Aiming a legal shot directly across the bow of Gov. Rick Scott’s anti-regulation agenda, a Miami federal judge on Tuesday cleared the way for the federal government to do something he contends the state has failed to do for decades: Enforce water pollution standards tough enough to protect the Everglades.
In the latest in a string of blistering rulings, U.S. District Judge Alan Gold reiterated frustration at repeated delays and “disingenuous” legal maneuvers by state lawmakers and agencies he charged have weakened rules intended to reduce the flow of phosphorus into the River of Grass.
“Protection of the Everglades requires a major commitment which cannot be simply pushed aside in the face of financial hardships, political opposition, or other excuses,’’ Gold wrote. “These obstacles will always exist, but the Everglades will not — especially if the protracted pace of preservation efforts continues at the current pace.”
Specifically, Gold’s order would strip authority from the state to issue critical pollution discharge permits for the state’s $1.2 billion network of nutrient-scrubbing marshes and give it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
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That may sound minor but it potentially has major implication in ongoing, high-stakes legal battles between the state and the federal government over setting the bar for what level of damaging nutrients can be released, not only in the Everglades but in lakes, streams and coastal waters statewide — at least if his ruling stands up on appeal.
The Scott administration, which has defended the state’s oversight of Everglades clean-up and water pollution standards, said it was already “vigorously pursuing’’ an appeal filed earlier with the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta.