Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City (Pic via Facebook)

In an interview with Southeast AgNet, Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, says a set of federally mandated water pollution rules would be “terribly dangerous” for Florida, and could cost the state close to 50,000 agricultural jobs alone.

Southerland hosted a press conference in Tallahassee yesterday to unveil legislation that he says would “empower Florida officials, rather than bureaucrats at the EPA,” to set their own set of numeric nutrient standards for state waters. He was joined by representatives from Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Farm Bureau and the Florida League of Cities.

“I just think that, for ag, especially, what the EPA is proposing to push down in June is terribly dangerous,” Southerland said. “The Department of Agriculture in Florida and the University of Florida — their stats show it could cost us close to 50,000 ag jobs alone, not to mention $4 billion out of the Florida economy.”

According to Southerland, the rules would create uncertainty in a time where the economy needs stability.

“When things are starting to seem to turn around, with some certainty going forward, the last thing we need to do is inject some uncertainty and give up ground that we’ve gained,” the congressman said. “So, I think that, hopefully [the ag industry] will find that our legislation, in concert with what the Florida Legislature is doing, will really help make a statement to the federal Environmental Protection agency that … we deserve to have a say in really determining our own future, as long as it meets the standards outlined in the Clean Water Act.”

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 state Department of Environmental Protection has since drafted its own rules as a lower-cost alternative to the more stringent federal regulations. Environmentalists, who argue that the state version is less protective than having no rules at all, favor the EPA’s rules, but both industry and lawmakers (including Southerland) have fought tooth-and-nail against them.

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