In a new op-ed, Gov. Rick Scott touts his support for environmental safeguards, but argues against “one-size-fits-all solutions” to protect the state’s natural resources. The op-ed makes subtle references to a federally mandated set of water pollution standards that some argue been weakened due to criticism from state officials and the lobbying efforts of industries (like utilities and agriculture) that would be negatively affected by stricter standards.
“A stable regulatory environment does not mean lower environmental standards,” writes Scott in his Tampa Tribune op-ed. “It means that environmental policy will be governed by sound science, not politics or one-size-fits-all solutions.”
The “one-size-fits-all” line is the same one (.pdf) used by lobbyists at Associated Industries of Florida, a group that represents some of Florida agriculture’s heaviest hitters.
Associated Industries leaders have long been critical of the EPA’s “numeric nutrient criteria,” water pollution standards that many (including Scott) say came about entirely as a result of “costly litigation.” That claim is partly true — a host of Florida enviro groups, represented by environmental law firm Earthjustice, did successfully sue over the state’s failure to meet provisions of the Clean Water Act. But the lawsuit only came about after the state failed to produce its own standards by a 2004 deadline. Now that the state is federally mandated to implement the standards, it has drafted its own set of rules as a way around an arguably tougher set of standards drawn up by the EPA.
But water quality doesn’t just rely on the nutrient criteria. Other pieces of legislation could also affect Florida waterways — many of which have been inundated with algal blooms and fish kills, both side effects of nutrient overload brought on by home fertilizer use and industry effluent.
In an article published last week in the Sanibel-Captiva Islander, Jim Beever, of the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, said that voters concerned with state water quality should take a closer look at any forthcoming bills which could exempt some industries from meeting certain environmental requirements.
Beaver argues that bills like House Bill 421 and its Senate companion bill, which passed during the last legislative session, only help industries skirt water pollution standards. H.B. 421 revised the exemptions to water management requirement, providing the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services the exclusive authority to determine “whether certain activities qualify for agricultural-related exemption under specified conditions.”
“I can’t understand any state that doesn’t want clean water,” Beever said to the Islander. “But, that seems to be the policy of our governor and the agencies under his direction.”
Not so, argues Scott, writing that he intends to move forward “on important restoration projects like improving water quality in the Everglades.”
“The state and federal governments have invested significant resources, yet we both recognize there is more work to do,” writes Scott.