According to a recent blog post by The Palm Beach Post, nine former environmental agency heads are the latest to pen a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, pleading for “good science” and, essentially, more delays in implementing a set of numeric nutrient criteria.

The criteria have been called into question for their cost before, mainly by industries that would be charged with revamping their plants to comply with the stricter set of rules. According to the Post, the most recent letter, which was dated Oct. 27, explains that the criteria are too costly “in these very difficult economic times.”

The EPA is set to finalize the criteria governing fresh water later this month. Delays for the criteria affecting saltwater estuaries and streams have been somewhat effective — those aren’t slated to be finalized till August 2012.

From the Post:

Among [those] who signed the letter:

Jacob D. Varn, Secretary of the Florida Dept. of Environmental Regulation (precursor to the Dept. of Environmental Protection)

Pete Hubbell, executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District

Peter Baljet, executive director of the Florida Dept. of Air and Water Pollution Control

Gary Kuhl, executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District

Sonny Vergara, executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District and Southwest Florida Water Management District

John Shearer, DER Assistant Secretary

Henry Dean, executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District and South Florida Water Management District

Woody Wodraska, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District

Bill McCartney, executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District

The article sparked a war of words between two of those who signed the letter and a longtime Florida conservationist. From the comments beneath the article:

Estus Whitfield Says:
October 29th, 2010 at 4:23 am

I found your piece on EPA’s nutrient standards intriguing in that 9 former Florida public servants, famous as environmental quality and water resource protection stalwarts came out as a team in opposing the proposed EPA rule… Neither am I a fan of these standards, but, I ask as a curosity – how might these 9 men, revered for their 300 years experience in protecting our environment have gotten together/agreed on this issue after all these years. Nor should I think that any of their clients’ interents in the issue might have influenced anything. Thanks for the insightful article. Estus

Sonny Vergara Says:
October 30th, 2010 at 9:59 am

Estus, the letter speaks clearly for me. I have no clients. Our recommendations serve the state’s best interest. Sonny

Jake Varn Says:
November 1st, 2010 at 9:58 am

Estus: Shame on you for questiong our integrity. It is not at all unusual for this group to be discussing such matters. For some time now, we have been getting together for fishing trips and of course, matters such as this are the subject of conversation. More than half of this group is retired or semi-retired, so not sure what developer clients they would be representing. As for myself, I can assure that these are my personal feelings about this standard and reflect no discussion of any type with my clients. We all support good water quality in the State of Florida. We also believe that water quality standards should be based on good science. The standards proposed by EPA are not based on good science. In our collective experience we have found that Florida is on the forefront of water management (quantity and quality) issues and we have more data and experts than EPA. Further, next time you have questions, please make a local call to me before putting your foot in your mouth. Your friend, Jake

Whitfield has been outspoken regarding water issues in Florida before. According to his LinkedIn profile, he worked as an environmental advisor to Florida Govs. Graham, Martinez, Chiles and Bush and was lauded as a conservationist by both the Audubon Society and the Florida Everglade’s Coalition.

In a 2005 article in the St. Petersberg Times, he had this to say regarding the easy permitting process for building on Florida wetlands: “My bottom line is that the failure to protect wetlands goes much further than the corps; it starts right here in Florida.”

Jake Varn, former secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation (now the Department of Environmental Protection), helped pen a similar letter in early October, along with two other former secretaries. Environmental attorney David Guest spoke out harshly against the letter, saying that the sentiments of those who wrote it were “drastically at odds with public opinion” and that the public is “appalled at watching Florida’s waterways get destroyed by this very preventable pollution.”

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