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Bondi joins other states in lawsuit over protecting wetlands

Florida is home to more wetlands, such as the Big Cypress National Preserve shown here, than any other state except Alaska. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is suing to challenge new federal rules designed to better protect wetlands. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times (2008)] 
Florida is home to more wetlands, such as the Big Cypress National Preserve shown here, than any other state except Alaska. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is suing to challenge new federal rules designed to better protect wetlands. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2008)] 
Published Jul. 1, 2015

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi joined seven other states' top lawyers Tuesday in a suit challenging new federal rules designed to better protect the nation's wetlands.

The suit argues that the new rules from the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are "an attempt by two agencies of the federal government to usurp the states' primary responsibility for the management, protection, and care of intrastate waters and lands."

Florida has more wetlands than any state other than Alaska. In a statement Tuesday, Bondi said that "Florida is better suited than the federal government to establish the regulatory rules necessary to protect our unique waterways."

Yet state regulators seldom deny a permit to dump fill in wetlands. Last year Gov. Rick Scott applauded state regulators for reducing the time it takes to get a permit to two days. During Jeb Bush's term as governor from 1999 to 2006, getting a state permit to fill wetlands took an average of 44 days.

Tuesday's lawsuit was filed by Georgia and joined by Florida, West Virginia, Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Utah and Wisconsin. Seven of the states have Republican attorneys general. The eighth one, a Kentucky Democrat, is running for governor.

The suit cites a pair of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that said the EPA and corps were protecting wetlands that did not meet the requirements of 1972's Clean Water Act because they were seasonal, becoming wet only occasionally.

Those two U.S. Supreme Court rulings were so murky that one of the Clean Water Act's original sponsors, former Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., described them as a "bungle."

The new rules were designed to fix the myriad problems created by those two court rulings.

But the rules produced a backlash among the development and agriculture industries. On Tuesday, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam saluted Bondi for joining the suit.

"The unconstitutional expansion of the EPA's jurisdiction over the waters of the United States not only infringes on states' authority, but also it threatens the sound environmental protection programs we have in place today," Putnam said in a statement.

He didn't mention that the new rules exempt farmers if they pursue any one of 53 conservation measures. The Congressional Record also shows that sponsors of the original Clean Water Act in 1972 wanted it to cover every waterway in the United States.

Wetlands are supposed to be protected by state and federal law because they soak up floodwaters, help recharge the aquifer for drinking water and provide habitat for commercially valuable species. A 2005 Tampa Bay Times analysis found that since 1990, Florida had lost 84,000 acres of wetlands to development.

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes.

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