In a letter sent out to supporters today, self-described watchdog group Free Market Florida alleges that the EPA is guilty of misleading a reporter about its proposed numeric nutrient criteria, a set of standards that aim to govern nutrient pollution in state waterways.

“In a failed effort to discredit a recent Free Market Florida video, EPA attempted to mislead a reporter with The St. Petersburg Times into believing that the agency’s current ‘numeric nutrient criteria’ rule-making is not tied to a 2008 lawsuit brought by a cabal of environmental interests,” said Ryan Houck, executive director of Free Market Florida, in a press release. “The EPA’s assertions are contradicted by numerous media accounts, published statements by parties that joined the suit, and even the EPA’s own statements regarding the proposed rules.”

Houck claims that EPA Public Affairs Specialist Davina Marraccini made a false assertion when questioned by the reporter about the impetus behind creating the nutrient criteria. In a March 22 email, Marraccini corrected what she said were “erroneous assertions” made by Free Market Florida. Though the email response is quite lengthy, Houck’s main point of contention seems to be one sentence in particular, which he highlights on Free Market’s copy (.pdf) of the email exchange:

Was FL singled-out in response to lawsuit?

No. The July 2008 lawsuit brought by Florida Wildlife Federation et al. was not the reason that EPA determined that numeric nutrient criteria were necessary in Florida.

Marraccini goes on to say that, while the lawsuit brought to light the frequency of algal blooms in Florida waterways, the EPA’s determination to move forward with its nutrient standards was “a logical and reasonable step” that came as a result of “working with and supporting Florida for a number of years.”

In addition to releasing a video and the purportedly misleading emails, Houck penned a letter (.pdf) to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, whom he called on to “direct EPA staffers – whose salaries are paid by the public – to stick to the facts when confronted with factual criticism.”

In his latest video, Houck claims that the EPA’s “taxpayer-funded spin doctors spent a lot of time trying to discredit” an earlier video, in which Houck claimed that the criteria were written by lawyers and would require that even drainage canals meet impossibly strict standards. Marraccini debunked those claims in an interview with The Florida Independent, in which she said that the criteria were the result of months of consultation with scientific experts, and were independently peer-reviewed.

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