Former Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole is going to bat for the other team — a giant utilities company. Sole will now act as vice president of state governmental affairs for Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest utility.

As secretary for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Sole worked on the implementation of Florida’s numeric nutrient standards, which would set limits on how much effluent companies like FPL could emit into state waters.

According to Florida’s 2008 Integrated Water Quality Assessment, at least 1,000 miles of rivers and streams, 350,000 acres of lakes and 900 square miles of estuaries are impaired by nutrients. Excess amounts of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen often lead to wide-scale algal blooms, fish kills and low-oxygen “dead zones” in waterbodies, and can pose a threat to public safety.

The FDEP is in charge of drafting the standards, which will then be handed over to the EPA for approval. In a January 2009 press release, Sole seemed confident that his agency could work toward solving the nutrient problem: “The State of Florida recognizes that more needs to be done to address nutrient pollution in our rivers, streams, lakes and estuaries, and these actions [creating nutrient standards] will help our State and all of our stakeholders prevent and better manage sources of nitrogen and phosphorus from entering our waters.”

He made another statement regarding the standards in August 2009:

Florida has made a tremendous investment to collect and analyze the data necessary to define how nutrient enrichment affects the biological health of our surface waters. To ensure that there is no duplication of work, we will continue to work with EPA in the same manner they have worked with us as they develop the criteria. We look forward to EPA presenting its criteria to both DEP and the stakeholders of Florida.

But Sole’s allegiance to Florida waterways seems to have been short-lived. Several major Florida utility companies and agricultural industry reps have been vocal in their stance that numeric nutrient criteria would lead to higher costs. In November 2009, the Manufactures Association of Florida — of which Florida Power & Light is a Silver Board Member — released a harsh statement (.pdf) regarding the proposed nutrient criteria, saying: “It makes no sense to establish federal water quality standards in Florida that are unattainable and with little or no benefit to the natural resources.”

Once the nutrient standards go into effect (they are slated to be finalized by November 2011), Florida Power & Light would likely be held to a higher standard regarding its effluent. A 2008 Effluent Quality Assessment of the company’s Lauderdale plant (which was completed by the FDEP) revealed (.pdf) that the plant released a whole host of nutrients, including phosphorus and nitrogen, and exceeded its Class III Criteria for copper.

According to The Miami Herald‘s Naked Politics, Sole’s salary will be a hefty $350,000, though that figure remains unconfirmed.

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