U.S. Water News Online
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Large dairies in Florida must apply
for waste-discharge permits to comply with state and federal clean
water laws, and the state must more vigorously regulate the farms, a
The dairies, however, say that process was under way before
Circuit Judge L. Ralph Smith signed his order and released it.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has only
``partially performed'' its required duties by entering agreements
with some dairy farms that have the practical effect of exempting
farms from permitting requirements, Smith ruled, finding in favor of
a coalition of environmental groups in a suit filed against the DEP.
``Even if the dairy is polluting the waters of the state, DEP has
never ordered such pollution to cease, nor has it ever ordered such
dairy to seek a permit,'' Smith wrote.
The agency says the agreements keep farms from being disqualified
from receiving federal pollution abatement money.
``This procedure ... is clearly an insufficient substitute for
mandatory governmental regulation,'' Smith wrote.
Environmental groups applauded the decision, while the state's
dairy producers said it simply went along with plans dairies are
already in the process of completing.
``It's been a big problem in Florida for, I would say, a couple of
decades,'' said Linda Young, one of the suit's plaintiffs and the
Southeast director for the Clean Water Network. ``What we've seen is
DEP getting more and more into a cozy relationship with the dairies,
looking for ways to protect them from the law.''
Environmental groups alleged the state allowed more than 55
dairies (each with at least 700 cows) to discharge waste into Florida
waters without permits, therefore violating pollution standards set
by the federal Clean Water Act.
Young said the dairies spray and pump liquefied waste from storage
areas, leading to the potential of the runoff into groundwater
DEP Press Secretary Deena Wells said in a statement that agency
officials disagreed with the order and believe the department's plan
for working with dairies did reduce pollution.
Wells' statement said the department does order large dairies to
get permits to operate, but that the agreements reached with dairies
avoid ``one-size-fits-all'' regulation.
``Florida's approach demonstrates commonsense environmental
management that goes beyond traditional command and control
mechanisms to regulate animal feeding operations years ahead of
federal requirements,'' the statement said.
Smith ordered DEP to immediately start requiring large dairies to
apply for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits,
which they haven't been required to do, or file for exemptions.
Unless the dairies apply for the permits within 30 days and show
they are taking the order ``seriously,'' Young said lawsuits could be
filed against each one in an effort to force compliance.
``I would be willing to not do that if DEP would follow the
judge's order and move right into getting the dairies under
permits,'' Young said. ``Our goal isn't to file lawsuits. Our goal is
to get the pollution cleaned up.''
Art Darling, the executive director of the Sunshine State Milk
Producers, said dairies were already in the midst of the permitting
process before the order was released.
``We're disappointed in the judge's ruling. But that being said,
it really doesn't change anything. ... It's something we are already
in the process of doing,'' Darling said.
Still, his group may still file suit challenging Smith's order if
it finds it to be detrimental to other agricultural programs.
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