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

Testifying on behalf of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (aka DACS) yesterday, Rich Budell, director of the Office of Agricultural Water Policy, said that a set of federally mandated water pollution standards would have a “devastating” impact on the Florida economy.

Environmentalists say the EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria would help alleviate algal blooms and fish kills that overtake many state waterways. Affected industries, however, see it differently — arguing that the cost of the criteria would far outweigh the benefits.

“DACS, working in cooperation with the University of Florida Food and Resource Economics Department, estimated the implementation costs of EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria just for agricultural land uses at between $900 million and $1.6 billion annually,” said Budell in his testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife. “This could result in the loss of over 14,000 jobs for the state of Florida.”

While the EPA has estimated the costs to implement the criteria at around $236 million annually, other agencies (many of whom performed their economic analyses for industries likely to be financially affected by the criteria) have estimated annual costs to be up to $4 billion.

Budell went on to criticize the methods used by the EPA to construct the rule, stating that they were “inconsistent with EPA’s own guidance documents and the advice of EPA’s Science Advisory Board.” Because the Agency inappropriately applied the methods it did use, said Budell, the rule could deem healthy waters impaired.

“From an agricultural perspective, I can tell you without question that virtually no sector of Florida agriculture can comply with the final EPA nutrient criteria without the implementation of costly edge-of-farm water detention and treatment,” said Budell.

Budell did concede that Florida has a nutrient pollution problem, but argued that Florida is being singled out with the implementation of the criteria. “The question is not whether there is a nutrient pollution problem,” he said, “but whether the federal government is justified in hand-selecting one state in the nation on which to impose federal regulations that impart costs on all households.”

According to the EPA, however, it isn’t just a Florida-specific problem. In fact, 49 states have listed more than 10,000 nutrient and nutrient-related water quality impairments. “Consequently, EPA has encouraged all states to accelerate adoption of numeric nutrient criteria or numeric translators for narrative standards for all waters that contribute nutrient loadings to the Nation’s waterways,” reads the EPA website.

In response to cost concerns over the EPA’s criteria, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, joined by Attorney General Pam Bondi, filed a complaint on Dec. 7, 2010, in federal court challenging the rule. More than 30 other entities have since filed similar federal complaints against the EPA criteria.

Read Budell’s full testimony here.

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