Score one for clean water. A federal appeals court Wednesday rejected a bid by polluters and their enablers in state government to block new clean water rules for Florida. The ruling marks an important step toward better protecting the environment, private property, the drinking water supply and the state's fisheries, wildlife and tourism.
The court majority brushed aside an attempt by farmers and utilities to sidetrack an ongoing state-federal effort that would reduce the flow of nitrogen and phosphorus polluting the state's lakes, rivers and estuaries. While the court ruled on procedural grounds, it nonetheless laid out a robust defense for the core issue underlying the case — the federal government's intervention to prod Florida along after years of promises, inaction and now legal interference.
The ruling should motivate state officials to come up with serious, new clean water standards. And it gives a hammer to the federal government to step in if Florida drags its heels much further. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been too tolerant for too long; it, too, has been put on notice by the appeals court that the Clean Water Act is not some hollow ideal but a public health protection that Washington must be prepared to enforce.