Pollution in the St. Johns River (Pic by deadgirlsdontdance, via Flickr)

The federally mandated “numeric nutrient criteria,” a set of standards to govern water pollution in the state of Florida, have been harshly criticized by industry, agriculture and even lawmakers — who argue the criteria are too stringent and would result in job losses and stymie business growth. But now a new set of critics have emerged: environmentalists, who feel the criteria aren’t quite stringent enough to make any real impact.

The proposed rules, which have been hotly contested for over a year, were recently updated by the state Department of Environmental Protection, and conservationists say the changes were for the worse. In an interview with the News Service of Florida, the Clean Water Network’s Linda Young criticized the state government for siding with polluters over its own citizens.

“The state government’s single-minded focus in protecting the economic and political goals of the regulated interests in Florida is short-sighted and undemocratic,” said Young. “The citizens and taxpayers of Florida understand the importance of clean water to our health, economy and quality of life.”

An attorney for environmental law firm Earthjustice (which filed the lawsuit in 2008 that led to the mandate of the criteria) told the News Service that the criteria contain several loopholes that would allow for the state to maintain more flexible standards that those that are federally mandated.

Meanwhile, the criteria’s critics are still waging a fierce battle against them. The Fertilizer Institute (a group that would likely face fines once the criteria are implemented) recently lauded a petition urging President Obama to halt the EPA’s efforts to implement the rules in Florida. With more than 5,000 signatures, the petition has met the threshold to receive a formal White House response.

“This rule has an enormous cost and little benefit and we are urging EPA to reconsider this action,” said Fertilizer Institute President Ford West in a statement. “We advocate smart and targeted policies that address water quality without placing an undue economic burden on farmers and the industries that support them. Such policies can achieve both environmental and food security goals.”

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