U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno replaces William Hoeveler, who was accused of bias.
By Associated Press
Published October 7, 2003
MIAMI - A judge newly assigned to a 15-year-old Everglades pollution lawsuit said Monday he would put disputes on a fast track.
"From now on, what I want is action and reaction," said U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno.
He started by reopening the issue of appointing a special master to eliminate a potential appeal of a decision made by U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler.
Hoeveler was removed two weeks ago after the politically powerful sugar industry accused him of bias.
Papers are due by Friday if Miccosukee Indians and environmentalists still want someone to evaluate state compliance with a 1994 settlement on pollution reduction.
Tribal attorney Dexter Lehtinen said after the three-hour hearing that he was undecided on a special master but plans to pursue other avenues for compliance.
The federal and state governments insist they are committed to an $8-billion restoration project, but the tribe and environmentalists claim the state is stalling on the primary work: to drastically cut phosphorus in Everglades water by 2006.
Moreno spoke of a "honeymoon" period as a newcomer but indicated he expects to be around for the long term.
After hearing contrary views of antipollution efforts from attorneys for the government and environmentalists, he said, "We're going to be together at least until 2006 and probably a little bit longer."
Raquel Rodriguez, general counsel to Gov. Jeb Bush, reiterated his "unwavering" support for cleaning up the entire 2-million-acre Everglades, not just federally protected land.
The settlement of the federal lawsuit against the state limits the flow of phosphorus from farms and suburbs into the Everglades.
The fertilizer ingredient feeds exotic plants that drive out native animals.
"There is still an advancing front of phosphorus moving into the Everglades," said Sierra Club attorney David Guest. "We have continuing irreversible harm."
Moreno said he wasn't interested in status reports on cleanup work but is willing to expedite any disputes.
Hoeveler criticized Bush and state lawmakers last spring for approving legislation that environmental groups contend could jeopardize federal funds and delay the cleanup.
In his Sept. 23 removal order, Chief U.S. District Judge William Zloch said Hoeveler's comments in newspaper articles cast doubt on his "continued impartiality."
Environmental groups denounced the removal, praising the 81-year-old Hoeveler's years of policing the complex lawsuit intended to restore the Everglades to its days as a free-flowing, slow-growth marsh.
Hoeveler oversaw the original 1992 agreement between Florida and the government to clean up the Everglades.