How Special Interests “Torpedoed” An Environmental Injustice


On April 22nd, Newsweek published a powerful story about one controversy in Florida over an estimated 1 million pounds of hazardous toxic lead—which can leach into water and soil—that the local water management district tried to get cleaned up, but which was fought by powerful special interest groups. It’s an important story for anyone who lives near a gun range that has or still allows for the use of lead shot.


In 2000, when an environmental scientist first noticed the issue in this area–Sawgrass Lake Park–the water sampled from a nearby groundwater well by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection revealed unacceptable levels of lead, leading to an investigation and the need to take action, especially since water from the park flows into Tampa Bay, where there are numerous family communities nearby.



In this specific case, the water management district (known as “Swiftmud”) had to bring a lawsuit against the gun range (“Skyway”) because the agreement between the two parties was that Swiftmud would finance removing lead from Sawgrass Lake Park (which cost $25 million to taxpayers) if Skyway would build a barrier to stop ammunition from falling on the state’s property. Skyway then failed to do so, leading to a lawsuit that the judge allowed to move forward.


However, in February of 2016, the lawsuit was suddenly (and mysteriously) dropped. Details recently obtained on why are startling. Specifically, according to the article, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association enlisted the help of a lawmaker who had at least partial control over Swiftmud’s budget and attempted to destroy Swiftmud in the media, calling it a “malignant” state agency attempting to “destroy a small private business.” The conversations between this lobbyist and the lawmaker provide a glimpse into how special interest groups like the NRA can often sidestep established environmental laws designed to protect public health in getting what they want, and even have their own attorneys writing agreements that should be done by the more unbiased government agencies.


Placing the Public at Risk

In the midst of all of this activity, this lobbyist also claimed that there was no evidence of health risks associated with lead shot (even though the NRA itself had produced a manual concerning the environmental hazards of lead shot). She also eventually got a bill signed into law making it a crime for any agency except for the Department of Environmental Protection to sue a gun range over pollution concerns, effectively trying to eliminate Swiftmud’s ability to bring litigation to protect public health.


Most recently, this same lobbyist put out a press release calling on Governor Rick Scott to abolish Swiftmud entirely, ultimately claiming that the agency should be investigated for criminal conduct. The details associated with this specific are instructive to communities everywhere worried about contaminated water and the interests that may be affecting whether it is safe or not.


Environmental Hazard Attorneys

Companies sometimes violate environmental laws that regulate pollutants if it’s cheaper to pollute than to prevent toxic exposure to innocent people. Having spent years litigating against these bad actors and negligent parties, the environmental attorneys of Harrell & Nowak are well-versed in handling these issues. We serve clients in New Orleans, Metairie, Kenner, and other areas throughout Louisiana. Contact us today for a free consultation.