ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Twenty-nine percent of Florida’s streams, including those feeding Lake Okeechobee and the Hillsborough River, will regain federal protections under a final rule signed today by top Obama administration officials. The Clean Water Rule restores Clean Water Act safeguards to streams and wetlands that have been vulnerable to development and pollution for nearly ten years.
"Florida’s lakes and rivers - where we swim, fish, and go boating – can only be clean if we protect the streams that feed them,” said Jennifer Rubiello, State Director of Environment Florida. “That’s why today’s action is the biggest victory for clean water in a decade.”
By closing a loophole created by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006, today’s rule returns Clean Water Act protections to streams that feed the drinking water sources for over 1.8 million Floridians and one in three Americans. Millions of acres of wetlands, vital for flood control and filtering pollutants, will also again be shielded under federal law.
The court rulings had put small streams, headwaters and certain wetlands in a perilous legal limbo, allowing polluters and developers to dump into them or destroy them in many cases without a permit. In a four-year period following the decisions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to drop more than 1500 cases against polluters, according to one analysis by the New York Times.
First proposed in March 2014, the joint rule by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is backed by robust scientific review and has gained broad support across a wide range of constituencies. Local officials, sportsmen, small businesses, and farmers are among the more than 800,000 Americans who have registered their support for the Clean Water Rule.
“Florida’s beaches and clean water in general are the lifeblood of my business and our community,” said Jason Spurlin, owner of Island Action Sports in St. Pete Beach. “I support doing everything we can to protect our rivers, streams, and wetlands, and I’m thrilled that the EPA is ensuring our waters’ health for generations to come.”
Environment Florida has been campaigning to restore these clean water protections for nearly a decade. In the past year alone, the organization gathered over 31,000 comments in support of the rule, released research reports to the media, and met with federal officials to counter heavy industry lobbying in opposition.
Despite broad public support for restored clean water protections, oil and gas companies, developers, and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against them. The U.S. House has passed multiple bills to block or severely weaken the rule, including one measure as recently as two weeks ago. Polluters and their allies have now turned their sights on the Senate, where lawmakers could take up a bill to kill the rule soon after the Memorial Day recess.
“Today the administration signed and sealed critical protections for Lake Okeechobee and the Hillsborough River, but they simply won’t get delivered without Senator Nelson,” said Rubiello.
Environment Florida is statewide, citizen-funded advocacy organization working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentFlorida.org