CEJ is looking for an Associate Director to help advance laws, policies, and governance systems aimed to legally protect the sustainability of life and health on Earth.
The Center for Earth Jurisprudence (CEJ) is the only Center situated within a U.S. law school fully dedicated to the advancement of legal consideration of the inherent rights of nature and the inclusion of Earth Jurisprudence courses within the law school curriculum. The Associate Director will primarily assist the Director in the design, implementation, and management of multiple aspects of the Center including research and publications, programming, public presence, enhancement of visibility and social media presence, and resource acquisition.
The Associate Director will be joining CEJ at a time of renewed vision and commitment in addressing legal, cultural, and ethical responses to the increasing global impacts of climate change and vast ecological and human suffering.
For more information and to submit your application for consideration, please visit CEJ Associate Director Search.
On October 18, 2017, the Center for Earth Jurisprudence hosted the Wekiva River and Springs Public Forum at the Orlando Science Center. With the Florida Springs Institute and the League of Women Voters of Orange County, CEJ welcomed over 100 members of the community to discuss the current state of our precious springs as well as what legal remedies are available to us to ensure their restoration and protection.
The evening began with cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, and lively conversation between local leaders and citizens concerned about the current state of Florida’s springs.
CEJ’s Director, Margaret Stewart, welcomed the night’s attendees and introduced the program, beginning with Dr. Robert Knight of the Florida Springs Institute. Dr. Knight discussed the current state of our springs, specifically in Central Florida, and shared some actions we can all take to help mitigate damage and restore them to healthy levels.
CEJ’s Director returned to the stage to explain the legal remedies and protections currently available to our springs and what the requirements are for each. While this discussion was cut short due to time constraints, the overall conclusion was that while the Wekiva River Basin is one of the most heavily protected water bodies in the state, the execution of these protections is still wanting and stronger, more comprehensive approaches are needed.
The evening concluded with a panel made up of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Deputy Secretary of Ecosystem Restoration Drew Bartlett, Marty Sullivan of the League of Women Voters, and Aliki Moncrief, Executive Director of the Florida Conservation Voters (Unfortunately, Senator David Simmons was unable to participate as promised).
The Panel was moderated by Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine who opened with an extended prologue on his work to address the septic tank problems in Central Florida. Following this, the panel picked up with the question posed at the end of the legal discussion: How is the Comprehensive Water Bill working so far?
The panel discussed at the length the pros and cons of the Bill as well as the need for proper appropriations of Amendment 1 funds. The questions posed by the audience were indicative of the widespread concern for the health and longevity of our springs.
CEJ remains committed to spreading awareness of the problems facing our ecosystem locally, nationally, and internationally through educational outreach programs such as the Wekiva River and Springs Public Forum. Stayed tuned for more programs coming soon!
Please join us TOMORROW for an evening of food, beverages, and Springs education!
The Center for Earth Jurisprudence, the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, and the League of Women Voters of Orange County, Florida invite you to join us for a free informational program on restoring the Wekiva River and Springs.
The event will feature speakers on current springs science and policy. Dr. Robert Knight, Executive Director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, will kick off the forum with an update on the science and current environmental health of the Wekiva River and Wekiwa Springs. Margaret Stewart, Director of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence, will address current springs protection laws and what progress has been made to restore our local springs.
The event will conclude with a panel discussion featuring local and state leaders on water initiatives for the upcoming 2018 legislative session.
Commissioner Lee Constantine
Seminole County Board of Commissioners District 3
Senator David Simmons
Florida Senate, Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee
Deputy Secretary for Water Policy and Ecosystem Restoration, Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Aliki Moncrief, Esq.
Executive Director, Florida Conservation Voters Education Fund
Cocktail hour begins at 5:30 p.m.
Please register at lwvoc.org. We hope to see you there!
With equal sadness and excitement, CEJ would like to announce our current Director, Traci Deen, is transitioning into a new role as Executive Director of the Conservation Trust for Florida. There, she will be overseeing state-wide land conservation efforts to protect Florida’s wild and working lands. Please join us in congratulating her as she enters this new and exciting chapter!
Margaret Stewart, CEJ’s Associate Director, has accepted a promotion to serve as CEJ’s Director. She has been with CEJ since early 2016, has her J.D., her LL.M, and a Masters in Public Administration with an emphasis in Nonprofit Management. She currently serves on the Executive Committee and as Legal Chair for the Florida Springs Council. She is on the Board of the Orange County League of Women Voters and serves as the Natural Resources Chair. She’s a member of the Florida Bar, the Central Florida Women Lawyers Association, the Orange County Bar Association, and is a member of the Environmental & Land Use Law and Public Interest Law sections of the Florida Bar.
