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."