Gov. Rick Scott (Pic via flgov.com)

Gov. Rick Scott yesterday signed legislation supporting Florida’s effort to create its own set of water pollution rules, also known as “numeric nutrient criteria.” The move is likely to add fuel to the fire of environmentalists, who argue that the state-drafted rules are not stringent enough to combat Florida’s nutrient pollution problem.

Stakeholders — including environmental groups, as well as and utilities and agricultural companies (some of the most noted polluters of Florida waterways) — have gone back and forth over the criteria for years, and the battle is unlikely to end any time soon.

Some background on the criteria: In 1998, the federal government gave the state until 2004 to develop nutrient criteria as a way of limiting phosphorus and nitrogen in waterways, which often lead to algal blooms and fish kills. 2004 came and went, without any new standards for Florida, so a group of state environmental organizations filed suit, alleging that Florida was in violation of the Clean Water Act.

That suit was settled in 2009, with a mandate from the EPA requiring Florida to implement stricter rules. But the EPA’s criteria have been harshly criticized for being too costly and, eventually, the EPA caved to demands from industry and lawmakers who argued that Florida should develop its own rules.

So the Florida Department of Environmental Protection did just that: It developed a set of standards it says will be less costly than the federal version. The problem, according to environmentalists, is that the state’s version is weaker than the federal regulations — and weak water rules are what got Floridians into this mess to begin with.

Before the standards can be implemented, the department must still present its rules to the EPA for approval.

In a statement released shortly after Scott signed the bill yesterday, the Department of Environmental Protection defended its rules, arguing that “no one knows Florida’s water better than Floridians, and these rules will allow us to effectively protect water quality in our state.”

“Our rules provide a clear process for identifying waters impaired by nutrients, preventing harmful discharges and establishing necessary reductions,” reads the statement. “They provide a reasonable and predictable implementation strategy, and avoid unnecessary costs for Florida’s households and businesses.”

Attorney General Pam Bondi, who took part in a lawsuit aimed at the criteria, said this: “My office has stood strongly against the federal government’s imposition of costly and unnecessary regulations, and I am pleased that Governor Scott has today signed into law an alternative to the Environmental Protection Agency’s numeric nutrient criteria. Florida has always had the best expertise and resources to determine how to protect our waters.”

Just yesterday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., filed a bill that would force the EPA to scrap its water quality standards and instead accept the rules drafted by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

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