In November 2010, The Florida Independent’s Virginia Chamlee reported on internal emails she obtained that revealed that officials in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection knew that the cost estimates it was using to argue against new EPA water quality rules were artificially inflated and, in some instances, mathematically incorrect.
The emails showed officials questioning the validity of the high cost estimates, which were drafted by utilities and other polluters, but were nonetheless being promulgated by the state department. Some officials noted that the estimates factored in a number of industrial facilities that would not actually be affected by the EPA regulations, and one simply observed: “Some of their math is wrong.”
After Chamlee’s story posted, the St. Johns Riverkeeper — one of the key environmental groups engaged in the water quality fight — filed a scathing letter with the Jacksonville Waterways Commission, the agency that coordinates and advises governments on policies affecting the St. Johns River and all tidal waters in Duval County. In its complaint, the Riverkeeper cited Chamlee’s reporting as proof of what it had long suspected: That the state “significantly overestimates” the cost of regulation and that the estimates were not to be trusted.
The Riverkeeper’s president added: “What I also find troubling is the fact that even after DEP staff determined the analysis of the costs was full of inaccuracies, including incorrect math, some DEP staff members continued to spread falsehoods about the potential costs.” He went on to press the Commission to support the EPA regulations, adding, “I urge you to read the [Florida Independent] article in its entirety through the enclosed link.”
In additional emails, Chamlee has found messages from EPA opponents fretting about the “significant use of this article by proponents of EPA’s rule proposal” as well as attempts by the Department of Environmental Protection to pacify the industry sources whose work it had now publicly questioned.