The St Johns Riverkeeper’s Neil Armingeon and Free Market Florida’s Ryan Houck took to the airwaves to discuss the EPA’s proposed numeric nutrient criteria on Wednesday morning. First Coast Connect, a Jacksonville news show on NPR affiliate 89.9, hosted the two for a 30-minute segment centered on the heavily debated criteria that would restrict pollution in state waterways.
Houck discussed his group’s recently unveiled campaign against the criteria, for which he stars in an ad making several claims about the nutrient standards. PolitiFact recently rated Houck’s claims “mostly true,” but with some caveats.
“The point is, PolitiFact didn’t disagree with anything,” Houck said. “They wished it would have been longer, more detailed, more nuanced … but we were filming a two-minute ad. We weren’t doing a detailed treatise.”
In the ad, Houck is seen standing along the banks of the Wekiva River, which he calls “pristine.” Armingeon found fault with Houck’s claims.
“The crux of [the ad] is the Wekiva River,” he said. “[The Florida Department of Environmental Protection] has set standards for Wekiva and the Nitrogen is 5-10 times what the DEP says it should be. The head waters are choked with algae. … We don’t need to be convinced that what we’re doing is working. We know it isn’t.”
Another bone of contention? The cost of implementing the criteria.
Houck’s Free Market Florida, along with most of the state’s leading industries, have cited estimates in the billions, while the Riverkeeper and the federal Environmental Protection Agency say costs will more likely be in the millions (and could cost $1 billion over time). Houck said the argument has moved from one between industry and environmentalists to “a disagreement between Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection and the federal EPA.”
Recent internal emails show that the Florida department continues to cite industry-driven statistics, even if they have disputed them in the past, leading many to wonder whose interests the department is actually protecting.
“In 2009, [DEP reps] enthusiastically supported the EPA. Internal memos leaked six to seven months ago showed that DEP didn’t support the estimates,” Armingeon said.
At least one caller to the program, who identified himself as an engineer, sided with Armingeon:
In 1975, I performed my first water-quality test. … That was 35 years ago. And for 35 years, the State of Florida has been dithering. Thirty-five years ago, an ounce of prevention was worth more than a pound of cure.
Houck said that while his group supports clean water, the EPA’s nutrient standards “won’t achieve that.” Saying the criteria were the result of an agreement “gleefully entered into” by the EPA and environmental law firm Earthjustice, Houck claimed that the criteria were “drafted by lawyers in a courtroom,” rather than scientists in a lab.
Armingeon took issue with the idea that environmentalists, in his words, “have some shadowy goal other than clean water.” “Earthjustice isn’t profiting off of this,” said Armingeon. “If someone is profiting off this, I would argue that you, Mr. Houck, are the profiteer.”
Throughout the segment, which grew increasingly heated, Houck continued to make the claim that the state would be better off with a narrative nutrient approach, like the one the state currently uses, since the nutrient criteria were drafted solely by lawyers.
“That claim is unequivocally untrue,” said Armingeon. “And I won’t continue to let you say that.”
The EPA has denied that particular claim in the past, saying the criteria were not drafted by lawyers, but are the result of months of water sampling, peer review and public comments.