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Judge Won't Block Changes In Water Standards

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Andreas Swensson
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

An administrative law judge has refused to block the Florida Department of Environmental Protection from moving forward with new water-quality standards as legal battles continue over the controversial plan.

Judge Bram D.E Canter issued an order Monday rejecting a request by the Seminole Tribe of Florida for a stay that would have at least temporarily halted the formal process of adopting the standards. The tribe sought the stay as it pursues an appeal of an earlier ruling that tossed out a series of challenges to the standards.

In Monday's order, Canter sided with attorneys for the Department of Environmental Preservation and the state Environmental Regulation Commission who argued that the tribe was unlikely to be successful in the appeal.

The standards, which were developed by the Department of Environmental Protection and approved July 26 by the Environmental Regulation Commission, involve new and revised limits on chemicals in waterways, with the department saying the plan would allow it to regulate more chemicals while updating standards for others.

But the standards have drawn opposition from a variety of groups and local governments, with the Seminole Tribe, the city of Miami, Martin County and Florida Pulp and Paper Association Environmental Affairs, Inc., filing formal challenges in August. But Canter tossed out the challenges, saying they were not filed by a legal deadline in the state Division of Administrative Hearings.

The Seminole Tribe appealed that dismissal in the 2nd District Court of Appeal and also went back to Canter to request the stay. Meanwhile, the city of Miami filed an appeal of the dismissal in the 3rd District Court of Appeal, and Florida Pulp and Paper Association Environmental Affairs filed a notice Tuesday saying it was appealing in the 1st District Court of Appeal.

In seeking the stay, the Seminole Tribe said it was concerned that the new standards would allow higher levels of some chemicals that could affect fish and other wildlife eaten by tribal members.

Attorneys for the state, however, disputed that such harm would occur.

The standards are technically known as a proposed rule, which has to go through a formal adoption process. The rule also will have to go the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a review under the federal Clean Water Act.