Pollution in the St. Johns River (Pic by deadgirlsdontdance, via Flickr)

On Monday, only hours before they were slated to go into effect, a federal judge postponed the implementation of a portion of a set of federally-mandated water rules. Those rules, which should have gone into effect today, have been delayed until July.

The so-called “numeric nutrient criteria” have been hotly contested in the state, and aim to govern excessive nutrients (namely, nitrogen and phosphorus) in state waterways.

In 2009, the US Environmental Protection Agency issued a mandate requiring the state of Florida to implement stricter water rules. But the criteria drafted by the EPA have been criticized for being too costly, with industry leaders arguing they could cost the state billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. The EPA eventually announced that it would allow Florida to develop its own rules, which may be implemented in place of the federal version. State officials say those rules are just as stringent as the EPA’s version, but environmentalists have alleged that the state’s rules are less protective than having no standards at all.

In February, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle ruled that a portion of the criteria must take effect by March 6. On Monday, Hinkle pushed back the date to July 6, giving the EPA more time to consider whether to allow the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to use its own state criteria for nutrients, in place of the standards drafted by the EPA.

A report set to be released today will examine the cost estimates of the EPA’s version, which agriculture and utility reps have said could cost as much as $50 billion to implement.

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