed dishes. By analogy, Florida's kitchen is so filled with the filthy remains of past meals, you can't even see the sink.
"This is absolutely everything we hoped for," said Earthjustice lawyer David Guest, who represented environmental groups in the court case. "This is the reddest letter day of them all."
Florida's GOP state legislature, Gov. Rick Scott, and a host of billionaire polluters had fiercely resisted the imposition of federal rules for water pollution. What they wanted was to stick with "narrative standards" instead of hard numbers. Along the earlier analogy; instead of telling Florida you can only have ten dirty dishes in the sink at a time, what the polluters wanted was to have a standard that said, "The kitchen will be generally clean from the hours of two to three in the morning."
"Our diverse coalition of agriculture, employers, local government, utilities and others supports clean water and believes Florida knows what's best for Florida," spokesman Ryan Banfill wrote in an email (to the AP). "That's why the coalition has always supported Florida-specific standards developed by Florida scientists and proposed by the state DEP as a more cost effective way to promote water quality in our state."
That "diverse coalition" was well represented on election eve at Boston's airport. They never got to celebrate the chance to eviscerate a federal agency that just may grow back its sense of mission to protect public health and the environment.