The Wacissa River (Pic by anoldent, via Wikimedia Commons)

A report set to be released on Tuesday, March 6, will examine the cost estimates of a set of pollution standards to govern Florida’s waterways. The so-called “numeric nutrient criteria” have been hotly-contested and estimates regarding the costs to implement them have varied widely.

On Tuesday, the National Research Council will release its “Review of the EPA’s Economic Analysis of Final Water Quality Standards for Nutrients for Lakes and Flowing Waters in Florida,” an evaluation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s cost estimate of the nutrient criteria.

Some background: In 2008, a group of state environmental organizations filed suit against the EPA, alleging that Florida was violating the Clean Water Act since its water pollution rules weren’t stringent enough.

That suit was settled in 2009, with a mandate from the EPA requiring Florida to implement stricter rules. But the criteria drafted by the EPA have been criticized for being too costly, with industry leaders arguing they could cost the state billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. Eventually, the EPA announced that it would allow Florida to develop its own rules. State officials say those rules are just as stringent as the EPA’s version, but environmentalists continue to cry foul, alleging that the state’s rules are less protective than having no standards at all.

Currently, Florida relies on a narrative water quality standard, the wording of which (.pdf) has been criticized as too vague to be effective. A numeric standard, however, would express specific allowable concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus (nutrients which often lead to algal blooms and fish kills) in water. The costs associated with the nutrient criteria have been hotly debated. Reps from both the agriculture and utility industries argue that the EPA’s version could cost billions, and that the state would be better off adopting its own criteria.

According to an economic analysis conducted by the EPA, the criteria would cost about $236 million annually. Critics, however, charge that the EPA’s version could cost as much as $50 billion to implement. The state Department of Environmental Protection has estimated the cost of its own criteria to be between $51 and $150 million annually.

A recent ruling by a U.S. District judge will ensure that a portion of the EPA’s version of the criteria be implemented by March 6, unless that rule is superseded by the state’s version.

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