Small Businesses, Elected Officials, and Environmental Groups Stand Together for Stronger Clean Water Protections

For Immediate Release

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - As tourists head south for the winter season in search of warm weather and outdoor activities, Environment Florida and Gulf Restoration Network stood together to highlight the tens of thousands of Floridians and over 5,000 Tampa Bay residents who submitted comments in support of restoring Clean Water Act protections to all of Florida’s wetlands and streams. The groups were joined by Shahra Anderson, Regional Director for U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, Vito Sheeley, Outreach Director for U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, Michael Connors, the Director of Sustainability and Green Initiatives for the City of St. Petersburg, and local business owner Woody Pershing.

“Our waters are where we fish, boat, and swim,” said Jennifer Rubiello, Field Organizer for Environment Florida. "This show of public support is just one more reason we should be doing everything we can to protect Florida’s rivers and streams."

Close to a third of Florida’s streams and 20 million acres of wetlands nationwide lack guaranteed protections under federal law, thanks to a loophole created by a pair of polluter-driven Supreme Court decisions nearly a decade ago. In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to close the loophole and restore protections to the 15,000 miles of tributaries and seasonal streams in Florida that flow right into iconic waters like Tampa Bay.

Cathy Harrelson, Florida Organizer for the Gulf Restoration Network agrees. "Our urban areas contain thousands of small and large waterways that feed nationally important estuaries like Tampa Bay. Decades of development have created barriers such as those seen here along Gandy Boulevard in St. Petersburg. Protecting these waterways is important to the health of Florida's coastal estuaries, which supports the fish, wildlife and local economies that depend on them."

Outdoor outfitters, river guides, farmers and restaurants from across Tampa Bay were among the dozens of local businesses who voiced their support for EPA’s proposed rule, which will protect drinking water supplies for millions of Floridians.

“Thousands of my customers come from all 50 states and many countries to enjoy Florida’s waters,” said Pershing, owner of Woody’s Watersports in John’s Pass Village. “Out on the water, their experience can include dolphin sightings, an encounter with a slow moving manatee, or views of the many species of Florida birds. Without clean water, I wouldn’t be in business.”

While a broad coalition of clean water advocates, farmers, scientists and small businesses have lined up behind the proposal; agribusinesses, oil and gas companies, and other polluters affected by the rule have waged a bitter campaign against it.

Attempts to block the clean water protections are expected to be among the new Senate leadership's to-do items. In October, Sen. Mitch McConnell and 23 other senators signed a letter opposing the rule, and the U.S. House has voted to block the rule multiple times. U.S. Representative David Jolly from St. Petersburg and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio are among those who have actively worked to stop these vital Clean Water Act protections.

"Americans want to see their waters protected, even if agribusinesses and the oil and gas companies don't," said Rubiello. "We're urging all Senators to side with our rivers rather than the polluters, and we're especially grateful to our champions who have pledged to support protecting our rivers and streams.”
One such clean-water champion is Sen. Bill Nelson, whose staff issued the following statement at Tuesday morning’s news conference:

“Florida’s tourism economy, fisheries and natural resources rely on clean water that is free from algae and tar. I’ve voted twice against attempts by Senate Republicans to cut back protections for clean water, and I will continue to work with the EPA and Army Corps to make sure this rule works for Florida.”