Water-Related News

Environmental groups oppose a stay in the fight over wetlands permitting in Florida

Environmental groups Thursday pushed back against a request by Florida for a partial stay of a ruling in a legal battle about a 2020 decision that shifted permitting authority from the federal government to the state for projects that affect wetlands.

U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss on Feb. 15 ruled that actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in approving the shift violated the Endangered Species Act.

Moss issued an order vacating the approval of the shift.

Such permitting authority is usually held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Saying permits were in “regulatory limbo,” the state filed a motion for a limited stay of Moss’ ruling to keep the “bulk” of Florida’s permitting program in place until a new plan can be put in place or until further court decisions.

But in a 22-page filing Thursday, environmental groups argued the state’s request would “create confusion and perpetuate violations” of the Endangered Species Act.

“The least disruptive path forward, which would also serve developers’ interest in clarity … is therefore to deny a limited stay, leave permitting authority with the (Army) Corps, and allow Florida to propose a new program subject to EPA approval,” Thursday’s filing said.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation, Miami Waterkeeper and St. Johns Riverkeeper filed the lawsuit in January 2021 against the federal government.

The state later intervened.

The U.S. Department of Justice has opposed the state’s request for a partial stay of Moss’ ruling, but Florida business groups have supported the request.