In her time at CEJ, she has created educational forums throughout the United States and abroad, worked with the team in the generation of strategic partnerships, assisted with CEJ communications, including social and print media, and oversaw the well-being of the Center in many ways. Margaret is responsible for the identification and application of grants and other fundraising initiatives that have supported the Center’s continued work. She also serves as the key Advisor to three law students that work with the Center as Earth Law & Policy Fellows.
While in law school herself, Margaret earned her Environmental & Earth Law Honors Certificate, served as Secretary of the Environmental Law Society, Senior Editor of the Environmental & Earth Law Journal, and worked two semesters in the Environmental and Earth Law Clinic. There, her research focused mainly on the Public Trust Doctrine’s application in Florida and issues regarding fracking. She was awarded the Charles A. Modica Student Mentor Award in recognition for her care and compassion on mentoring fellow students, an acknowledgment she takes great pride in. As an Honors Board member of the Moot Court team, Margaret argued in the Pace National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition, advancing to the semifinals in 2015.
We have no doubt that she will excel in this role, and will continue to bring her passion for environmental protection to the table as she leads the CEJ team. We will be hiring an Associate Director to fill her position in the near future.
We are confident that CEJ will remain strong and healthy as we transition into our new roles, due in no small part to our Advisory Board, our incredible staff, and the support of Barry University.
Thank you all,
The CEJ Staff
CEJ is looking for motivated and enthusiastic Barry Law students to work with us this semester!
For more information about this competitive, paid fellowship please visit https://barryu.wd5.myworkdayjobs.com/BarryUStudentJobs/job/Orlando--Law-Campus/Earth-Law---Policy-Fellow_R0001815-1
Application Deadline: August 21, 2017.
Staff Attorney Position Available
The Center for Earth Jurisprudence is seeking a Staff Attorney to assist in legal and legislative matters on a contractual, as-needed basis.
Margaret Stewart, firstname.lastname@example.org, 321-206-5691
December 7, 2016
Physical Office: 6441 East Colonial Drive, Orlando FL 32807. Position mostly remote.
Admission to the Florida Bar required. Three to five years of experience (minimum) in litigation, appellate, or legislative advocacy; public policy formation; demonstration of ability to distinguish between environmental law and Earth Jurisprudence; understanding how social movements are generated and maintained; love and respect for natural environment; comprehensive knowledge of environmental and earth law theories, concepts and practices and ability to use in complex, difficult and/or unprecedented situations.
Negotiable and commensurate with experience, hourly basis
Position will remain open until filled
Please send application materials by January 6, 2017
Please send resume to Margaret Stewart at email@example.com
Description of the Position
The Center for Earth Jurisprudence is seeking a Staff Attorney to assist in legal and legislative matters on a contractual, as-needed basis. At the request of the Director, the Staff Attorney will be responsible for:
- Drafting legal memoranda, administrative comments, legal briefs, proposed legislation, and legal strategies that advance CEJ’s adopted positions.
- Assist the CEJ Team in developing a template for strategic legal initiatives for the Center to increase the legal protection of nature.
- Identify and collaborate with environmental and legal partners in increasing legislative and community awareness and support to enhance greater legal protection of ecosystems, both local and national.
CEJ is the only Center within a U.S. law school dedicated to advancing laws, policy, and governance designed to protect the natural systems, species, and entities that sustain life on Earth through the use of Earth Law principles. Our work is based upon the concept that humanity has a basic responsibility to care for and protect the long-term health and well-being of Earth, meaning all beings and ecosystems that constitute the natural world, recognizing that humanity is an integral and interdependent part of nature. Earth Jurisprudence is an emerging field of law that encompasses both environmental ethics and legal practice. In the past 10 years CEJ has advanced its outreach, programming and visibility significantly.
On September 30, 2016, the CEJ team attended and participated in an event that Dr. Robert Knight of the Florida Springs Institute called “the most significant springs event in a decade.” The Florida Springs Restoration Summit, organized by the Florida Springs Council, was a two-day conference in Ocala that brought together scientists, legal experts, agency & environmental organization managers, water advocates, and artists to learn about the problems facing Florida’s freshwater springs and to brainstorm ways to solve these problems. The keynote speakers were noted photographer and author John Moran and U.S. Congresswomen Gwen Graham.
Katie Tripp of the Save the Manatee Club, who chairs the Florida Springs Council’s Education Committee explained, “The vision for the Summit is for people to leave with a plan of action that can serve as a roadmap forward as well as a summary of where we’ve been and where we are now.”
