A pollution warning sign along the Caloosahatchee River (Pic by Florida Water Coalition)

In an interview with Brown and Caldwell’s “Water News” e-newsletter, Destin Water Users General Manager Richard Griswold says that a set of federally mandated water pollution standards for the state of Florida have gone “from strange to real strange” and are “woefully short” of being scientifically defensible.

The EPA’s “numeric nutrient criteria,” which will restrict pollution in state estuaries, lakes and streams, have been hotly debated.

“EPA has no guidelines for permitting, compliance or enforcement and has steadfastly refused to develop any,” Griswold says. “Although EPA has said that it is up to [the Florida Department of Environmental Protection] to develop compliance and enforcement regulations, FDEP cannot do that. Under the Florida Administrative Procedures Act, a standard must be scientifically defensible. The EPA standards fall woefully short of that. Now FDEP is hurrying to develop something meaningful and in the short time they have, we all fear FDEP falling short.”

This isn’t Griswold’s first time speaking out against the criteria, which environmentalists say could help thwart costly algal blooms and fish kills in state waterways. Griswold penned an article (.pdf) titled “EPA vs. Floridians” for Destin Water Users’ summer 2011 newsletter, in which he argued that the costs of complying with the rule would be “exorbitant,” but that his real concern is the harm the rule would do to the environment. According to Griswold, “limits are being established for water bodies for which little is known of their current water quality” and the EPA is “trying to trash [the state’s current] successful program  for one with little chance of helping our environment.”

The Brown and Caldwell logo (Pic via vlwa.org)

In his interview with Brown and Caldwell, Griswold says that the EPA is “a pure political animal” whose “pronouncements are based solely on what side of the bed some bureaucrat woke up on that morning.”

“If the question is whether they will rescind their necessity determination, I am fairly sure they will not do that since that would be an admission of error on their part. … I have never heard of the federal government repealing one of their own laws so this could set a precedent,” he says. “Well wait, they did repeal that one amendment about drinking. Thank goodness, or I would have never made it through college. So there is some hope that EPA will change. ”

Environmentalists, and many Florida residents, likely disagree with Griswold’s view that Florida’s current standards have proven successful.

Under the current standard, the state has been inundated with algal blooms that choke off oxygen to marine species — including fish and even large mammals. Belly-up fish and noxious algae have even hurt the bottom line in some waterfront communities that rely on clean water for recreation and tourism.

But according to Griswold, the “environmental cults fall short on all those yet they chant their mantra of ‘people bad, EPA good.’” The issue of nutrient regulation, he says, “is as much a PR campaign as it is a water quality improvement campaign.”

In addition to acting as general manager of Destin Water Users, Griswold sits on the board of the Florida Water Environment Association Utility Council — a group that has vehemently opposed the implementation of the nutrient rules, and has cited extravagant cost estimates for their implementation. Unsurprisingly, several of the the association’s board members moonlight as utility execs, all of whom would be affected by more stringent water rules. (An examination of Department of Environmental Protection emails revealed that the association supplied those industry-created numbers to state lawmakers.)

So what happens should a utility not comply with the EPA rule? “Well, what happens is, EPA writes you a bunch of nasty-grams and then they put someone in prison,” says Griswold. “For my utility that someone would probably be me. For me, going to federal prison might not be that bad of a retirement plan, but since they closed the prison at Eglin here, I would probably serve my time out of state. Which means I would be the first person to ever retire OUT of Florida.”

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