It is the federal agency that refused to hold the state accountable for turning over Florida waters to polluters. The bill of crimes and misdemeanors by the agency also includes failing to enforce against wetlands violations routinely approved by the US Army Corps of Engineers. When its senior most Everglades supervisor, Richard Harvey, criticized the path of governmental efforts to restore the dying River of Grass, the agency quickly muzzled him.
When President Obama says it is now time to deal with emissions of temperature raising gases, the EPA is the agency that is supposed to be the agent of change. Hah.
EPA is the federal agency that is now cutting yet another bad deal in order to avoid holding Miami-Dade County responsible for its massive violations of the Clean Water Act in treatment of wastewater. What the agency refuses to do is factor in sea level rise and impacts to the infrastructure upgrades recommend by the county.
For its part, the county knows it can push EPA around. It always has. This is the fruit of the radical GOP right promoting and pushing "states' rights", stuffing the judiciary with severe consequences especially in Florida where, compared to other states, the EPA has been under constant attack by polluters like the billionaire Fanjuls and other Big Sugar interests.
Climate change is a runaway train that is moving very fast, away from decades of toil by environmentalists to hold agencies like the EPA accountable -- environmentalists who held hope that it would be easier to persuade than the state, dominated as it is by local campaign contributors from the Growth Machine.
Here is a recent publication by the re-insurance industry, adding yet more ammunition to arguments why it is time to batten down our coastline and water resource infrastructure. The report singles out Florida. It also contains some very florid wording. Consider this example:
"On a more general level, there are growing concerns about the indirect impact of changes in the risk landscape which question the sustainability of the catastrophe risk business in many countries. For some regions, the combination of risking risk levels and a heavily regulated market might lead to decreasing commercial viability. One option to address the insurability challenges of rising risk levels is to engage in efforts to couple risk transfer to risk reduction."
That's a lot of words to describe the flight of the insurance industry from Florida, leaving property owners at the mercy of Gov. Rick Scott, the climate-change denying Florida legislature, and Citizens Insurance whose executives are paid millions per year to sit around and jack up rates to the very edge of affordability.
For a good summary of the Miami-Dade / EPA mess, read this:
Despite Obama Plan, Court Urged To Block Sewer Pact Over Climate Impacts
Even as the administration is promising to ensure that EPA makes infrastructure more resilient to the effects of climate change, environmentalists are urging a federal court to block entry of an EPA consent decree requiring sewer upgrades because they charge it does not account f or increased risks from rising sea levels due to climate change.
Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, Inc. June 25 filed a formal complaint asking a federal district court in Miami to block entry of an EPA-negotiated consent decree with Miami-Dade County, FL, alleging that it will not ensure future compliance with the Clean Water Act (CWA) because it does not account for sea level rise. “The draft Consent Decree’s Capital Plan will not achieve or maintain compliance with CWA, primarily because it fails to address sea level rise and climate impacts that will, if not appropriately accounted for, cause major failures in the sewage collection and treatment system during its useful life,” the group said in its June 25 complaint.
The group, which has won the right to intervene in the enforcement action, filed its complaint the same day that President Obama issued a climate action plan that requires EPA to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants and outlines several steps the administration plans to take to help EPA and other agencies make infrastructure more resilient against the threats of climate change.
According to the plan, the president will direct federal agencies to “identify and remove barriers to making climate-resilient investments; identify and remove counterproductive policies that increase vulnerabilities; and encourage and support smarter, more resilient investments, including through agency grants, technical assistance, and other programs, in sectors from transportation and water management to conservation and disaster relief.”
The plan says that agencies will “also be directed to ensure that climate risk-management considerations are fully integrated into federal infrastructure and natural resource management planning.” In a speech outlining the plan, Obama said it was needed in part because rising sea levels caused by climate change increase damage in hurricanes and other heavy storm events. “The fact that sea level in New York, in New York Harbor, are now a foot higher than a century ago -- that didn’t cause Hurricane Sandy, but it certainly contributed to the destruction that left large parts of our mightiest city dark and underwater,” he said in a speech at Georgetown University.
