EPA's new Florida rules roil D.C.
Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 12:40 a.m.
The fight over the federal Environmental Protection Agency's new water pollutant rules for Florida could soon be decided in Washington.
Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to stop the EPA from enforcing its water nutrient standards for Florida's waters. It did so by cutting off funding to the federal agency to carry out the program.
The Senate is now looking at its own 2011 Continuing Resolution budget and considering a similar rider to nip EPA's enforcement of nutrient pollutant standards for Florida waters.
Environmental groups across Florida are asking residents to urge their senators to not interfere with the EPA's plans.
The new rules set standards for both nitrates and phosphorus, excess amounts of which can cause harmful algae blooms. The pollutant often originates from sewage, manure and fertilizer.
The new rules were approved by the EPA last year but don't to go into effect until mid-2012 to give impacted businesses time to work with the EPA to meet the standards. The EPA estimates that 60 percent of Florida's waters are impaired. Dozens of Florida industries — from mining to the farming and wastewater industry — oppose the new standards, claiming they are too stringent, costly and not based on good science.
"We're asking people who care about Florida to stand up for clean water," said Neil Armingeon, founder of the Florida environmental group St. Johns Riverkeeper.
"But I'm not surprised about this. People who are fighting against the cleanup of Florida's waters will stop at nothing," he said.
Although the fight over the standards is playing out in Washington, almost every community in Florida will feel the effects of its conclusion.
In Alachua County, Hornsby Springs would fail the EPA's standards, as would Lake Lochloosa and Newnan's Lake.
Until now, Florida used primarily qualitative standards to decide whether its waters were polluted. That meant if the water and its associated wildlife and vegetation appeared healthy, then the water body met Florida's standards, regardless of the level of its nutrients.
But Florida environmental groups sued the EPA, saying that without the state having quantitative standards, the federal agency was failing to enforce the Clean Water Act. The EPA agreed.
One of the groups suing the EPA was Earth Justice and its lawyer, David Guest.
"(The) wall of opposition (to EPA) has found expression in effecting and persuading Congress to withdraw funding for implementation," Guest said. "There's incredible pressure on Sen. Bill Nelson."
Newly elected Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has already said the EPA's standards are too stringent and drive up the cost for Florida's farmers to do business.
Under the EPA's new nutrient rules, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is required to enforce federal water laws. But under the budget rider, the EPA wouldn't be allowed to spend money ensuring the federal standards are met.
"They're somehow hoping the state doesn't enforce it and the federal law just goes away," Guest said. "It's all fraught with emotion and politics."
Although the EPA wouldn't be allowed to enforce its water nutrient rules, citizens and environmental groups could still sue FDEP to follow federal law, Guest said.
"But we don't want to do it that way," Guest said. "We want an orderly process."
Contact Fred Hiers at email@example.com and 352-867-4157.