Gov. Rick Scott (right), fishing near Panama City on Tues., April 19 (Pic via Governor's Press Office)
Gov. Rick Scott (right), fishing near Panama City on Tues., April 19 (Pic via Governor's Press Office)

New hurdles for Florida water pollution limits

By | 04.26.11 | 10:50 am

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the EPA have been at odds over the cost of implementing  a set of water pollution criteria for several months. The agencies have also differed on their views of how exactly to go about creating the criteria — with the EPA favoring nutrient pollution be measured in concentrations, while the state department favors measurements in loads. Now, the Florida department — with Gov. Rick Scott’s support — is attempting to eliminate the EPA’s involvement in creating the criteria altogether.

On Fri., April 22, the Department of Environmental Protection filed a petition (.pdf) asking the EPA to withdraw its January 2009 determination that numeric nutrient criteria are necessary in Florida. In a cover letter (.pdf) to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Department of Environmental Protection head Herschel Vinyard wrote that the state of Florida remains “committed to addressing excess nutrients pollution” and requests that the EPA restore the responsibility of nutrient management back to the state.

The determination to set new pollution limits for Florida came in the summer of 2009, a year after a suit was filed by the environmental law firm Earthjustice on behalf of several state environmental groups (including the St. Johns Riverkeeper and Sierra Club) that argued the state was in dire need of nutrient pollution limits. According to Earthjustice, the Department of Environmental Protection first sounded the alarm about the dangers of toxic algae outbreaks 11 years ago, in a 2000 scientific report.

Though the department has acknowledged (.pdf) that excessive nutrients (total nitrogen and total phosphorus) “constitute one of the most severe water quality problems facing the State,” they are now seemingly abandoning a criteria that would alleviate that problem.

And it comes as little surprise that Gov. Rick Scott is also turning his back on the pollution standards. Though the decision to ask the EPA to back off the water pollution rules doesn’t lie solely with him, Gov. Scott authorized state officials Friday to make the decision.

“Our leaders are supposed to protect public health,” said Earthjustice Attorney David Guest, in a press release issued after Scott’s announcement. “Instead, Scott is protecting polluters. … It is particularly galling that Scott is thumbing his nose at clean water on Earth Day. It says a lot. Polluters have been using our public waters as their private dumping grounds for too long, and it needs to stop. The corporate lobbyists who have Scott’s ear are good at what they do. Unfortunately, when they win, the rest of us lose.”

In his press release, Scott said that Florida is one of the few states with a comprehensive program already in place to address excess nutrients, and it continues to “lead the nation in developing innovative tools to ensure the health of our state’s waterways.”

Florida’s current standard is a narrative one, which many argue is far too broad to effectively address the issue of nutrient pollution. State waterways are rich with nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which contribute to widespread toxic algal blooms that cut off oxygen to marine life and even cause human health risks.

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