NAPLES, FL - April 23 - The Bush administration approved a development that would destroy hundreds of acres of wetlands at the headwaters of Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve where the President today is touting wetlands restoration. The federal Bush administration rejected concerns that a proposed housing and golf course development would destroy or damage surrounding wetlands on the Gulf coast near the western edge of the Everglades.
"When it comes to the Bush administration's wetlands policy, hypocrisy reigns supreme," said Frank Jackalone with the Sierra Club in Florida. "While the President poses for pictures at Rookery Bay, he turns a blind eye to wetlands destruction just around the corner."
Bush returns to Florida the day after Earth Day to join his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, to promote wetlands restoration where he has faces citizens who are outraged that the special interests of polluting industries are trumping their own health, safety and job security. President Bush will then attend a $25,000-a-plate fundraiser luncheon and another fundraiser tonight in Coral Gables.
"With southwest Florida under more and more pressure from development, we cannot sustain the current pattern of sacrificing Florida's wetlands and clean water to developers," said Jackalone. "Protecting Florida's waters should be a year round priority for both Bush administrations instead of an Earth Day photo-op."
Last fall, Sierra Club, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and many other groups asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to veto permits requested by the Barron Collier Company for some 2,000 acres of wetlands in southwest Florida. The wetlands are being destroyed to build housing developments and golf courses. The EPA refused to prevent the destruction of these wetlands, despite several violations of the Clean Water Act.
In January 2003, the Bush administration ordered the EPA and the Army Corps of engineers to immediately stop enforcing the Clean Water Act for as many as 20 million acres of wetlands. Although the agencies shelved their proposal to change wetland rules, the nonenforcement directive remains in place. Yesterday, President Bush, on a campaign stop in Maine, pledged to restore or protect 3 million acres of wetlands.
"The Bush administration's proposal to restore wetlands is a contradiction," said Ed Hopkins with the Sierra Club's Environmental Quality program. "While we still need to see the details, it seems clear that we'd be better off if the Bush administration simply enforced the law that's on the books."
Background on Florida's Environment and the Bush Administration's Policies:
EVERGLADES RESTORATION AND MINING
The Bush Administration permitted the first phase of the destruction of approximately 15,000 acres of historic Everglades wetlands for the mining industry. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calls the proposal the "Lake Belt Plan" in a transparent effort to "greenwash" the horrific consequences: an otherworldly future landscape of huge sterile contaminated pits lining the eastern borders of the Everglades for miles. The Everglades mining plan will destroy critical wetlands. It could detrimentally affect Everglades restoration, harm local drinking water supplies, and shift rising costs to the taxpayer. This year, environmental groups released the results of government testing showing that a massive mining project surrounding Miami-Dade County's largest wellfield could pose a significant and undisclosed threat to the area's drinking water.
All of Florida's lakes and rivers, and the entire coastline, are under EPA fish consumption advisories for mercury pollution. Mercury is a potent neuro-toxin. New estimates by the EPA indicate that one in six U.S. women of childbearing age has mercury levels in her blood high enough to put her baby at risk -- as many as 630,000 infants are at risk for the effect of mercury poisoning in the U.S. each year. Coal-fired power plants are the largest single man-made source of mercury pollution. The Bush administration wants to allow power plants to spew far more mercury into the air, for decades longer than enforcing our current clean air laws.
In Florida, 712 waterways, including Lake Kissimmee, much of the St. John's River and the Indian River Lagoon, are already too polluted for safe fishing and swimming. Yet, the Bush administration told EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to stop using the Clean Water Act to protect "isolated" waterways, which would allow polluters to dump more toxic chemicals into streams and developers to drain and fill more wetlands.
TOXIC WASTE SITES:
There are 51 Superfund toxic waste sites in Florida and nearly 600 other toxic waste sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Yet the Bush administration does not support reinstating the "polluter pays" fees that help fund cleanup of abandoned toxic waste sites. In 2004, taxpayers will pay approximately $73 million to pay for cleaning up toxic waste sites caused by polluting industries. The EPA has proposed a plan that weakens the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program as well as weaken and delay the clean up of mercury emissions from the country's 1,100 coal-fired plants. Florida's air quality will worsen. In 2001, Florida's residents breathed unhealthy air on 14 days.