The CEJ team was present and active throughout the Summit. Our Director, Traci Deen, led the Legal Remedies Panel and our Staff Attorney, Rob Williams, presented on the Legislative Initiatives panel. Additionally, two of CEJ’s Advisory Board members, Clay Henderson and Lucinda Merritt, participated in the Summit.
Legal Remedies Panel
CEJ’s Director, Traci Deen, introduced and led this incredible panel filled with leading experts on the legal options available for effective springs protection and restoration. The panel included attorneys Clay Henderson, John Thomas, John Joplin, and activist, Linda Young. As Traci explained, this esteemed panel would address what laws are working, what laws are not working, and what litigation is ongoing now to protect water in Florida.
CEJ Advisory Board member, Clay Henderson, gave a powerful opening presentation on the legal remedies panel. Clay, an environmental attorney, is the Executive Director of the Stetson Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience. He has sponsored or co-authored most of the natural resource protection provisions in the Florida Constitution, including Amendment 1, the largest voter-approved conservation funding initiative in our nation’s history, and the creation of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He led the development of nationally-recognized land conservation programs, including Volusia Forever (1986 and 2000), Florida Communities Trust (1990), Preservation 2000 (1991) Florida Forever (1999), and has negotiated more than 300,000 acres of lands now part of national and state parks, forests, and wildlife refuges.
As Clay explained, effective legal mechanisms are still available, for the most part. The problem is the current political reality. For example, the 2016 Water Bill entitled The Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act (SB 552), provided some significant tools for springs protection and restoration. However, it needs more oversight, better implementation, and a number of amendments. Senator David Simmons described the Act during the legislative initiatives panel: "It's a home run, but we're only in the first inning. We have  innings to go."
Clay explained that as the co-author of the “good” Amendment 1, he is disappointed that it hasn’t lived up to his expectations. We need more oversight, accountability, and transparency of the spending of Amendment 1 funds. There is approximately $1 billion for springs restoration at stake. From these examples, we see that as Clay explained, there are many legal tools available, but we need to ensure they are implemented effectively going forward.
When asked how advocates can utilize the legal remedies available for springs protection and restoration, Clay has three suggestions: (1) Engage, (2) perfect your legal standing, and (3) don't be afraid to pull the trigger.
Legislative Initiatives Panel
Rob Williams, CEJ’s staff attorney, discussed the current legislative initiatives available to us and how they are working.
According to Rob, “Florida Forever has been fantastic for our springs. Since 1991, the First Magnitude Springs Project under Florida Forever has acquired roughly 9500 acres of land at a cost of over $100 million. It thereby protected some of our finest springs.” As Rob explained, this is a testament to what can be done when the tools available to us are implemented and executed effectively. However, he continued, “There are still 6500 acres to go. That’s something we need to do.” There are still essential areas that need to be acquired for sufficient springs protection.
We need more comprehensive planning in our land acquisition and springs protection/ restoration efforts. The lack of cohesive, large-scale planning was addressed as a major impediment to springs protection and restoration by many of the panelists throughout the Summit.
Friday’s keynote speaker was photographer and author, John Moran. As usual, John brought with him some truly stunning pictures of Florida’s incredible ecosystems.
However, as his presentation explained, his pictures are increasingly becoming more about the destruction of Florida’s environment than the beauty of it. What used to be clear and blue is now murky and green. Elevated nitrate levels and overall ecological degradation is quickly destroying all that makes Florida unique and beautiful.
As John so poignantly explained:
Saturday’s keynote speaker was U.S. Congresswoman, Gwen Graham. Representative Graham delivered an informative, passionate, and direct address to the Summit’s attendees.
She began describing her own personal experiences and appreciation of Florida's environment, instilled in her at a young age by her father, Senator Bob Graham. She not only eloquently illustrated her own love and appreciation for Florida's natural wonders, but explained that the environmental degradation we are seeing across the state is merely one symptom of a much larger disease. She stated her belief that the absence of bipartisan environmental policies, like those present during her father's time in office, have lead to the current, critical state of Florida's ecosystem. She explained that she, like most of us, worries about future generations and whether they will be able to enjoy and appreciate Florida's natural treasures as we have. As she so emphatically stated:
She passionately stated to the audience that protecting our natural treasures is not just policy, but personal. She then quoted one of our favorite authors, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings:
Congresswoman Graham ended her address with words of hope and encouragement, stating that the collection of people in the room gave her confidence in the future protection and restoration of Florida's springs.
Overall, the Summit was insightful and inspirational-- and frankly, we couldn't agree more with Congresswoman Graham in feeling optimistic at its conclusion, due in large part to the springs advocates we were with in that very room.
