Water pollution in the state of Florida might be a major problem for the state’s citizens, but a Monday meeting of major stakeholders in the EPA’s “numeric nutrient criteria” — a set of standards to clean up Florida waterways — revealed that industry and agriculture leaders have laid claim to the issue.

Representatives from Georgia-Pacific, JEA and a senior lobbyist from Associated Industries of Florida all attended Monday’s meeting, as did representatives from engineering firms hired by industry groups to perform cost estimates of the criteria. One such firm, Cardno ENTRIX, revealed its latest round of cost estimates. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they haven’t changed much.

Cardno ENTRIX — which today released an addendum to its original cost assessment — puts the mean cost of implementing the criteria at around $4 billion, roughly two-and-a-half times the EPA’s estimate.

One of the major differences between its estimate and the EPA’s is the number of sectors the group says will bear the cost. While the EPA estimates there will be 248 affected entities, the ENTRIX study argues that there could be as many as 618.

Overall, Cardno ENTRIX estimates that the annual cost of complying with the new regulations will be “anywhere from 2.5 to 24 times higher than the EPA’s analysis.” Among the sectors that would see increased annual costs, industry and agriculture figure to bear much of the burden. But how much remains uncertain. Cardno ENTRIX today said that 49 percent of the annual costs would fall on the industrial sector, and 24 percent on agriculture.

As one committee member pointed out, the Cardno ENTRIX study was performed without the EPA (the organization looked at the EPA estimates, but did not work with the agency). The new addendum to the study was commissioned by the Florida Water Quality Coalition.

A press release sent out earlier today said that the recent additions to the original 2010 study confirms the group’s initial assessment, that the EPA’s nutrient rule would “impose substantial, long-term costs.”

From the release:

–    Statewide costs would range from $3.4 to $4.7 billion per year for 20 years with operating and maintenance costs extending well beyond 20 years;

–    Costs for municipal wastewater treatment plants and urban stormwater utilities would range from $626 million to $1.555 billion per year;

–    Costs for agriculture would range from $853 million to $1.088 billion per year; and

–    Costs for Florida’s struggling industrial sector would range from $1.492 to $2.437 billion per year.

In short, EPA’s rule would impose significant costs on all Floridians well in excess of EPA’s estimates.

As one committee member pointed out, the ENTRIX study operates on several assumptions, and includes some waterbodies not included in the EPA analysis.

“Why pick the highest figure you can without taking into account some of the differences?” asked one committee member, directing his question to Cardno ENTRIX representative Barbara Wyse. Glen Daigger, committee chair, answered for her: “Because some people in Florida are saying that all these things are going to happen. This group [ENTRIX] basically took everything that people are saying could happen, and analyzed that.”

As the session wrapped up, one committee member asked Cardno ENTRIX’s Doug MacNair to elaborate on who, exactly, makes up the Florida Water Quality Coalition, the group that commissioned the addendum. “It’s [a] diverse group of stakeholders. … I don’t know the exact membership of the coalition,” said MacNair. “You don’t know? Or you can’t say?” asked the committee member. MacNair again said he didn’t know.

As previously reported by The Florida Independent, the Florida Water Quality Coalition is a group of regulated interests and includes members of the agriculture and utility industries. James Spratt, the president of the coalition, is also the director of government affairs at the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association. Others on the board include Ray Hodge, director of government affairs for Southeast Milk, and Staci Braswell, director of government affairs for the Florida Farm Bureau.

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