Originally published by The News-Press and written by Chad Gillis on February 16, 2024

A district court judge ruled Friday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acted illegally when it gave Clean Water Act permitting over to the state of Florida.

“After considering these requests and weighing the seriousness of the defects as well as the potential disruptive consequences of vacatur (vacating), the Court concludes that the appropriate remedy is to VACATE the EPA’s approval of Florida’s assumption application,” the ruling from the Washington, D.C. court reads.

The state took over what is known as the Clean Water Act, Section 404 permitting in 2020, and environmental groups were highly critical of the change as they feared the state would lose key wetlands and protected species habitat.

FDEP spokeswoman Alexandra Kuchta said in February of 2023 that more than 1,500 Section 404 permits had been issued by the agency at that point, with 145 applications being denied.

Water quality advocates were glad to hear of the ruling as well.

Calusa Waterkeeper Emeritus John Cassani said many of the flawed permits were issued for Southwest Florida.

“Lee and Collier have led the state in applications that involve wetland destruction and the damage that has already been done is quite significant” Cassani said. “And when the wetlands don’t function as they should on the landscape, you see water quality decline as a result. We need to get back to some reasonable form of permitting that protects our wetlands.”

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