EPA and FDEP Have Failed In Their Jobs — THEY MUST STOP ADDING TO GYPSTACKS

Piney Point gypstack on Tampa Bay. Photo by Jim Tatum.

 

 

I am outraged and sick to my stomach.

And you should be too because the high-salaried  state and federal agents responsible for taking care of our water, more specifically Tampa Bay and our aquifer, have failed us.

Miserably, repeatedly, and unconscionably.

This problem started years ago and continues unresolved today.  We of course cannot blame our new head of the EPA but we can certainly blame his predecessors and we can blame our own Florida Department of Environmental Protection, whose secretaries in the past and present could have shut down new mining and could have stopped adding phosphogypsum to the gypstacks.

And we can blame Manatee County leaders for  continuing to allow new mining in their county.  In 2016 the County approved the 3,600-acre Mosaic Wingate East mine, which also would destroy 649 acres of wetlands.  We are told two current members of that commission voted to allow new mining by Mosaic.

When public hearings were held citizens showed up in masses to protest, causing the commission to extend the time period for listening to them over two days.  But the commissioners ignored the will of the people and listened to money.  They do not learn from past mistakes, they continue doing the same thing.

The media are  full of articles and newscasts about the current situation and many of them sugarcoat the situation by putting in speakers for Mosaic and the phosphate industry.  These company shills, some of whom are not remotely identified as supporters of the phosphate industry, downplay the dangers to people and to the environment and do not describe accurately the environmental destruction to the waters of Tampa Bay.  This process water can and will kill most small aquatic life in the bay.

The EPA and the FDEP should immediately shut down any further production of phosphogypsum by the phosphate industry until such time as this industry can demonstrate that they can operate without the toxic and dangerous byproduct of mining.  They have the power to do this but likely not the political will.

We must add here that the proposal to use Covid 19-designated funds to attack this problem should not be allowed, and especially the ill-conceived idea of a deep injection well to send the process water into our aquifer must be vetoed.  This idea is hairbrained and akin to dumping our garbage into a river so it is out of sight.  It is stupid thinking because  this is an unknown area for our scientists who do not know the possible future consequences.  These people have no right to experiment with our finite supply of potable water because this may result in irreparable damage to the aquifer.   This must not be allowed under any circumstances.

Linda Young. Photo by Jim Tatum.

Some of the best analyses of this preventable situation comes from Linda Young of Florida Clean Water Network.  Linda has battled for clean water in Northwest Florida for three decades and has kindly given us permission to pass on some of her comments which are refreshingly devoid of the hot air from those with interests in phosphate, which includes  the FDEP.

Thanks to Linda Young for her tireless work for our environment.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
jim.tatum@oursantaferiver.org
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum


