A coalition of Florida environmental groups is speaking out against a new bill introduced by Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, that would, he says, “empower Florida officials, rather than bureaucrats at the EPA” to implement water pollution standards.

The numeric nutrient criteria, a set of standards designed to restrict waste in Florida waterways, were initially mandated by the EPA, following a lawsuit bought by environmental groups. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has since drafted its own rules as a lower-cost alternative to the more stringent federal regulations, but they must still be approved by the state Legislature and the EPA.

In a recent interview with Southeast AgNet, Southerland said the federal rules would be “terribly dangerous” for Florida, and could cost the state close to 50,000 agricultural jobs alone. On Monday, Southerland announced that he was introducing a bill to “empower Florida officials, rather than bureaucrats at the EPA,” to set their numeric nutrient standards for state waters.

Environmentalists call the bill “a gift to polluter-lobbyists and an insult to Florida businesses and residents who suffer the effects of nauseating toxic algae outbreaks year after year.”

“Rep. Southerland is out of step with the Floridians he is supposed to represent,” Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller said in a press release.“He should be helping the people who make their living from tourism instead of doing favors for the people who want to keep using our public waters as their private sewers.”

The Federation is a member of the Florida Water Coalition, along with Earthjustice, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the St. Johns Riverkeeper. In December, the Coalition challenged the state’s version of the nutrient criteria, arguing that the standards are so poor they “would actually be less protective” than no standards at all.

“Rep. Southerland just doesn’t get it. He needs to get out more, and see how these nasty algae outbreaks are wrecking tourism, making people sick and killing fish and manatees,” Fuller said. “Instead of addressing this public health threat, Rep. Southerland is selling out the public and doing the bidding of polluter-lobbyists. That’s a shame.”

According to the Coalition, more than 11,000 people have written the White House in support of the EPA’s limits in the past two weeks. Nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen (which come from sewage, manure, fertilizer and industry waste) feed the damaging toxic algae outbreaks that continually plague Florida waters.

Just last week, an algal bloom nearly two miles long on the Caloosahatchee began disrupting outdoor plans, and a massive bloom in the Indian River has been lurking for almost a year.

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