In a new statement to The Florida Independent, the EPA defends its Florida-specific water pollution rules against charges in a new ad by the group Free Market Florida that the standards will cost the state “billions” and “eliminate 14,000 farming jobs.” Instead, according to the EPA, the regulations will ”save Florida money in the long run.”

“EPA estimates that the annual cost to address additional waters listed as impaired under the final Florida inland waters rule is between $135 and $206 million,” says an EPA representative, in a statement to the Independent. “This estimate assumes that wastewater treatment plants discharging to impaired inland waters may need to install advanced treatment — but not reverse osmosis — and that agriculture operations will need to implement a range of state-recommended best management practices to address impaired waters.”

According to Free Market, the new ad was meant to “draw attention to the job-killing consequences of excessive federal regulation and litigation under the guise of environmentalism.”

But the EPA maintains that the nutrient criteria will actually “save Florida money in the long run by making implementation faster and easier, thereby preventing future expensive clean-up costs and a decline in Florida’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry that is an engine of job growth in Florida.”

Cost discrepancies have plagued the nutrient criteria since their inception. Members of industries likely to be affected by the criteria (utilities, agriculture, etc.) say that the rules will cost billions and would be nearly impossible to implement.

Some lawmakers, like Sen. Charlie Dean, contend that the EPA rules would hold Florida’s drainage canals to the same water quality standards as the state’s lakes and rivers. That claim echoes strikingly similar ones made by Free Market Florida. PolitiFact rated that charge “mostly true,” but noted that “there are several caveats that could impact the validity of that claim.”

Just last week, the Florida Senate passed a bill supporting the state’s right to direct and establish its own set of scientific criteria for its waterbodies. The EPA is allowing the state to develop its own criteria (which environmentalists argue are not as strong as the federally mandated version), but the agency must approve them before they can be implemented. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection currently estimates that the cost of compliance for its version would be between $50 million and $130 million per year.

According to the EPA, the resolution of the varying cost estimates associated with the rules is crucial in moving forward with their implementation.

“The resolution of cost discrepancies is critical to moving forward with implementation of numeric criteria in Florida, whether they are EPA’s federal criteria or state criteria that are approved by EPA as meeting the requirements of the Clean Water Act,” reads the EPA statement. “For that reason, EPA requested that the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council review and advise EPA on our economic analysis of the final Florida inland waters rule. The National Research Council report will be published in March 2012. EPA will continue to work with the state and stakeholders to determine the most affordable, common sense methods to plan for and achieve these numeric standards so that Florida’s waters can be restored in the most cost-effective and flexible way possible.”

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