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Environmental Groups Consider Appeal After Judge OKs Florida Water Pollution Limits

Jessica Palombo

A federal judge has sided with the state and federal governments by saying Florida should set pollution standards for its waterways. Environmental groups are considering an appeal of the ruling letting Florida manage its own water.

This week’s ruling is the latest in a lawsuit the environmental groups brought six years ago saying the state didn’t comply with the federal Clean Water Act. Federal judge Robert Hinkle agreed with state and federal assertions that Florida should set its own acceptable pollution standards.

On Wednesday, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said the ruling is a proud moment for state lawmakers who last year passed a bill outlining those standards.

“They’ve been given the Good Housekeeping seal by a federal judge that the work that they did and the policy that they adopted meets the criteria of the Clean Water Act," he said.

But a lawyer for the groups who brought the suit say they’re not ready to give up their goal of requiring the federal Environmental Protection Agency to take control of the pollution standards. Earthjustice lawyer David Guest represents groups including the St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Florida Wildlife Federation. He says a 2009 agreement between his clients and the EPA said the feds will maintain water quality standards if the state fails to set acceptable limits.

“What the court said was, ‘I’m letting EPA out of the deal because they’ve come up with a plausible excuse.’ That excuse was, ‘We’ve done as much as we can,’” he says.

But Guest says that’s not good enough because big industries were allowed big input on the state limits.

“The polluting industries did actually deliver the Scott administration and they exempted most of the canals and streams in the whole state from having limits on sewage, manure and fertilizer," he says.

But Putnam says Florida’s standards are among the strictest of any state.