The road to implementing a set of numeric nutrient standards in Florida has been a bumpy one. For the Florida Wildlife Federation, it began in 2008, when the environmental law firm EarthJustice filed a lawsuit on its behalf seeking to require the EPA to propose a stricter set of standards to govern nutrient waste entering Florida waters.
In January 2009, the EPA determined that a set of numeric nutrient standards was necessary to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act. From the EPA’s website:
EPA determined that Florida’s existing narrative criteria on nutrients in water was insufficient to ensure protection of the State’s water bodies. The determination recognized that, despite Florida’s intensive efforts to diagnose and control nutrient pollution, substantial water quality degradation from nutrient over-enrichment remains a significant challenge in the State and is likely to worsen with continued population growth and land-use changes. The January 14, 2009 determination stated EPA’s intent to propose numeric nutrient standards for lakes and flowing waters in Florida within twelve months of the determination, and for estuaries and coastal waters, within 24 months of the determination.
Since then, the numeric nutrient standards have been met with dozens of obstacles. Industries that would likely be affected by a more stringent set of standards have written both Congress and the EPA suggesting that better science is needed before the standards can be implemented.
Even the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which is in charge of drafting the standards, has gotten in on the act. During a recent St. Johns River summit, the department’s Daryll Joyner made several remarks suggesting dissatisfaction with both the EPA and the nutrient standards. “The EPA has significantly underestimated costs,” he said. “We think the cost will be somewhere between $5 and $8 billion. … In fact, I’ve seen some models that suggest the cost to be closer to $50 billion.”
In a statement to The Florida Independent, FDEP reps said:
EPA’s costs we would suggest may be low because they only estimated incremental costs, assuming our draft criteria were adopted and presumed many dischargers would receive variances. DEP’s estimates include cost of Reverse Osmosis and/or Deep Well Injection. There is still much uncertainty about implementation of the criteria and subsequent impacts to stakeholders. DEP has requested that EPA develop an outreach strategy to address public inquiry once the criteria are established.
Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, has grown increasingly frustrated with the FDEP’s handling of its soon-to-be-proposed numeric nutrient standards.” We want the gap between the EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection narrowed,” he tells The Florida Independent. “In the past, both the EPA and the FDEP have recommended nearly identical standards. The FDEP agreed that we need [numeric nutrient standards] during the Bush Administration. … I actually think it was something like a 90 percent agreement with the EPA’s initial proposal. But things have changed because of political pressure. The FDEP is extremely well-connected and politics are being injected into the standards.”
As for the FDEP’s estimates that the standards could cost upward of $8 billion, Fuller says, “That’s the garbage put out … because of politics. They are minimizing the extent of the problem, resisting change and being short-sighted because they have allegiances to industry.”
Another number being tossed around at the River Summit was $700. According to JEA reps, that’s the amount the average household water bill will increase annually, should the standards go into effect. Fuller says not to be swayed by industry rhetoric: “That figure is based on figures regarding reverse osmosis, which is not a technology that would be used [here]. That figure came from a report regarding desalinization in Saudi Arabia. They literally picked the most expensive figure regarding water treatment and tacked it onto these nutrient standards. It has nothing to do with the nutrient standards.”
Another falsehood being used by industry, according to Fuller and the Florida Wildlife Federation, is the speed at which the standards could be implemented. “This idea that this stuff will be implemented overnight and lead to exorbitant household bills is just silly,” Fuller says. “It’s a phased-in process. It’s not about going from zero to 60 in two seconds.”