CEJ’s Director attended the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress as an advocate for Earth Law and Policy. This quadrennial event is attended by global leaders and high-ranking government officials, nonprofit organizations, scientists, academics, artists, business leaders, and indigenous representatives from all over the world. At the opening ceremonies on September 1, 2016, IUCN President Zhang Xinsheng announced that over 9,000 participants from 190+ countries attended the Congress this year--a truly global and diverse gathering.
Traci Deen was selected to serve on the IUCN Junior Research Task Force throughout the Congress and invited to speak at the Emerging Leaders in Environmental Law event hosted by the World Commission on Environmental Law and the William S. Richardson School of Law at University of Hawaii.
What is the IUCN World Conservation Congress?
The International Union for Conservation of Nature is a membership Union, uniquely composed of both government and civil society organizations. It provides public, private, and non-governmental organizations with the knowledge and tools that enable human progress, economic development and nature conservation to take place together. Its members derive from 161 countries, 217 state and government agencies, 1066 non-governmental organizations, and approximately 16,000 experts on the state of the world’s natural resources. IUCN meets every four years at the IUCN World Conservation Congress to set priorities and agree on the Union’s work programme. IUCN congresses have produced several key international environmental agreements including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the World Heritage Convention, and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands.
"Humans need to be kind to Mother Earth. Together there is no limit to what we humans can achieve." - Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment
This year’s theme was “Planet at the Crossroads.” As the IUCN explains:
This year marked the first time the Congress was held in the United States. IUCN President Xinsheng stated the this year's Congress was "about moving 2015's historic global agreements into action."
CEJ, along with other members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, advocated at the Congress that the implementation of Resolution 100 into the 2017-2020 Work Programme would encourage the necessary shift from an anthropocentric to an Earth-centered worldview and ethic, particularly in Environmental Law and Policy. This shift would help fulfill goals for sustainable development and achieving climate neutrality.
What is Resolution 100?
Four years ago at the 2014 Congress, IUCN members recognized nature’s rights by passing Resolution 100, “Incorporation of the Rights of Nature as the organizational focal point in IUCN’s decision making.” This Resolution called for nature’s rights to be a “fundamental and absolute key element in all IUCN decisions,” and recommended development of a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Nature. We partnered with the Earth Law Center, and other members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature while at the IUCN Congress, in part to ask that the IUCN continue to incorporate Rights of Nature in IUCN motions and the 2017-2020 Work Programme.
Earth Law at the IUCN Congress
CEJ was advocating for Earth Law and Policy at every opportunity.
This IUCN Congress held several sessions dedicated to examining environmental laws worldwide. One in particular, led by the Earth Law Center and co-sponsored by CEJ, Earth-Centered Law and Regulation for Safeguarding Nature, explored the latest developments in the Rights of Nature and Earth Jurisprudence movement, examined our responsibilities towards nature, and discussed reparations for ecological damage. Participants, including some of the world’s top environmental legal minds, developed from the Workshop a list of actions and best practices to move Earth-centered law and policy forward.
Another, Environmental Rule of Law: Rights-Based Approaches, Sustainable Development, and the Way Forward, led by the Environmental Law Institute, raised awareness on the status of environmental rule of law, and explored opportunities to advance concrete measures for achieving environmental rule of law. Emphasizing that environmental rule of law prioritizes environmental sustainability by connecting it with fundamental rights and obligations, the session evaluated the World Declaration of the Environmental Rule of Law, which, notably states that “All life has the inherent right to exist.” CEJ was in attendance for this session, and many of the World Commission on Environmental Law sessions, networking and learning from environmental law leaders from around the world.
While at the Congress, CEJ's Director spoke at the Emerging Leaders in Environmental Law event at the William S. Richardson School of Law at University of Hawaii on Earth Law as a path forward. There, she stated, in part:
Advancing Earth Law at the IUCN Congress
So, what happened? IUCN adopted Earth Jurisprudence principles into two motions & the 2017-2020 Work Programme!
IUCN recognized Earth Jurisprudence principles, and especially the inherent rights of nature, in two approved motions and in its 2017-20 Work Programme. The two motions, Crimes against the Environment and Humanity's Right to a Healthy Environment, both recall Resolution 100 as a basis for passage, citing to Res. 100's language that incorporation of the Rights of Nature shall be an "organizational focal point in IUCN's decision making," and "calls for consideration of the Rights of Nature as a 'fundamental and absolute key element" in all areas of IUCN intervention and decision making.'"