Obama's argument echoes many of the claims made by the Waterkeeper group and its experts as they seek to block entry of the consent decree and force the parties to strengthen provisions to address their concerns about sea level rise. For example, Harold Wanless and Brian Soden, professors at the University of Miami, said in joint testimony that the proposed consent decree “neither addresses the sea level rise that will occur during this century nor considers the vulnerability of the Central Treatment Plant located on Virginia Key to rising sea level.”
“In failing to address and incorporate the projected sea level scenarios, the County risks spending great amount of taxpayer’s money on projects that may well not survive the project lifetime and may well cost greater amounts of money in the future,” they say. Expert testimony by Florida Atlantic University professor Ricardo Alvarez also claims that the agency ignored its own engineering consultants by failing to include almost $100 million in storm surge and sea level rise protections in the consent decree.
“There is nothing that address sea level rise or storm surge on three highly vulnerable plants,” an
environmentalist attorney says of the consent decree. “It's just incredibly poor leadership and decision making by EPA.”
In a June 6 press release, EPA's acting Region IV Administrator Stan Meiburg defended the consent decree though he made no mention of potential climate impacts. “Sewage overflows are a significant problem in the Southeast because of inadequate and aging infrastructure,” he said. “This agreement demonstrates the county’s commitment to address its sewage problems. Eliminating overflows of raw sewage will comply with the Clean Water Act and benefit the Miami-Dade community by providing a cleaner and healthier environment.”
The proposed decree, which EPA and Florida regulators asked the court to enter June 6, requires the county to spend $1.6 billion in upgrades to their sewer collection system, pump stations and treatment plants over 15 years, resolving enforcement actions brought by EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
But environmentalists say the decree is inadequate. For example, the decree requires upgrades to a large
wastewater treatment plant located close to the ocean but does not consider potential for damage from rising sea levels. They say the county should not spend an estimated $555 million to upgrade the plant without considering such effects, which could result in future sewage spills.
The waterkeeper group's arguments appear likely to challenge EPA's current policy stance that acknowledges increased rainfall due to climate change is a factor for consideration in sewer policies in combined sewer overflow (CSO) systems agreements, but the pending case is unique because it is aimed instead at sanitary sewer overflows (SSO).
In another affidavit attached to the complaint, Alvarez says that the county did not include the advice of its own engineering consultants, who recommended including nearly $100 million for storm surge and sea level rise for the three sewage plants as part of the consent decree. Environmentalists had previously criticized that figure, made by the consulting firm Hazen and Sawyer, as being too low. Alvarez called that study “extremely flawed and limited in scope.”
“It is highly probably that protecting the County's three waste water treatment plants from sea level rise and storm surge will be much more costly than Hazen and Sawyer predict – and, the County didn't even include the Hazen and Sawyer recommendations in the proposed decree,” Alvarez states. “The county could not and cannot base reasonable decisions about what to do with the sewage treatment plants based on the Hazen and Sawyer work.”
Previous testimony presented in court by the waterkeeper group has indicated that south Florida's coast line is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, particularly sea level rise. “We think the judge isn't going to stand for it, because, why is that fair, reasonable or in the public interest for the county government to essentially waste the taxpayer's money,” the environmentalist attorney says. Environmentalists say they favor a consent decree that includes a list of items to be upgraded with a longer term vision of climate change issues. They favor splitting the consent decree into two parts, with the second part including a longer-range plan where all stakeholders – including federal authorities – attempt to consider climate change and other factors in the consent decree's upgrade plans.
The Department of Justice, on behalf of EPA, is currently accepting comments on the proposed decree until July 12. Attorneys f or Miami-Dade County filed a June 24 motion to stay the proceedings in the challenge until the end of the comment period, though environmentalists June 27 said the county could seek to stay its proceedings with EPA but not with environmentalists. “Plaintiffs/intervenors intend to litigate the fairness of the proposed consent decree,” Baykeeper said. An attorney for the county would not comment on the order due to ongoing litigation. -- Amanda Palleschi