Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 15, 2017

Contact:  Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190, jlopez@biologicaldiversity.org, Center for Biological Diversity
Dennis Mader, (863) 494-4687, protectpeaceriver@gmail.com, People for Protecting Peace River
Glenn Compton, (941) 966-6256, comptong@comcast.com, ManaSota-88
Justin Bloom, (941) 275-2922, bloomesq1@gmail.com, Suncoast Waterkeeper

Lawsuit Protects Floridians, 50,000+ Acres From Phosphate Strip Mining

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— Four conservation organizations sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Fish and Wildlife Service today for authorizing 50,000 acres of phosphate strip mining that would irreversibly destroy native plant and animal habitat in central Florida.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, aims to prevent mining that would threaten water quality and quantity by obliterating wetlands and habitat for animals already clinging to survival. Those include the eastern indigo snake, crested caracara and Florida panther. The project would also exacerbate Florida’s growing phosphogypsum crisis.

“Florida has already lost so much to the phosphate industry — hundreds of thousands of acres of natural landscape and habitat, unadulterated freshwater and healthy biodiversity,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This newest proposal is the most foolhardy yet, calling for the utter destruction of an additional 50,000 acres of Florida habitat and creation of millions of tons of radioactive hazardous waste that will be stored in the state.”

Phosphate ore is removed from the earth via strip mining, whereby tens of thousands of acres are scraped away on a landscape scale, annihilating the natural habitat and soil to depths of up to 80 feet. Once the ore is separated from the clay and sand, it is sent to a nearby fertilizer plant where the application of sulfuric acid turns it into phosphoric acid.

This process results in thousands of acres of forever-mutilated Florida habitat and millions of tons of phosphogypsum, the radioactive byproduct of making fertilizer. Florida is already home to the world’s largest phosphate mine at 100,000 acres, and is the repository for more than 1 billion tons of radioactive phosphogypsum. The so-called “gypstacks” are prone to sinkholes and breaches; 215 million gallons of radioactive wastewater emptied into the Floridan aquifer last September, when a sinkhole opened in a phosphogypsum stack in Mulberry.

“There’s simply no justification for sacrificing our sensitive Florida habitats to phosphate strip mining,” said Brooks Armstrong, president of People for Protecting Peace River. “Florida bears a disproportionate burden to provide fertilizer for worldwide industrialized agriculture.”

“The phosphate industry is creating an economic and environmental burden for the taxpayers of Florida in the form of increased air pollution, destruction of rural communities, depletion and degradation of drinking water supplies, and increased health costs.” said Glenn Compton, executive director of ManaSota-88. “There is a clear case against expanding phosphate mining in Florida.”

“For far too long, the phosphate industry has had its way with ineffective permitting and oversight,” said Justin Bloom, executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper. “Local and state governments have consistently failed in their duty to protect Florida from this destructive industry, and the federal government has abdicated its duty to uphold our bedrock environmental laws. It’s time to fight to force the feds to do their job.”

The lawsuit cites violations of the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act by the Army Corps and Fish and Wildlife Service for approving the project in a region of Florida known as Bone Valley. The conservation groups that filed today’s lawsuit are the Center for Biological Diversity, ManaSota-88, People for Protecting Peace River and Suncoast Waterkeeper.

Map of proposed mines

Locations of four proposed new phosphate mines in central Florida. Map courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Phosphogypsum stack sinkhole

Phosphogypsum stack sinkhole photo courtesy Center for Biological Diversity. Images are available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

www.biologicaldiversity.org

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