As a fourth-generation Floridian, I care deeply about protecting our waterways and environment. I believe that Florida has always had the best expertise and resources to determine how to protect our waters, as does each unique state.
Under the current administration, the federal Environmental Protection Agency continually seeks expanded authority to trump state regulation. But Congress — not the EPA — decides the extent of federal regulatory authority. And under the Clean Water Act, Congress left important authority to the states, expressly determining to “recognize, preserve and protect the primary responsibilities and rights of states to prevent, reduce and eliminate pollution, [and] to plan the development and use . . . of land and water resources.”
The EPA has a role to play, but the states do, too.
Fighting against federal government overreach has been one of my priorities as attorney general. And federal overreach is precisely what is at issue in American Farm Bureau Federation v. EPA. While the details of that case involve the Chesapeake Bay, the principles at stake are far broader.
Indeed, the federal court deciding the case explained that the “dispute, at its core, raises questions regarding the proper division of duties between the states and the federal government” under the Clean Water Act.
Because of that critical issue, a coalition of 21 state attorneys general joined a friend-of-the-court brief led by Kansas defending individual states’ authority in environmental regulation. Contrary to what has been reported, by signing on to the friend-of-the-court brief, no taxpayer money was spent.
The 21 states are not alone in objecting to this federal overreach. Eight counties in three affected states (Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia) also filed a friend-of-the-court brief. According to those counties, which are suffering as a result of the EPA’s unauthorized actions, the “EPA usurped the state and local function” and simply “went too far.”
As a result, these counties anticipate that a significant area of their farmland will have to be removed from production. There are real consequences when the federal government acts beyond its authority.
Those who suggest that the attorneys general who joined the brief are anti-environment entirely miss the point. Everyone involved agrees that our environment must be protected — whether it’s the Chesapeake Bay, Florida’s springs, or the Mississippi River.
The issue is the division of federal and state authority. By joining the brief, I sought to defend Florida’s right to continue protecting its own environment without unnecessary federal intervention.
Florida has taken dramatic steps to protect its own resources, and I’m confident Florida will continue to do so. Recently, my office asked the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure that Florida receives its fair share of water flowing from Georgia, which is our best chance to save Apalachicola and the surrounding region from the devastation caused by Georgia’s overconsumption.
I also ended years of litigation by working with the EPA to reach an agreement to protect Florida’s waterways from excess nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. The agreement between the EPA and Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection allowed Florida's leaders, who know our waterways best, to implement their own sound criteria that will safeguard our water from excess nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.
The best way to serve the cause of environmental protection is to recognize states’ authority and be vigilant about EPA overreach. This brief is not about whether to protect the environment; it is about defending the important role Congress gave states in protecting their own widely varying environments.
I will remain steadfast in my efforts to stop the federal government from exceeding its authority and infringing on our rights.
Pam Bondi is attorney general of Florida.