These motions recognize many Earth Jurisprudence principles, including the dependence of people on a healthy planet, the ecological crisis we face today, the duty of care we have to the natural entities that sustain life on Earth, our responsibility to future generations, and the inherent value and rights of nature.
Additionally, the IUCN Work Programme also implemented Resolution 100. From the IUCN website, the Work Programme serves the following purpose:
- Valuing and conserving nature -enhances IUCN’s heartland work on biodiversity conservation, emphasizing both tangible and intangible values of nature.
- Effective and equitable governance of nature’s use -consolidates IUCN’s work on people-nature relations, rights and responsibilities, and the political economy of nature.
- Deploying nature-based solutions to global challenges -expands IUCN’s work on nature’s contribution to tackling problems of sustainable development, particularly in climate change, food security and social and economic development.
The 2017-20 Work Programme now states, in part : "IUCN ... aims to secure the rights of nature and the vulnerable parts of society through strengthening governance and the rights-based approach to conservation. "
This timely adoption of rights of nature into the IUCN Work Programme came only weeks after the United Nations Harmony with Nature Initiative released its report calling for, in part, the "support for implementation of the IUCN resolution (WCC-2012-Res-100, September 2012) calling for the incorporation of the rights of Nature concepts into law and science."
This is a promising step forward for Earth Jurisprudence, and one we look forward to seeing evolve and grow over time!
CEJ is pleased to announce the promotion of Margaret Stewart, Esq. to Associate Director. Margaret joined the CEJ team earlier this year as the Manager of Programs and Operations. In that time, she has represented CEJ at the World Social Forum in Montreal and has assisted in the planning and execution of CEJ events.
Margaret is on the Executive Committee of the Florida Springs Council, serving as Chair of the Legal Committee. She also serves on the Social Media Sub-Committee of the Orange County League of Women Voters Natural Resource Action Group and is an active member of the Central Florida Association of Women Lawyers. She has earned her B.A. in Political Science, her M.P.A. in Non-Profit & Human Resources Management, and her Juris Doctorate. She is a member of the Florida Bar.
Margaret enjoys traveling to new destinations and is always ready for the next adventure. Being from an urban jungle like Philadelphia, she has delighted in the natural treasures of Florida over the past four years.
Margaret shared, “I am honored to be working for an organization with such an incredible legacy and am looking forward to this next step in my career, continuing to do something that I am passionate about.”
In honor of our 10th anniversary, we are throwing it back in a #TBT series! Take a walk down memory lane with us. In this post, we are featuring an article written for CEJ's December 2012 Groundswell. Unfortunately, the need for greater environmental protections for Florida Springs is just as dire today as it was when this was written- if not more so. With the water problems Florida is experiencing statewide, this article is as relevant today as it was in 2012.* As you can see, CEJ has remained an outspoken advocate for Florida Springs for many years. We intend to continue fighting for greater legal consideration of Florida's natural systems in the years to come.
*Please keep in mind that some of the citations and data may be outdated. However, the point remains that a new legal approach is needed to truly protect Florida Springs. Enjoy this #TBT article!
Right to Farm or Right to Pollute?
By Robert A. Williams, Staff Attorney | Center for Earth Jurisprudence
Originally published in the December 2012 Groundswell
Part of Earth Jurisprudence’s critique of existing environmental regulation is that all too often, what starts as an attempt to regulate polluters ends up being a license to pollute. This classic “licensing a wrong” effect demonstrates the inadequacy of a regulatory approach that focuses solely on human needs and wants: it legally protects acts of pollution, while disregarding any right of nature–in this case, Florida’s springs ecosystems—to be healthy in its own regard. Florida’s regulation of agricultural nitrate pollution provides a textbook example of this pattern.
One of the biggest threats facing Florida’s springs is the growing concentration of nitrate in groundwater, which feeds the growth of filamentous algae species such as Lyngbya. There is plenty of blame to go around—lawn fertilizer, septic tanks, and inadequate treatment of waste water all contribute to the nitrate problem. However, in many of the major springsheds, agriculture is the primary source of the nitrate that is killing the springs.
The Santa Fe River Basin, which contains the beautiful Ichetucknee Springs, is a case in point. Nearly 80% of the total nitrogen load to the Santa Fe from nonpoint sources comes from agricultural activities. There is no way that we can solve the problem of nitrate pollution in the Santa Fe River basin without effective regulation of agriculture requiring significant reductions in the amount of nitrate that agricultural operations put into the aquifer.