  
“Federal officials need to clean up this mess the fertilizer industry has dumped on Florida communities and immediately halt further phosphogypsum production,” Jaclyn Lopez, the organisation’s [Center for Biological Diversity] Florida director, said.
This is exactly what needs to happen. I completely agree with Jaclyn Lopez. The EPA needs to step in and take back the delegation of not just the fertilizer industry, but the entire NPDES delegation from Florida. Florida DEP has totally failed to implement and enforce the Clean Water Act as it promised it would in its MOU with EPA.
In 2004, Florida Clean Water Network, under the auspices of NRDC and with the help of Sierra Club’s best attorneys, filed suit against EPA in Federal Court in Tallahassee to Mandate that the agency revoke the delegation of the implementation and enforcement of the Clean Water Act to Florida. Here is the section related to the phosphate industry, taken from pages 7 -8 of the notice of Intention to Sue:
“C. Unregulated Phosphate Mining Discharges
The phosphate mining industry is known by FDEP and EPA to be a major source of continuing water pollution in the State of Florida, contributing both to ongoing problems with nutrient over-enrichment (due to massive loadings of phosphorus) and to uncontrolled spills and the threat of spills causing acute toxicity and fish kills.
The clay settling ponds of the phosphate mining industry are analogous to CAFO animal waste lagoons. They are set up to receive ongoing discharges of contaminated mining wastes; the liquid component of the mining waste is variously seeping out the bottom, spilling out of leaks and breakages or conveyed to surface waters via discrete conveyances that drain the swales and berms surrounding the ponds.
By nature of their construction these sites predictably overflow, are breached and/or deliberately drain into state waters. As with CAFOs, the reasonable likelihood that discharges will repeatedly occur is sufficient grounds for mandating NPDES permits. Yet, the state has issued no permits and EPA has taken no action.”
These violations of the Clean Water Act were documented by FDEP employees whose job it was to oversee the phosphate industry operations. That was when there were still FDEP employees with integrity and a professional commitment to protection of the environment.
Judge Hinkley, a federal judge in Tallahassee, heard the case, which was opposed by the Jeb Bush administration in Tallahassee and the George W. Bush administration in Washington, D.C. Judge Hinkley was pretty critical of the FDEP. He especially pointed out the dismal job the FDEP had done in controlling pulp and paper mill discharges. However, we only had one case where the EPA had successfully withdrawn the NPDES delegation to a state. He admitted that he was reluctant to go out on a limb.
Our attorneys, David Bookbinder, Eric Huber and Jessica Landman were some of the best Clean Water Act attorneys in the entire country. The citizens of Florida were blessed to have them fighting for our waters. Our case was clear and compelling. Jessica Landman, former Senior NRDC water program attorney spent a year gathering evidence and drafting the complaint. Yet, to compel EPA to retract authorization from Florida the right to implement the CWA was a huge, huge action that judge Hinkley did not have the courage to do. It was obvious that he wanted to do just that. But, in the end, he agreed with EPA and FDEP to dismiss the case.
Fast forward a few years and the Piney Point site became an imminent disaster. Hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic waste were released into Tampa Bay. Massive red tides followed.
Now, in 2021 we witness yet another disaster caused by the State of Florida failing to manage its resources responsibly. Florida has done everything in its power to avoid compliance with the Clean Water Act. It has weakened, as much as possible, the water quality standards of the state; it has created loopholes in permits that allow individual industries to totally circumvent standards; and most importantly, it has dis-empowered state employees to use their best professional judgement when regulating polluting industries.
The result is what we now have at hand. An environmental disaster that not only threatens streams, rivers, estuaries and the Gulf, but human life and property. Yes, property owners have for decades plead with the State of Florida to help them protect their properties and lives from the phosphate industry. To no avail.
When will this end? I watch the numerous press conferences on television and feel more and more disgusted. They tell nothing. They make excuses. They dodge the truth.
The truth is that they knew this would happen. They knew. They know that this is not the end of it. They know that the taxpayers of Florida will have to pay for all this destruction.
How long will the voters of Florida keep electing and re-electing these lying politicians? As long as they keep gaining political power, they will keep socializing pollution and privatizing profits. Only the citizens of Florida can end this charade of democracy.
Here’s another report on Piney Point. A preventable disaster that will cost Florida taxpayers millions in various ways. Corporate welfare at its worst.
This is not to disparage the seriousness of this situation, but I’d like to point out that this article says the uncontrolled discharge is flowing at a rate of 32 million gallons per day into Tampa Bay. That is about average for a toxic papermill discharge in Florida. We have six toxic pulp and paper mills dumping anywhere from 25 mgd to 50 mgd toxic industrial waste into our waters. They are located in Pensacola, Brewton, AL (going into Escambia River), Panama City, Perry, Palatka and Fernandina Beach.
These discharges have already destroyed the receiving waters from these mills. I would assert that their discharges are at least as toxic and destructive as the Piney Point discharge is. They all have legal permits which are full of loopholes, lies and slippery exceptions. FDEP enables all of this, including the phosphate disaster. Why?
Because the Clean Water Act never got implemented or enforced in Florida. People are told that they have the protection of the Clean Water Act, but that is a lie. It simply doesn’t apply here. Our wetlands are not protected; industries dump their toxic stews at will; stormwater is unmeasured and uncontrolled; agriculture pollutes with a blessing; and we wonder why our manatees can’t survive. We wonder why red tides are a constant for many of our coastal waters in recent years. Fish kills are only reduced because the fish populations are lower and lower.
How do we wake people up and show them that they have to change their voting habits. As long as Florida voters keep voting for lying politicians who pretend to give a shit about our waters, these egregious situations will prevail and our waters will continue to become less and less available for fishing, swimming and our enjoyment.
Piney Point is a tragedy and an opportunity for people to wake up and change their behavior. Remember the definition of stupid: when we keep doing the same thing again and again and expect a different result.
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First of all, Florida’s water quality standards are meaningless. They have been weakened and convoluted so badly that it is really hard for any water body to fail to meet the criteria. The nutrient criteria are particularly worthless. The details are way too twisted to bother explaining here. If I have any credibility in your eyes after working to strengthen and protect Florida’s water quality standards for 30 years, particularly toxics, then you can rely on my word. That discharge is not up to Class III standards, which is supposed to be safe for fishing and swimming. That means that the fish you might catch there would be safe to eat. It also would mean that the waters can support aquatic life such as fish.
FDEP has a long history now of lying, misleading, and twisting facts to cover up the condition of our waters around the state. They are completely in collusion with a variety of polluters around the state, including but not limited to the phosphate industry. Hopefully some reliable and credible scientists will be able to assess the water quality situation soon. Please let people know that anything we are told by FDEP is not reliable and is potentially the opposite of the truth.
So the big news this afternoon from the local and state agencies and govt. entities is that a deep-well injection Band-Aide has been approved. No details provided. Here are my questions off the top of my head:
  1. How deep?
  2. Did EPA sign off on this?
  3. Was a variance required since it is illegal to create new deep-well injection systems for hazardous waste. This was outlawed in Florida many years ago and the only operating deep-well injection system for hazardous waste is in Escambia County and it was grandfathered in. Whatever that means. The wells there are only around 1,500 feet deep putting that waste into the upper Floridan Aquifer and making it unusable for centuries to come. If deep-well injection were a viable option, then these ponds would have been emptied through injection years ago.
  4. How long is the injection system authorized to stay in use?
  5. Who is monitoring it?
  6. More to come.

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