Recent algal blooms and fish kills in the St. Johns River have begun to make their way into the increasingly heated 2010 election cycle. U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, along with Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Tallahassee, recently made headlines when they proposed to add a rider to an amendment that would impact funding to the EPA and likely halt regulation of runoff into St. Johns.
Now one of Crenshaw’s opponents, Independent Troy Stanley, is calling out the congressman for his ties to industries polluting St. Johns.
On Sunday’s “First Coast News on Point,” a Jacksonville television program, Crenshaw defended his connection to the rider, which was ultimately never passed due to a canceled appropriations committee meeting:
The numeric standards … did not take into consideration all the research and the scientific work that had been done by the state. They were leaving out what they call the Scientific Advisory Board. And so I encourage the EPA — in fact, I was one of 22 members of Congress to write them to say, “Please, when you write these standards, let’s include some science, let’s use the Scientific Advisory Board.” I didn’t get any response, so I threatened to offer an amendment to the appropriations bill. … It got their attention, and now they agreed that they are going to use the Scientific Advisory Board.
Crenshaw added that the St. Johns Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization that acts as an advocate for the river, agreed to his plan, saying, “We’re back on track.”
The Science Advisory Board that Crenshaw mentions is a board consisting of subcommittees and panels that advise the EPA on “technical matters” associated with environmental impact. But his claim that the St. Johns Riverkeeper favors the use of the SAB to implement nutrient runoff standards isn’t entirely correct.
“Recently, we agreed to extend the deadline for the establishment of the standards in salt water, but the freshwater standards are still slated to go into effect in October,” says Jimmy Orth, of the St. Johns Riverkeeper. “Ander wanted to delay all of the standards from taking effect and, in our opinion, this is all just a delay tactic. The industry groups want an indefinite delay. It’s not about finding better science.”
Crenshaw remains steadfast in his view that the EPA needs more time in implementing the standards. “I do not believe that using a Science Advisory Board (SAB) review is a delay tactic and concur with [the] EPA’s assessment that seeking a SAB review allows for the best available science to be reviewed and permits robust public participation before implementing the rule,” the congressman writes via email. “A good rule based on sound science is more important to me [than] implementing a fast rule.”
“[The] EPA was ready to implement a rule formed over a short, five-month time frame that disregarded more than a decade of scientific analyses on phosphorus and nitrogen pollution by Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials,” he adds.
Though review will at first only affect South Florida’s lakes and flowing waters, plus the coastal and estuarine areas of the entire state, Crenshaw hopes that the SAB review will eventually apply to all of Florida’s waterways. “[I]f using the Science Advisory Board peer-review method is good for lakes and flowing waters in South Florida, it should be good for all of Florida’s waterways, including the 374 rivers and waterways that flow through the counties I represent,” Rep. Crenshaw writes.
But not everyone is buying into Crenshaw’s claims that the proposed amendment was just a gateway to better science. “This is a guy who ranks in the top 20 percent of a congressman who uses earmarks to their gain, and the river amendment was no exception,” says Troy Stanley, Crenshaw’s Republican opponent in the upcoming primary independent opponent in his reelection bid. ”He attached it to a defense spending bill, which would have been hard not to pass.”
“What’s his motive?” Stanley asks. “Both Koch Industries and Smurfit-Stone have contributed money to Crenshaw in the past, which makes it hard to believe that there’s not something in this for him.”
Koch donated $5,000 to Crenshaw’s 2008 campaign committee, and another $5,000 to his political action committee, according to OpenSecrets.org. The same data reveals two $2,000 donations from Smurfit-Stone in 2008.
Smurfit-Stone’s container facility ranks high on a list of polluters operating in the Jacksonville area.
Koch is the parent company of Georgia-Pacific, which admits on its own website to discharging nitrogen and phosphorus into surrounding waters (though they claim to have substantially reduced the amount discharged). Georgia-Pacific’s Palatka mill sits on Rice Creek, a tributary of the St. Johns River that plays host to one of the largest algal blooms in Northeast Florida.
Stanley says that while he doesn’t feel it’s realistic to completely disallow pollution in the St. Johns River, it is becoming increasingly apparent that something must be done. He compares current rules to old speed-limit signs that read, “Assume safe speed.”
“We can’t rely on that to hold people accountable,” Stanley says. “And we can’t enforce something that isn’t regulated.”