Lieberman Prods Agencies on Mismanagement of Florida Wetlands

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Thursday raised grave concerns about the federal government’s role in protecting endangered species, wetlands, and valuable natural resources in the Western Everglades.

In letters to the directors of three agencies responsible for overseeing management of southwestern Florida wetlands, Lieberman noted that the federal government appears to be “contributing to the creation of a potentially significant and costly problem” through lax enforcement of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The loss of watershed and wetland functions, of habitat for endangered or threatened species, and of clean water were among the concerns raised by citizens in the area and elaborated on in a disturbing report by the National and Florida Wildlife Federations and the Council of Civic Associations of Estero, Fla., entitled “Road to Ruin: How the U.S. Government is Permitting the Destruction of the Western Everglades.”

“I am extremely troubled by the assertions that the Corps of Engineers and other federal regulatory agencies have failed to fulfill their statutory mandates, thereby endangering a valuable national resource,” Lieberman wrote in letters to the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He also said he was “troubled about the implications of this report for the future of our nation’s precious resources.”

Citing the findings of the report, Lieberman said it appeared the government was ignoring the cumulative environmental impact of development in the area, which accounts for the loss of at least 880 wetland acres a year.

The Army Corps of Engineers developed an environmental impact statement to determine the effects of its permit-by-permit review of individual applications for building projects. The EIS was completed, but the Corps never followed through in issuing a decision about the permitting process.

Lieberman has asked the Corps, the EPA, and the Fish and Wildlife Service to explain their actions with regard to the disappearance of these wetlands.

The region in question – which includes the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, the Big Cypress National Preserve, and the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge – is “a valuable national resource where the federal government invests in the area’s national refuges, preserves, and estuarine research reserves,” Lieberman wrote. And The Wildlife Federation Report, “sounds a caution against repeating past mistakes, noting the extraordinary high cost of undoing the damage once it is done.”

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee is charged by the Senate rules with studying and investigating the efficiency, operations and management of all branches of Government. Throughout his tenure as both Chairman and Ranking Member on the Committee, Lieberman has used this mandate to ensure that the Executive Branch’s appropriately implements and complies with governing environmental rules.

Below are links to Lieberman’s three letters.