Opinion Pieces

Clean Water Act should work every day for Floridians

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Tampa, April 20, 2018 | comments
Our Florida economy is still at risk because of the policies of President Trump and his Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, who more often side with polluters and special interests over clean water, clean air and the businesses and families whose health relies on them.
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The horrific images and damage from the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout are still fresh in our minds on the eighth anniversary of the worst oil disaster in U.S. history. Everyone who loves Florida’s clean beaches, fishing, beautiful sunsets and our way of life will never take for granted a healthy and clean Gulf of Mexico. Tourism and fishing are our life’s blood in the Sunshine State, and we welcome visitors from across America and the world to share the Florida experience.  Nevertheless, oil companies and polluters continue to stalk Florida’s offshore waters for drilling while environmental protections are being eroded at the federal and state level.

Strong enforcement of the Clean Water Act and the passage of the RESTORE Act, that so many of us championed, eventually allowed us to hold BP accountable and provided a once in a life time opportunity to restore the Gulf of Mexico. But the Clean Water Act should work every day for Floridians, and a new report indicates that federal and state environmental officials under President Trump and Florida Gov. Scott have abandoned their duty to enforce the law and protect Florida’s environment and economy. 

Prior to adoption of the Clean Water Act in the early 1970’s, wastewater and pollutants were dumped into Tampa Bay. The Clean Water Act required local governments and industrial users to clean up their act and clean up Tampa Bay.  Today, we are proud of our progress and a healthy and clean Tampa Bay is the foundation of our growing community.  We learned another lesson about the economic importance of the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 as oil spewed for months from the Deepwater Horizon well. Many had bellowed “Drill, Baby, Drill” and pressed to open the eastern Gulf to drilling, and then learned a harsh lesson, after enormous damage was suffered by many Florida families, fisherman and businesses.  We have rebounded in the eight years since disaster, but we must learn these lessons once and for all:  Florida’s economy is inextricably tied to a healthy and clean environment.

Our Florida economy is still at risk because of the policies of President Trump and his Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, who more often side with polluters and special interests over clean water, clean air and the businesses and families whose health relies on them. Polluters benefit when federal oversight is weakened. And we are not safer when responsibility for enforcement shifts to the state for environmental protection because Gov. Rick Scott has taken the environmental cops off the beat by gutting the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 

Between January 2016 and September 2017, industrial facilities have dumped excessive pollution into Florida waters 270 times according to Environment Florida Research and Policy Center’s recent report and EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). Utilities, mining operations and other industrial users have dumped excessive amounts of pollution 24 times into Hillsborough Bay. They understand the rules and know they are accountable, but who will enforce our clean water protections if the State of Florida and EPA turn a blind eye?

If you love our beautiful state and a clean and healthy Tampa Bay and Gulf coast, it is up to you. If your business depends on tourism, fishing or recruiting talent to move to our dynamic community, it is up to you too. Citizens like Jan Platt and many others started in public service fighting for the Bay. On this eighth anniversary of the BP disaster, remember the lessons we have learned and press policy makers to stand up for clean air, clean water, and a healthy economic future.

U.S. Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL) serves Florida’s 14th Congressional District, which includes the greater Tampa area. She is Vice Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has oversight responsibilities for environmental policies.

Jennifer Rubiello is state director of Environment Florido Research and Policy Center.

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