A bill filed Tuesday could potentially pose a further setback for Florida’s environment — prohibiting the state from implementing a set of EPA water quality rules that limit the amount of waste allowed to be dumped in Florida waterways.
The fact that the bill was filed isn’t a surprise: Politicians have been lobbying for the dismissal of the EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria for several months, even filing lawsuits that seek to put a stop to their implementation.
Even less surprising is who filed the suit: Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers. Williams chairs the House Select Committee on Water Policy, a newly formed committee that was created by Speaker Dean Cannon. In a press release sent out in December, Cannon said that the committee’s duties would be ”to conduct a comprehensive review of the state’s water policies and recommend legislative actions to further ensure Florida uses its water resources in an effective and sustainable manner to meet future water supply needs.”
In addition to prohibiting the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, water management districts, and local governmental entities from implementing the standards, House Bill 239 (.pdf) would authorize the state environmental protection department to adopt its own water quality rules.
It would also provide that “certain total maximum daily loads & associated numeric interpretations constitute site-specific numeric nutrient water quality criteria” and allow for the “governance & challenge of such criteria.” If passed, the bill would go into effect on July 1, 2011.
Dozens of industry executives and politicians alike have been critical of the EPA’s nutrient criteria, which would limit the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen in state waterways. But environmentalists argue that the criteria are necessary for a state inundated with symptoms of nutrient pollution.
Jimmy Orth, of the St. Johns Riverkeeper, says the bill is yet another example of political posturing: “We have all these lawsuits holding everything up, and this is just another effort at delaying the implementation. But if the EPA prevails … [Williams] can’t do anything. State law can’t trump federal law.”
Orth says that the lawsuits and the extremely high-cost estimates being bandied about are the product of misinformation and that many politicians and industry leaders are simply avoiding the facts.
“They are acting like we were blindsided by this when these standards have been in the works since 1998,” he says. “Now, they are saying that the standards would be too costly due to the recession, but it’s all political grandstanding. They’re taking advantage of an economic downturn and using it to their advantage.”