However, effective regulation is frustrated at every turn. When the Department of Environmental Protection attempted in 2008 to set the level of allowable nitrate at 0.286 mg/L, agricultural interests represented by the Suwannee River Partnership vociferously objected and were successful in having the level of allowable nitrate pollution increased to 0.35 mg/L.
Setting the target level of nitrate is only the first step in the regulatory process. The standard known as the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) is implemented through the creation of a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP). The BMAP is developed with the “stakeholders,” which usually consist of the major polluters. In this case the “stakeholders” were the same special interests who objected to the proposed TMDL.
In fact, four years later most of the area covered by the 2008 TMDL—including two of Florida’s largest springs, Fanning Springs and Manatee Springs—still [did] not even have an approved implementation plan. [In 2012], with great fanfare, Secretary Vinyard, flanked by various agribusiness interests, announced that a BMAP had been finalized for the Santa Fe River Basin portion of the area covered by the 2008 TMDL. But don’t expect to see any improvement any time soon: the plan specifically states that the TMDL “will not be achieved for several decades.”[i] In the meantime, the priceless springs of the Suwannee River and its tributaries will continue to deteriorate.
The major reason that progress is so slow is the failure to effectively regulate agricultural polluters. In order to meet the 0.35 mg/L target, the agricultural sector would have to reduce nitrate pollution by 35%. However, the manner in which this is to be achieved is through the voluntary adoption of what are known as Best Management Practices (BMPs) established by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS). Farmers have a choice: they can either agree to adopt the BMPs or they can demonstrate that they are in compliance with the standard.
Farmers, however, have a powerful incentive to opt for the BMPs: adoption of the BMPs provides a presumption of compliance with state water quality standards and release from the provisions of Section 376.307(5), Florida Statutes, for those pollutants addressed by the practice. Furthermore, the Department of Environmental Protection is not authorized to institute proceedings against the owner or source of the pollution to recover costs or damages associated with the contamination of surface or groundwater caused by those pollutants.
There is another benefit for farmers who adopt the BMPs. Under Florida’s Right to Farm Act, Section 823.14, Florida Statutes, farming operations which have been in operation for year or more and which were not nuisances when they were established are immune from suit for either public or private nuisance, as long as the operation conforms to generally accepted agricultural and management practices. Moreover, the Right to Farm Act prohibits local governments from adopting any rules or ordinances which regulate farming activities conducted in accordance with the BMPs.
The Santa Fe River Basin Management Action Plan makes it clear that this grant of immunity to agriculture is one of the key assumptions underlying the plan:
By law, agricultural producers who implement FDACS-adopted BMPs applicable to their operations (identified through the submittal of a NOI [Notice of Intent]) have a presumption of compliance with state water quality standards.[ii]
But this isn’t quite true: according to the applicable statute, only “[i]mplementation . . . of practices that have been initially verified to be effective, or verified to be effective by monitoring at representative sites, by the department”[iii] provides the presumption of compliance. Effectiveness refers not merely to whether the practices reduce the pollution, but to whether they are likely to achieve the targets set forth in the BMAP:
Where interim measures, best management practices, or other measures are adopted by rule, the effectiveness of such practices in achieving the levels of pollution reduction established in allocations developed by the department . . . must be verified at representative sites by the department. The department shall use best professional judgment in making the initial verification that the best management practices are reasonably expected to be effective.[iv]
That is not is what [was] happening. The Department of Environmental Protection did not make an initial verification that following the BMPs [could] be reasonably expected to result in a 35% reduction in nitrates coming from agriculture in the Santa Fe River Basin. Apparently, the Department’s view is that DACS may set the BMPs based on the particular crop activity on a state-wide basis, without regard to a specific TMDL. Again, that is not what the statute appears to say:
[DACS] may develop and adopt by rule . . . suitable interim measures, best management practices, or other measures necessary to achieve the level of pollution reduction established by the department for agricultural pollutant sources.[v]
One recently adopted BMP rule is typical. The Best Management Practices for Florida Equine Operations says that its purpose “is to effect pollutant reduction through the implementation of agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) that may be determined to have minimal individual or cumulative adverse impacts to the water resources of the state.”[vi] However, just because the harmful effects have been minimized does not mean that they are minimal. There certainly is no connection between following the practices and meeting the targeted reduction.
For example, the manual says that is a best practice to follow the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) guidelines for pasture fertilization.[vii] The IFAS guidelines recommend that not more than 50 to 160 pounds of nitrogen be applied per acre, depending on grazing use, whether the pasture is being cut for hay, and other factors.[viii] Because data suggests that farmers use about 69 pounds of nitrogen per acre on improved pasture, following the recommendations is not likely to have a big impact on the nitrate load coming from improved pasture, which is one of the biggest single sources of nitrate load in the Santa Fe River basin.
