For Immediate Release
Jerry Phillips (850) 877-8097;
Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
EPA Intervention Needed for Weak Florida Pollution Response
Petition Filed for Federal Enforcement Takeover in Palm Beach Contamination Case
Tallahassee, FL - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency needs to take immediate
enforcement action to redress dangerous and long-standing pollution
violations in West Palm Beach, according to a formal "overfile"
petition filed today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). The filing represents an early test of EPA's
promises of tougher oversight of lax state environmental programs.
The action concerns vapor intrusion in an office building owned by Palm
Beach County in which workers have become seriously ill. The building
abuts the West Palm Beach Canal and the International Airport. The
case also involves more than 20 years of petroleum contamination
spreading from property now owned by Gastion, Inc.
U.S. EPA authority to enforce clean water and toxic waste laws has been
delegated to Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP),
which in turn delegated enforcement to Palm Beach County - in this
instance putting the County in a conflicted position of having to take
enforcement action against itself. The result has been decades of
inaction, partial clean-up and continuing toxic leaks.
"This case is a poster child for federal intervention," stated Florida
PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, who
filed the petition based on agency case files documenting year after
year of inattention or ineffective half-measures. "People are getting
sick from breathing contaminants and only urgent action will prevent
more workers from becoming victims."
The Obama administration has pledged tougher oversight of state
anti-pollution programs. For example, in an October 15, 2009 hearing
before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee EPA
Administrator Lisa Jackson testified that -
"…we need to strengthen our oversight of state permitting and
enforcement programs…In situations where states are not issuing
protective permits or taking enforcement to achieve compliance, EPA
needs to act to strengthen state programs and to pursue federal
enforcement actions as necessary."
The PEER overfile petition was filed today with the acting EPA Regional
Administrator in Atlanta invoking EPA's concurrent authority to enforce
federal environmental statutes. It demands that EPA immediately take
jurisdiction over (i.e., overfile) the case in order to protect public
health and the environment and maintain the credibility of the federal
program. If problems remain unaddressed, PEER can appeal to EPA's
Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in
"After years of enforcement abdication by the Bush administration, we
have been led to believe that the Obama administration will act
promptly and diligently in cases of environmental dereliction brought
to their attention," Phillips added. "How this petition is handled
will signal whether there is a reality behind the rhetoric of tougher
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