Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170;

April 2017 Prez Sez

Pushing EPA Responsibilities to the States Not Practical

In last month’s column, I discussed what dismantling the EPA would do to Florida in light of the Scott administration’s anti-environmental bent.  Scott emasculated the DEP, got rid of the Department of Community Affairs, put cronies (not scientists) in charge of the water management districts, and forbade state employees from talking about climate change.

Ostensibly, the Trump administration says it will deregulate from the federal level and push the regulatory powers down to the states. But there are many states with Republican governors and state houses that will go for the polluters that line their pockets, rather than protecting their citizens from harm.  

But the demise of the EPA would have more far-reaching effects.  That is because rivers and air masses do not recognize state boundaries.  When a state allows rivers, streams and the air to be polluted, it affects the health and welfare of citizens downstream.  

Some of us will remember a few decades ago when more eastern states sued their western neighbors over fouled air from smokestacks and from acid rain.  Even more recently, the state of Florida has spent millions of dollars in legal fees in a water-use conflict with the states of Georgia and Alabama over flows in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has regulated water flow for the entire Chattahoochee River, from Lake Lanier in Forsyth County, Georgia, to Alabama and Florida.

The states filed suit in 1990 in their conflict over the water supply; federal court has affirmed the Corps' authority to negotiate the conflict. As the Lake Lanier project was authorized by Congress, each of the three states is entitled to an equal portion of the water.  However, the project was never envisioned only to benefit metro Atlanta, whose rapid development since the late 20th century, greatly increased its water consumption. The water flows are also supposed to be regulated to support a variety of uses by states downriver, including preservation of marine life under the Endangered Species Act, and support for major seafood industries like clam and oyster farms.  As a result of overuse in Atlanta, there is not sufficient fresh water flows from the Apalachicola into the Gulf estuaries to support Apalachicola Bay’s oyster farms. Healthy estuaries require a mix of fresh and salt waters to support the seafood we rely upon. In the absence of sufficient fresh water flows, Apalachicola Bay Oyster harvests collapsed in 2013.

Then again, the Colorado River involves Mexico, too. The Colorado River starts in the Rocky Mountain peaks of Colorado and formerly flowed into Mexico, where it emptied into the Upper Sea of Cortez.  Now, it usually doesn’t.  The unsustainable demand for water from the river, so great that it exceeds the river’s supply, and used for such frivolous purposes as irrigating the desert to grow cotton, has for the last decade essentially dried up the Colorado’s last hundred miles.  I have a book, called “Water Trails West”, by  The Western Writers of America .  In it, there is a chapter on all the major rivers of the U.S. and the contributions the rivers made to the winning of the West.  The chapter on the Colorado River by Donald H. Bufkin and C. L. Sonnischen tells the story of paddle wheelers running from the Sea of Cortez (Mexico) to nearly the Utah border in the early days.  

We’ve been through a weak EPA before, during the GW Bush administration, especially in the area of weakening the clean air laws and refusing to hold accountable the energy companies that pushed thousands of tons of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the air.

Here we go again—in Spades.

Happy birding,