Commentary: Proposed bills entrust water protection to worst offenders
The toxic green slime that killed pelicans, dolphins, fish, and manatees in South Florida two summers ago is back, lurking in Lake Okeechobee, where, as we all know, it will likely spread to the coasts once the government starts releasing water to lower the lake’s level.
It is important to remember that Lake Okeechobee belongs to all of us. But our lake has become a private sewer for agricultural corporations. Instead of strengthening laws to keep agriculture’s polluted runoff out of our water, some politicians in Tallahassee are trying to rescind the currently required state pollution permits altogether. Their new scheme would replace permits with — incredibly — voluntary compliance.
This is like some bad dream, and it will be a forever nightmare for everyone who lives near the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, where the pollution flows to the coasts. We know this toxic algae kills wildlife and makes people and animals sick, causing flulike symptoms, skin lesions and respiratory problems. Why on earth would we make it easier for these polluters to dump this stuff on us?
This is a get-out-of-jail free card for polluters, and the public shouldn’t stand for it.
At Earthjustice, we have represented citizens groups for decades in legal battles against polluters, trying to require common-sense controls on the toxic slime that’s wrecking our natural areas. It is simply not right for one class of water users to pollute the resource for the rest of us, and then stick us with the cleanup bill.
The water policy legislation was near a vote in the Statehouse right before the House abruptly adjourned. The lobbyists for these big agricultural corporations created a world of double-speak to obscure the fact that they are trying to get away with no regulation. This wholesale destruction of the pollution permitting system was buried in a giant bill that included many other aspects of state water policy, including protections for our springs. It’s the old Tallahassee bait and switch.
Under the legislation, polluters would merely have to write a plan that says they are trying not to pollute — no more permits, a mere promise would be enough. The state admits that it has only a handful of inspectors available to check up on these voluntary pollution plans, and the inspectors would have to get special permission to come on-site to see whether the company is actually doing what it said it would do.
Give us a break! This is a recipe for more green slime in Lake Okeechobee, and more nauseating pollution and fish kills on the east and west coasts.
The Big Ag lobbyists will be in the front row when the Legislature reconvenes for its special session in June, trying to get this nefarious legislation passed in a hurry. We need to tell our legislators that we want them to protect our interests by stopping this political move to repeal water pollution permits. When you think of the heartbreaking images of dead pelicans, dolphins, fish and manatees we’ve witnessed in South Florida, think about what the Legislature should be doing to stop it. Instead of controlling pollution, these politicians are trying to legalize it.
We need to tell our legislators clearly and loudly: When our water is at stake, a polluter’s promise just isn’t good enough. The state simply has to be able to impose consequences when a polluter doesn’t comply with clean-water requirements.