Date: May 6, 2021
The Honorable Michael Regan, Administrator
US Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460
Dear Administrator Regan,
America’s first national preserve, Big Cypress National Preserve — part of the National Park system and a vital part of the Everglades – is under imminent threat from oil development.1 We ask that you object to the Burnett Oil Company, Inc.’s Section 404 Clean Water Act permit applications requesting to fill in waters of the U.S. to drill for oil in the Preserve. The proposed oil extraction activities are not in the public’s interest,2 and would be inconsistent with President Biden’s initiatives to combat the climate crisis; protect public health; conserve our lands, waters, and biodiversity; and deliver environmental justice.3
On December 22, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published in the Federal Register notice of its approval of the state of Florida’s application to assume jurisdiction over the Clean Water Act’s Section 404 permitting program.4 Therefore, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), not the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is reviewing the oil company’s applications proposing to fill in waters of the U.S. in this national park unit. These applications are some of the first submitted under Florida’s newly assumed program.
Nonetheless, EPA may, and should, provide comments identifying its views regarding compliance with the Section 404(b)(1) Clean Water Act Guidelines. FDEP must consider and address EPA’s views regarding any proposed permit conditions, or objections when determining whether to issue the requested permits.5 Further, EPA has not waived the requirements of Section 404(j) of the Clean Water Act and the regulations adopted thereunder regarding federal review of FDEP permit applications for discharges within critical areas established under state or federal law, including national parks and preserves, and discharges impacting sites that are owned or managed by federal entities.6
Congress created Big Cypress National Preserve to conserve and protect the “natural, scenic, hydrologic, floral and faunal, and recreational values” of the Big Cypress watershed and to provide for its enhancement and public enjoyment.7 The Preserve is an invaluable part of the Greater Everglades ecosystem, and home to threatened and endangered species like the Florida panther and Florida bonneted bat. It provides approximately 40% of Everglades National Park’s water and recharges underlying aquifers. The Preserve is also home to a great number of cultural and archaeological resources and is utilized by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida and Seminole Tribe of Florida for customary and traditional uses.
Despite the resources and values at stake in the Everglades, the Preserve is threatened by new oil drilling. Burnett Oil Company is proposing a new oil well pad south of Interstate 75 with the construction of an access road near a major entrance to the Preserve and the Florida National Scenic Trail, and a second oil well pad less than 500 meters from a Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida reservation.8 Both proposed well sites are located in waters of the U.S. and primary Florida panther habitat. These proposed oil wells and their associated land clearing, equipment storage, wetlands filling, hydrologic alterations, staging areas, access roads, drilling rigs, storage tanks, fuel tanks, water wells, disposal wells, reserve pits, grading, erosion, sedimentation, and potential oil spills– on their face– would not be in the public’s interest.9
Notably, and pursuant to permits issued by both FDEP and the National Park Service, Burnett Oil Company has already caused extensive damage to wetlands and endangered species habitats during its first of four planned phases of oil exploration within a 110-square mile area of the Preserve in 2017 and 2018.10 This damage included soil rutting and compaction by driving 33-ton “vibroseis” trucks and other off-road vehicles through wetlands, resulting in channelization and individual and cumulative adverse effects on an aquatic function and changes to the bottom elevation of a water of the United States.11 Ancient dwarf cypress trees were also cut down or run over and valuable periphyton was impacted. Burnett Oil Company has not yet completed the required compensatory wetland mitigation or monitoring required by its state and federal permits, demonstrating that the FDEP should not authorize any further oil and gas activities in the Preserve.
We support President Biden’s campaign promise of “banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters,”12 and the President’s forward-looking climate initiatives, including analyzing “potential climate and other impacts associated with oil and gas activities on public lands.”13 Filling in waters of the U.S. to accommodate new oil drilling inside a National Park unit like Big Cypress National Preserve is inconsistent with these initiatives and protecting the Preserve from oil drilling would better serve President Biden’s goal of conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.14
The Preserve is a vital part of the Everglades and must not be further degraded if we are to ensure that extensive state and federal investments in Everglades restoration will result in success. We respectfully request that EPA exercise its oversight and enforcement responsibilities and object to FDEP’s issuance of Burnett Oil Company’s state Section 404 Clean Water Act permits to accommodate oil drilling in Big Cypress National Preserve.15 We sincerely appreciate your efforts, Administrator Regan, to steward the public lands and waters of this country and are grateful for your time and consideration.