The DACS rule also provides for the Presumption of Compliance:
[A]gricultural operations that implement BMPs, in accordance with FDACS rules, that have been verified by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as effective in reducing pollutants addressed by the practices are presumed to comply with state water quality standards, and are released from the provisions of the Section 376.307(5), F.S., for those pollutants.[ix]
In other words, the farmers are off the hook for polluting the aquifer as long as they make some effort to reduce nitrate, even if those efforts are insufficient to meet the target.
The failure to link the BMPs to the required reductions makes it almost certain that the target level will not be reached. This is even more true in the areas where the approved TMDLs require even greater reductions in the amount of nitrate to reach the 0.35 mg/L target. The proposed TMDLs for Silver and Rainbow Springs require 79% and 82% reductions, respectively. These levels of reduction cannot be obtained by compliance with the published BMPs. Thus the BMAPs essentially become licenses to continue to dump nitrates into the aquifer at levels known to cause ecological harm.
The obvious failure of our current environmental regulations to protect some of the most important and unique ecosystems argues for a new approach. New models for environmental protection based on the rights of nature are emerging around the world. Most recently, New Zealand has recognized the Whanganui River and its tributaries as a legal entity with rights as an “integrated, living whole.”[x] Two guardians will be appointed to oversee the health and well-being of the river pursuant to this new legal recognition. A case in Ecuador has similarly protected the rights of waterways to flow in a case on the Vilcabamba River that implemented the country’s landmark 2008 constitutional provisions recognizing the rights of nature.[xi]
In the past, Florida has often been a pioneer in environmental regulation. Isn’t it about time that we reclaimed that role by taking action to protect Florida’s precious springs? Licensing the wrongs being visited upon the springs ecosystems can never make them right. But an Earth jurisprudence approach could change that destructive pattern, by recognizing in law the inherent rights of springs and spring-dependent species to exist and flourish.
[i] Bureau of Watershed Restoration, Fla. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., Basin Management Action Plan for the Implementation of Total Daily Maximum Loads for Nutrients Adopted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in the Santa Fe River Basin 10 (2012), available at http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/watersheds/docs/bmap/sfr-nutrient-bmap-final.pdf.
[iii] Fla. Stat. § 403.067(7)(c) 3 (2012) (emphasis added).
[v] Fla. Stat § 403.067(7)(c) 2 (2012).
[vi] Fla. Admin. Code Ann. 5M-14.001 (2012).
[vii] Dep’t of Agric. and Consumer Servs., Water Quality/Quantity Best Management Practices for Florida Equine Operations 11 (2011), available at https://www.flrules.org/Gateway/reference.asp?No=Ref-00772.
[viii] R. Mylavarapu, et al., UF/IFAS Standardized Fertilization Recommendations for Agronomic Crops, SL-129 (2009), available at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/SS163.
[ix] Fla. Admin. Code Ann. 5M-14.003 (2012).
[x] Kate Shuttleworth, Agreement Entitles Whanganui River to Legal Identity, New Zealand Herald, Aug. 30, 2012, available at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10830586 (quoting Christopher Finlayson).
[xi] Natalia Greene, The First Successful Case of the Rights of Nature Implementation in Ecuador, http://therightsofnature.org/first-ron-case-ecuador/ (last visited Nov. 16, 2012); Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador Oct. 20, 2008, art. 71, available at http://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Ecuador/english08.html.
On August 11, 2016, CEJ co-hosted two sessions at the World Social Forum in Montreal.
CEJ, as a member of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, joined other prominent advocates of the Rights of Nature movement on Wednesday.
The two events, entitled "A World in which Nature has Rights," and "Rights of Nature Forum," explored global movements aimed at creating a new legal framework that extends legal standing to nature. Here's an abbreviated overview:
The first session began with an opening prayer from guest Indigenous Leaders. Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN then provided the full room of attendees with an overview of the Rights of Nature movement.
Nati Greene of Ecuador followed, giving a hopeful yet realistic account of what the past few years have been like in Ecuador (since the adoption of rights of nature into their constitution). She explained that now people can prosecute those who kill panthers and pollute streams. She told the room about a lawyer who got into a boat and sailed out to serve fishermen who were shark finning. However, she also discussed the realities of a rights-based system as well; that the fight is not over once the rights are recognized. Rights are something that must continually be asserted and defended against. She discussed the importance of the International Tribunals in spreading this awareness and how successful GARN’s three previous tribunals have been.
Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network then spoke from the indigenous perspective. He brought with him the symbolic braided sweet grass. This beautiful plant is used in prayer and as medicine. However, it is getting harder and harder to find in the United States. Tom explained that they now acquire it from their relatives in Canada, but he wonders how much longer it will be available there as well.
Our very own Margaret Stewart, Esq., Manager of our Programs and Operations, then discussed the practical application of rights of nature as it pertains to our current legal systems. She explained the problems with the current environmental regulatory system and used case studies from Pennsylvania and Florida to show how significant establishing legal standing for nature is. She discussed different legal theories that have started us down the road to a rights-based system, such as the public trust doctrine and the precautionary principle, but explained how formal, legal adoption of rights-based policies will address the lack of standing issue currently in our system.
Manari Ushigua, a Sápara leader, then discussed his people's experience in the Amazonian Rainforest of Ecuador. He shared how they live in harmony with Earth and how over-consumption and over-extraction are affecting that harmony. He pointed out that Mother Earth will persevere and will survive whatever we do to her--she just may not include us in that survival.
Lastly, Pablo Salon explained that we must be fighting against anthropocentrism. He also alluded to an interesting correlation between how we treat nature and how we treat women in society.
When discussing his work in attempting to prevent a mega-dam from being built in Bolivia, he conveyed the importance of grassroots efforts and how laws are only one piece of the puzzle. In Bolivia, he said, he has not experienced much success with relying solely on written laws. Instead, he said, large grassroots movements are needed to support these changes.
The first forum ended with a lively discussion between the attendees and the panelists. The topics ranged from media attention around the tribunals, to concerns with the “rights based” approach, to strategic approaches to bring these concepts to local communities.
In the second session, the panelists primarily reiterated their earlier thoughts to a whole new, packed audience.
However, this time Maude Barlow, Canadian author and National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, joined the panel. She discussed the shortcomings in Canada’s water policies and the need to change to how we approach such regulations. She explained that she has spent many years fighting for people’s right to clean water. However, once that was adopted by the United Nations, she has since shifted her focus to the intrinsic rights of the water itself. Her experience has shown her that these two things go hand-in-hand--human rights and rights of nature. As she stated, we need to stop worrying about treating water and start worrying about protecting it from the start.
The discussion that followed was just as lively and enthusiastic as the first. The attendees asked about additional rights of nature success stories and how to begin this fight (i.e. with other citizens, with government officials, on the local, state, or federal level?). As our team member, Margaret Stewart, answered, it really is all the above. Attaining rights of nature policies will ultimately be a multifaceted approach that will require both formal adoption of laws and governance systems, but also grassroots support to ensure that those rights are recognized and enforced.
What's going on with solar energy policy in Florida?
First, what is solar energy?
Solar energy is considered one of the cleanest and most abundant forms of energy available. Solar technology directly converts sunlight to electricity.
Solar energy is plentiful, clean, reliable and efficient. CEJ cares about solar policy because it is smart for the State, smart for the planet, smart for the economy and one step closer to addressing, through policy, how people live responsibly on Earth.
Florida ranks third in the nation for rooftop solar potential, but all the way down at 14th for actual solar installed.
Tapping into that potential would great, but there are some boundaries that solar has to get through to flourish in The Sunshine State.
There will be two very different solar amendments on the ballot this year, one in August and one in November.
The first is Amendment 4, which we will see on the August primary ballot. This amendment will address one of the barriers facing solar growth.
This could encourage the development of solar business in Florida, encourage the use and installation of solar energy devices, create jobs, and bring diversity to the State’s energy grid—it’s good for business and it's good for homeowners, it’s good for the economic climate-- and well, for our actual climate.
Overall, this is a smart step in renewable energy policy in Florida.
Floridians will see another solar related amendment on the November ballot. The “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice,” or Amendment 1.
This amendment is much different. What does it do? It's constitutionalizing the "status quo," --the current status of solar energy policy.
More notably, Amendment 1 constitutionalizes the right for State and local governments to regulate solar power, as they do now.
The Utility backed proposal does not immediately expand consumer choice, or create a competitive marketplace.
In a 4-3 approval of the ballot language, Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente delivered a powerful dissent calling this amendment a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
In a footnote, she further expressed that “[d]ue to the use and definitions of certain terms within the proposed amendment, it may actually have the effect of diminishing some rights of solar energy consumers."
There you have it—this is what’s going on with the two solar amendments in Florida in 2016.
For more information on solar energy, the amendments, the full Florida Supreme Court Opinion, and op-eds, please see the links below.
Florida Supreme Court:
Opinion and dissent can be read in its entirety here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2016/sc15-2150.pdf
On Solar Energy: