Environmental groups tout now-finalized water quality rules, question high cost estimates

By | 11.15.10 | 2:02 pm

(Pic by Darren and Brad)

In a Monday morning Tallahassee press conference, several environmental groups responded to the EPA’s first round of finalized numeric nutrient criteria. The criteria (which will only affect Florida’s freshwater lakes and streams) were drafted as a result of a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice, an environmental law firm representing the environmental groups that held today’s press event.

During the press conference, Earthjustice attorney David Guest pointed to pictures of blue-green algal blooms that have hit some parts of Florida hard in recent months. Guest said that the algae, whose growth is caused by high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen prevalent in industry effluent and residential fertilizers, was a hazard to human health, boating and fishing and that the EPA’s criteria were “a major milestone in the protection of Florida waters.”

Guest has criticized the Florida Department of Environmental Protection before, and didn’t ease off during the press conference, saying the department has “not been able to overcome the power of the lobbyists.”

Calling high cost estimates for Florida industry “scare tactics,” Guest pointed to a side-by-side graph of cost projections from the Department of Environmental Protection and the EPA, which showed a striking dissonance. EPA estimates were around $85 million, versus the $50 billion cost estimated by Florida Water Environment Association. An earlier report by The Florida Independent revealed the Water Environment Association’s estimates to be overblown and not entirely legitimate.

“The cost of doing nothing is far greater than the cost of cleaning up Florida’s waterways,” said Frank Jackalone, Florida staff director for the Sierra Club. “That pollution feeds red tides and harmful algal blooms which devastate our fisheries, make people sick, lower property values and shut down coastal tourism.”

When asked if Florida was getting “picked on” by being the only state to have required water standards, Guest said that the problem is worse in Florida because of its flat topography, subtropical climate and large number of rivers and lakes.

Jackalone said that the need for such criteria in Florida is much greater than in other states, but lobbying efforts have been effective in the fight against them: “The cabal of polluters who are opposing it have an iron grip on Tallahassee.”

Though the criteria are now finalized, they won’t go into effect for another 15 months. Contrary to earlier reports that this 15-month period was a “delay,” Department of Environmental Protection reps say it is merely the interim period before the criteria are fully implemented.

In a statement, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mimi Drew said that, rather than forcing compliance immediately, this gives any affected businesses an opportunity to make adjustments in order to fully comply with the criteria:

I am pleased that EPA has responded to our request for additional time to implement numeric nutrient criteria in Florida by setting an effective date 15 months beyond the date of promulgation. This extra time will allow everyone to reach a better understanding of the criteria and develop implementation strategies.

In a press release from the EPA, Regional Administrator Gwen Keyes-Fleming said that the criteria were essential to combating water pollution in the state: “Anyone who has seen the green sludge coating Florida’s waters has experienced the consequences of excess nutrient pollution. This is a serious environmental problem that harms Florida’s economy and quality of life.”

Manley Fuller, head of the Florida Wildlife Federation, said that the EPA’s criteria were based on “sound science,” contrary to what many lobbyists and politicians have asserted in recent months: “Scientists have clearly documented how damaging this pollution is. Knowing that, we have a responsibility to keep these poisons out of our public waters.”

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