Jaclyn Lopez, Florida Director
Center for Biological Diversity
P.O. Box 2155
St. Petersburg, FL 33731 (727) 490-9190
Melissa E. Abdo, Ph.D., Regional Director
National Parks Conservation Association
4429 Hollywood Blvd. #814990
Hollywood, FL 33081
Alison Kelly, Senior Attorney
Natural Resources Defense Council
1152 15th Street, NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20005
On behalf of the 82 undersigned organizations:
Jane West, Policy & Planning Director, 1000 Friends of Florida
Benjamin Swanson, Co-Executive Director, Advocates for Clean & Clear Waterways
Joan Marshall, Leader of the Climate Action Team, All Faiths Unitarian Congregation, Fort Myers FL
Donna Legare, President, Apalachee Audubon Society
Janet Carlson, Sole proprietor, Aquamarine Studio
Susan Steinhauser, President, Aquatics for Life
Gerri Reaves, President, Audubon of Southwest Florida
Captain Elizabeth Jolin, Owner, Bay and Reef Company of the Florida Keys
Katrina Shadix, Executive Director, Bear Warriors United
Stephen Jens-Rochow, Secretary, Broward Climate Alliance
Leah Weisburd, Executive Committee Chair and Political Committee, Broward Sierra Club
John Cassani, Calusa Waterkeepers
Jaclyn Lopez, Florida Director, Center for Biological Diversity
M. Vanderhorst, Chair, Central Florida Chapter: Climate Reality Project
Barry J. White, President, Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Inc.
Jeffrey P. Dorian, Chapter leader, Citizens' Climate Lobby
Isabella Hinrichs, Member, Climate Action Committee at Univ. South Florida
Holly Lichtenfeld, Co-chair, Climate Reality Project, Boca Raton Chapter
Rabbi Daniel Swartz, Executive Director, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life
Harrison Langley, Collier County Waterkeeper, Collier County Waterkeeper Inc.
Amber Crooks, Environmental Policy Manager, Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Nicole Llinas, Executive Director, Current Problems
Madeline Kaufman, Program and Outreach Director, Debris Free Oceans
Janelle Christensen, President, Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida
Mark Castlow, Owner, Dragonfly Boatworks
Mary Gutierrez, Director, Earth Action, Inc.
Tara Thornton, Deputy Director, Endangered Species Coalition
Jenna Stevens, State Director, Environment Florida
Becky Ayech, President, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida
Sarah Randolph, Chairperson, Escambia County Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida
Craig Diamond, Chair, Everglades Restoration Campaign Leadership Team, Sierra Club
Emma Haydocy, Executive Director, Florida Bay Forever
Aliki Moncrief, Executive Director, Florida Conservation Voters
Rev. Dr. Russell L. Meyer, Executive Director, Florida Council of Churches
Charles Causey, President, Florida Keys Environmental Fund, Inc.
Bonnie Basham, President, Florida Native Plant Society
Gene Jones, President, Florida Veterans for Common Sense
Michell Allen, Southern Region Deputy Director, Food & Water Watch
Katrina Shadix, Director, Foundation for Florida Environmental Protection
Ron Seifer, President, Friends of ARM Loxahatchee Natl. Wildlife Refuge
Jacqueline M Lane, Board Member, Friends of Perdido Bay
Eve Samples, Executive Director, Friends of the Everglades
Codi Norred, Executive Director, Georgia Interfaith Power and Light
Carol Goodwin, President, Goodwin Company
Shelley Silbert, Executive Director, Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Enid Sisskin, Ph.D., Director, Gulf Coast Environmental Defense
Dede Shelton, Executive Director, Hands Across the Sand
Christian Wagley, Coastal Organizer, Healthy Gulf
John Capece, Waterkeeper, Kissimmee Waterkeeper
Judith Hushon, Ph.D., State Chair of Natural Resources, League of Women Voters of Florida
Glenn Compton, Director, ManaSota-88, Inc.
Thomas P. Bausch, Member of Board of Directors, Martin County Conservation Alliance
Carol Ann Leonard, Chair, Martin County Democratic Environmental Caucus
Miami Climate Alliance Steering Committee, Miami Climate Alliance
Gabriella Da Silva, Florida organizer, Moms Clean Air Force
Debra Chase, CEO, Mountain Lion Foundation
Amy Kenney, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, National Ocean Protection Coalition
Alison Kelly, Senior Attorney, Nature Program, Natural Resources Defense Council
DeeVon Quirolo, President, Nature Coast Conservation, Inc.
