• From: "BIANCHI, John" <JBIANCHI@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <audubon-news@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 25 Nov 2003 11:41:11 -0500

Contact:  John Bianchi
jbianchi@xxxxxxxxxxx <mailto:jbianchi@xxxxxxxxxxx>


Audubon & Other National Environmental Groups Submit Amicus Brief

Washington, DC, November 25, 2003 - A Florida regional water management 
district that pumps dirty stormwater into the Everglades is discharging a 
pollutant, and therefore must obtain a point source permit under the Clean 
Water Act, seven national environmental groups argued today in a brief filed 
with the U.S. Supreme Court. The environmental groups filed a friend of the 
court brief in the case, South Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee 
Tribe, No. 02-626, a suit whose outcome could weaken federal protections for 
the nation's waters, including the imperiled Florida Everglades. 

The case before the Supreme Court will explore whether the core protections of 
the Clean Water Act apply to South Florida Water Management District's practice 
of pumping huge quantities of polluted stormwater uphill from a collection 
canal in a developed area into a natural wetland area in the Everglades. The 
river-sized flow of stormwater contains phosphorus and other pollutants.

The water management district is arguing that it does not need a Clean Water 
Act permit because the pump conveys polluted water, but doesn't add pollutants 
to the water. The environmental groups' amicus brief argues that the very 
essence of the Clean Water Act's point source permit program is to address the 
"conveyance" of pollutants. Exempting conveyance from permitting would open the 
door to serious degradation of cleaner waterbodies by pollutants diverted from 
more polluted ones. 

The district court and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the 
Miccosukee Tribe of Indians and Friends of the Everglades, an environmental 
group, holding that pumping dirty stormwater into the Everglades is a discharge 
of pollutants under the Clean Water Act, and therefore requires a National 
Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The water management 
district has appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Allowing the discharge of polluted water into the Everglades is giving 
polluters a free walk: the Supreme Court must recognize this and uphold the 
rulings of the two lower courts," said Audubon's Chief Operating Officer Bob 
Perciasepe.  "If the court fails to support the Clean Water Act, healthy 
drinking water and restoration projects everywhere-especially in the 
Everglades-could be threatened by polluters acting with virtual immunity."

"People who care about our nation's precious waters have to stand up to protect 
them, because the federal government has already sided with the polluters," 
said Howard Fox, managing attorney for Earthjustice's Washington DC office, who 
is representing the seven environmental groups. "Allowing diversion of dirty 
waters into clean ones, without Clean Water Act safeguards, is a misguided 
'lowest common denominator' approach."

A ruling in favor of the Water Management District would threaten continued 
pollution of the Everglades-a matter of significant concern given recent 
Florida legislation that substantially postponed deadlines for pollution 
cleanup. More broadly, the approach advocated by the district holds broad 
implications for the jurisdiction or reach of the country's primary water 
pollution control law, affecting a host of other wetlands, lakes and rivers 
around the United States. Many water districts or similar entities collect 
polluted surface waters and divert them into cleaner waters. 

"If the South Florida Water Management District's and the Bush administration's 
position prevails in this case, serious environmental threats from interbasin 
water transfers such as invasive species, urban and industrial runoff and 
agricultural pollution could become epidemic across the country, jeopardizing 
waters important to fish, birds, and other wildlife," said Jim Murphy, water 
resources counsel at the National Wildlife Federation.

"This case is critical to restoration of the Everglades," said Bob Irvin, 
director of U.S. Conservation for World Wildlife Fund. "Only by providing clean 
water, at the right times of the year in the right amounts, can the River of 
Grass, and the wildlife that depends on it be restored.  Government agencies 
involved in Everglades restoration should comply with the Clean Water Act and 
all other environmental laws, not seek to avoid them."

In addition to the brief filed by Earthjustice's Washington, D.C., office on 
behalf of National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, 
Sierra Club, American Rivers, National Audubon Society, National Parks 
Conservation Association, and World Wildlife Fund, Earthjustice attorneys in 
the Tallahassee office will file an amicus brief on behalf of Florida 
environmental groups on Friday. 

"Thirty years of environmental progress has taught us that the Clean Water Act 
works," said Robin Mann, chair of Sierra Club's National Clean Water Campaign 
committee. "Instead of working to restore the Everglades, the Bush 
administration wants to give polluters a pass to dump polluted storm water into 
the River of Grass, and seriously undermine restoration efforts. We are proud 
to stand with the Miccosukee Tribe and the Friends of the Everglades to demand 
that the Bush administration strongly enforce our clean water protections and 
safeguard the Everglades."

"It's a sign of the times that polluters feel emboldened to keep appealing 
rather than complying with court orders to stop," said Liz Birnbaum, director 
of government affairs for American Rivers.

Audubon is dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife and the habitat 
that supports them.  Our national network of community-based nature centers and 
chapters, scientific and educational programs, and advocacy on behalf of areas 
sustaining important bird populations, engage millions of people of all ages 
and backgrounds in positive conservation experiences.

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