Court orders Florida to rein in dairy farm pollution

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, March 9, 2004 (ENS): Florida's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has failed to implement and enforce a permitting program for large dairies as required by Florida law and the federal Clean Water Act, a Florida court ruled on Monday.

The ruling by Leon County Judge L. Ralph Smith, Jr. also found the DEP could not rely on voluntary programs in lieu of Clean Water Act permits for dairies or any other industry in the state.

Voluntary programs, he said, "are clearly an insufficient substitute for mandatory governmental regulation through a proper permitting procedure as required by law."

The ruling is the result of a May 2001 lawsuit filed by the Clean Water Network and three Florida conservation groups that charged the state environmental agency failed to require federal Clean Water Act permits for dairies with more than 700 mature cattle.

"Judge Smith had to remind the Florida Department of Environmental Protection what its name stands for," said Melanie Shepherdson, the Natural Resources Defense Council attorney representing the conservation groups. "The agency was protecting the dairy industry, not the environment, allowing it to contaminate Florida waterways with animal waste. This court order will force DEP to protect state waters."

The judge found that the DEP shirked its responsibility to safeguard the state's water supplies from dairy pollution. He noted that the state agency never required dairies to apply for Clean Water Act permits.

"The DEP's implementation of constitutional and statutory duties to abate pollution and protect natural resources from pollution from [concentrated animal feeding operations] is so inadequate as to closely resemble a delegation of its duties to the industry it is required to regulate," Smith wrote. "Such agency action can not continue."

Smith ordered the DEP to immediately require the 55 large dairies in the state to apply for Clean Water Act permits, to enforce state law requiring all dairies to file pollution reports, and to develop an enforcement program to control water pollution from the 55 dairies in operating without Clean Water Act permits.

"Judge Smith was loud and clear - industry can not police itself," said Linda Young, who filed the law suit on behalf of the Clean Water Network. "Our state government has a duty to protect our waterways and our health, and it is a sad day when you have to go to court to force it to do its job."

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