Jim Warren, Executive Director, NC WARN
Diana Umpierre, AICP, GISP, Chair, Night Sky Conservancy (International Dark-Sky Association Florida Chapter Affiliate)
Melissa Abdo Ph.D., Regional Director, National Parks Conservation Association
Adam Sugalski, Executive Director, OneProtest
Erniko Brown, Chief Executive Officer, Organized Uplifting Resources & Strategies (O.U.R.S)
Naqiy McMullen, Chapter Lead, Orlando YIMBY
Michael Roth, President, Our Santa Fe River
Brenda Curtis, Conservation Chair, Peace River Audubon Society
Amy Datz, Activist, Post Partisan Environmental Caucus of Florida
Patty Whitehead, Secretary, Responsible Growth Management Coalition of SWFL
Kim Ross, Executive Director, ReThink Energy Florida
James Evans, Environmental Policy Director, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, Governing Board Member, South Florida Water Management District
Solemi Hernandez, Group Vice Chair, Sierra Club Group Calusa
Sonja Brookins, Supervisor D-4, Soil and Water Conservation
Doug Young, COO, South Florida Audubon Society
Matthew Schwartz, Executive Director, South Florida Wildlands Association
Susan Glickman, Florida Director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Karen Dwyer, Ph.D., Co-founder, Stone Crab Alliance
Katrina Shadix, President, Sustainability Leaders Initiative
Mark Mandica, Executive Director, The Amphibian Foundation
Paola Ferreira Miani, Executive Director, Tropical Audubon Society
Joanie M Steinhaus, Gulf Program Director, Turtle Island Restoration Network
Radhika Fox, EPA Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water, Fox.Radhika@epa.gov
John Blevins, EPA Acting Regional Administrator for Region IV, Blevins.John@epa.gov
Jeaneanne Gettle, EPA Director of Science & Ecosystem Support Division for Region IV, Gettle.Jeaneanne@epa.gov
Tom Wall, Director, Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds, Watershed Restoration, Assessment, and Protection Division, Wall.Tom@epa.gov
1 Burnett Oil Company, Inc. has submitted two applications to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection seeking Clean Water Act § 404 permits to fill in wetlands in Big Cypress National Preserve to build new oil well pads and access roads (Application Nos.: 323836-004 and 397879-002).
2 The activities would require a Section 404 Clean Water Act permit as they would require filling in Waters of the
U.S. and in endangered species’ habitats, but the action is not water-dependent. 42 Fed. Reg. 37136 (codified at 33
C.F.R. § 320.4(b)(1)).
3 The White House, Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, Section 208 (January 27, 2021), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/27/executive-order-on-tackling-the- climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad/.
4 85 Fed. Reg. 83,553 (Dec. 22, 2020); Several conservation organizations are challenging the EPA’s actions in Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Case No.: 21-cv-119 (D.D.C. January 14, 2021).
5 Memorandum of Agreement Between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (July 31, 2020), http://publicfiles.dep.state.fl.us/dwrm/404_Assumption_Application/Assumption_Package/D_EPA_MOA/MOA%2 0EPA%20Signed.pdf.
7 Pub. L. 93-440, § 1, 88 Stat. 1258 (Oct. 11, 1974), 16 U.S.C. § 690f(a), An Act to Establish Big Cypress National Preserve, as Amended by P.L. 100-301, The Big Cypress National Preserve Addition Act.
8 See White House, Memorandum on Tribal Consultation and Strengthening Nation-to-Nation Relationships (January 26, 2021), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/26/memorandum- ontribal-consultation-and-strengthening-nation-to-nation-relationships/.
9 42 Fed. Reg. 37136 (codified at 33 C.F.R. § 320.4(b)(1)).
11 The Army Corps of Engineers determined that oil exploration activities should have required a Section 404 Clean Water Act permit, but reversed course a month later following Burnett Oil Company’s correspondence and meeting request. See https://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/army-corps-abruptly-rescinds-its-position-on- seismic-exploration-in-floridas-big-cypress-2020-04-14/.
13 The White House, Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, Section 208 (January 27, 2021).
14 Id. section 216.
15 FDEP agreed to consider and address EPA’s concerns, proposed permit conditions, and objections when determining whether to issue a permit. Further, EPA has not waived the requirements of Section 404(j) and the regulations adopted thereunder regarding federal review of FDEP permit applications for discharges within critical areas established under state or federal law, including but not limited to national and state parks and preserves, and discharges impacting sites that are owned or managed by federal entities. Memorandum of Agreement Between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (July 31, 2020),http://publicfiles.dep.state.fl.us/dwrm/404_Assumption_Application/Assumption_Package/D_EPA_MOA/M OA%2 0EPA%20Signed.pdf.