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January 16, 2018

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  Action Alert | Ft. Myers Waterfront Plans

Court Ruling Says DEP is Unscientific

A recent court ruling seeks to restrain Florida government agencies from mixing politics with science when it comes to fixing the water quality problems of the tributaries to Lake Okeechobee, waters that eventually flow into the Caloosahatchee.

Earthjustice a national environment law firm successfully sued the Florida Department of Environmental Protection claiming that DEP’s recently released pollution standards did not meet the requirements of the Federal Clean Water Act. Judge David M. Maloney issued the decision on March 24 in Tallahassee. “The evidence placed on the record by petitioners calls into question at every turn the process that the department followed “in drafting the pollution limits, Judge Maloney wrote. “Instead of the examination called for by the scientific method, the department conducted a flawed process. Its after-the-fact attempts to prop up the process were not successful nor could they have been: the evidence demonstrates that the process was flawed from the beginning.”

For decades, Florida has placed too much scientific control in the hands of DEP and SFWMD, political agencies that were originally designed to implement policies and enforce regulations, but not designed to judiciously pursue research. It is therefore not surprising that their research results cannot stand up to scrutiny when placed before a court of law.

Hopefully, this court ruling will lead to state and federal action to solve the problem – perhaps moving control of research methods and funds back into the organizations better suited to the mission. While primary control and budgets for research should be given to universities and research agencies, there are several critically important functions that the DEP and SFWMD political/management agencies can perform in facilitating research. They can identify critical problems to be investigated, help push the research process along as quickly as possible (scientists are notoriously slow), and they can look after the legal aspects of research quality control so that the results hold up in court. However, the fundamental processes of experimental design, site selection, methodology, project duration, results publication, and research budget allocations need to be decided and controlled by the science organizations, not the political agencies.

Because so much of the research funds come from budgets allocated to DEP and SFWMD, these agencies have had disproportional control of water quality research projects, which, for Federal budgetary reasons, they refer to as “demonstration projects.” The result has been a series of start/stop research projects that follow the political winds, rather than a deliberate scientific process. Research staff currently based in these political agencies might also find greater professional satisfaction if they too were transferred to organizations that are driven more by science than politics. It is well known that many scientists feel “gagged and tied” within these agencies. Perhaps this recent court ruling will start the process of changing how water quality research is controlled in south Florida.