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Water-Related News

State seeks to speed up decision in wetlands permitting case

TALLAHASSEE – Florida is asking a federal judge to speed up a final ruling in a high-stakes case about permitting authority for projects that affect wetlands, as the state sets the stage for a likely appeal.

U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss on Feb. 15 ruled that federal officials did not follow required steps in 2020 before transferring wetlands-related permitting authority from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the state. Moss vacated the shift but said the state and the federal government could seek a stay of his ruling. He also did not decide certain legal issues in the case.

In a filing Monday, attorneys for the state urged Moss to issue a final judgment, which would help clear the way for an appeal. The filing said Moss’ Feb. 15 decision has effectively resolved the case’s key issues in favor of environmental groups that challenged the shift.

“This single judicial ruling, which gave complete relief to plaintiffs, immediately placed over 1,000 projects across Florida (including permit applications for environmental restoration, roads and bridges, hospitals, schools, affordable housing, senior living facilities, and grid reliability, among many others) in regulatory limbo with no clear timeline or expectation for a permit decision,” the state’s 21-page filing said. “The situation was immediately urgent and becomes more so with each passing day.”

The state on Feb. 26 also filed a motion for a stay of Moss’ decision. The judge has not ruled on the motion and has scheduled an April 4 conference in Washington, D.C. The plaintiffs have opposed a stay.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the transfer of the permitting authority to the state in December 2020, about a month before former President Donald Trump’s administration ended. Florida became the third state, after Michigan and New Jersey, to receive the permitting authority.