Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. (Pic by Gage Skidmore, via Flickr)

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., today introduced a bill that would force the EPA to scrap its set of Florida water quality standards and instead accept rules drafted by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The bill is the Senate companion to a measure introduced in the U.S. House in January by Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City.

The numeric nutrient criteria, a set of standards designed to restrict waste in Florida waterways, were initially mandated by the EPA, following a lawsuit bought by environmental groups. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has since drafted its own rules as a lower-cost alternative to the more stringent federal regulations. Environmentalists say the state-drafted rules aren’t strict enough, and prefer that the EPA implement its version.

Though Southerland says his bill would “empower Florida officials, rather than bureaucrats at the EPA” to implement water pollution standards, environmentalists call it a “gift to polluter-lobbyists.”

In a press release, Rubio echoed Southerland, saying that “it’s time the EPA stop bullying us into accepting another Washington-contrived mandate that would devastate job creation. ”

“Florida has one of the most aggressive water quality protection programs in the nation, implemented by the people who know our state best, and it’s time the EPA stop bullying us into accepting another Washington-contrived mandate that would devastate job creation. This legislation simply reaffirms that states and the federal government should be partners in making sure our water is clean, and prevents Washington overreaches from harming our economy,” Rubio said in a press release. “The EPA needs to step back and realize that Florida will not simply stand by as their policies negatively impact Florida’s consumers, agriculture producers, municipalities, small businesses and other job creators.”

Southerland says his bill and Rubio’s would “save up to 14,500 Florida agriculture jobs while building upon the tremendous successes already achieved on the state level to keep our water clean.”

While industry representatives and lawmakers argue that the EPA’s criteria will cost the state both jobs and money, representatives from the agency disagree, arguing that the nutrient criteria will actually “save Florida money in the long run by making implementation faster and easier, thereby preventing future expensive clean-up costs and a decline in Florida’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry that is an engine of job growth in Florida.”

If enacted, the bill would compel the EPA administrator to formally accept the state-drafted rule.

Bills that would pave the way for Florida to implement its own version of the criteria passed both the Florida House and Senate unanimously this month, and were signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott today.

“The future of our state’s environment and economy depend on the health of our water bodies, and the state’s rules will ensure the protection of both,” Scott said in a statement. “The state’s rules are scientifically sound, protect the environment and avoid unnecessary costs for Florida’s households and businesses. Once approved by EPA, they will further enhance the State’s nationally recognized nutrient control programs.”

Rubio’s bill is supported by the Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida League of Cities — all of whom have long been critical of the federally mandated nutrient criteria.

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