From: Neil Santaniello, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Published January 27, 2005 12:00 AM

EPA Approves Pollution Control Plan for Everglades

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week approved the bulk of a controversial state rule designed to curb phosphorus pollution in the Everglades.


The EPA found Florida's Everglades cleanup target in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act, over the objections of environmental groups and the Miccosukee Indian Tribe.


The federal agency approved provisions of the rule that can extend a December 2006 cleanup deadline up to 10 years, provided pollution controls show continued progress and the best cleanup technology is used.


The EPA said it intends to examine, case-by-case, requests for variances that might come from the South Florida Water Management District, the cleanup coordinator.


In one defeat for the state, the EPA rejected one portion of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection rule as not protective enough of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge west of U.S. 441 in Palm Beach County.


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Fourteen pollution-monitoring stations inside the 147,000-acre refuge do not suffice to guard it against phosphorus contamination, a problem caused by agricultural and suburban runoff fed into the Everglades by canals and pumps, the EPA determined.


The Miccosukee, who have a perpetual lease from the state on 189,000 acres of the central Everglades, have vigorously attacked the cleanup rule as too soft on polluters and apt to spread still-dirty water farther through the 'Glades.


The EPA decision recognizes the tribe as a kind of "downstream state" with the right to provide input to EPA cleanup reviews, tribe attorney Dexter Lehtinen said.


But with that, the EPA seems to shift some of its cleanup enforcement responsibility onto the tribe, in addition to sending a mixed message on protecting the Everglades, Lehtinen said.


"Politically what this means is they're punting, and expecting the tribe to protect the Everglades," Lehtinen said. "They don't have the political will to, but they know the Miccosukees will."


DEP spokesman Russell Schweiss said: "We have not interpreted that from what the EPA sent us." He said his agency is happy with the EPA outcome.


"They approved 95 percent of the rule," he said. "It's one more step in the [cleanup] process that's now behind us."


The Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, one of the agricultural contributors of phosphorus to the 'Glades, is "pleased" too, cooperative spokeswoman Barbara Miedema said.


EPA regional Water Management Division Director Jim Giattina said, "We think this is a good step in the direction of cleaning up the Everglades."


That job is complicated, he said, "and we're trying to reflect the reality of the progress that's been made at this point in time, and [progress] anticipated in coming years."


Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News


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