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

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has proposed delaying the implementation of a set of Florida-specific water quality standards for 90 days, allowing for the approval of a set of replacement rules drafted by the state.

Though the rules were mandated following a lawsuit brought by environmental firm Earthjustice on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups, the EPA has allowed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to develop and implement its own set of rules.

The environmental groups that initially sued to force the implementation of a more stringent set of water rules (on the grounds that the state was in violation of the Clean Water Act) recently filed a legal challenge to block the state version of the rules. Environmentalists say the state’s regulations are poor, and only acknowledges pollution after it has degraded waterbodies.

In a statement released shortly after the state Environmental Regulation Commission unanimously approved the state’s rules, Earthjustice attorney David Guest said the rule “was basically written by lobbyists for corporate polluters” and won’t clean up state waterways “by any stretch of the imagination.”

Department of Environmental Protection representatives have defended their rules, arguing they aren’t much different from the federal version. “Essentially, if you look at the numbers in EPA’s rule and the numbers in DEP’s rule, they are the same,” said Drew Bartlett, the director of the state’s Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration, in a recent interview with The Florida Independent.

Bartlett also says that the state’s rules contain “a lot of checks and balances,” and argues that they are “absolutely more comprehensive” than those drawn up by the EPA.

In an interview with the Florida Current, Earthjustice attorney Guest said his group hasn’t yet taken a position on the EPA’s proposal to delay the standards. ”The question is — is this a breach of the settlement agreement?” Guest said, according to the Current. “We haven’t decided.”

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