John Cassani, a member of the Southwest Florida Watershed Council, is one of the few siding with the EPA in the debate over Florida’s water quality problem. In a recent op-ed published in The News-Press, Cassani argues that the EPA’s proposed “numeric nutrient criteria” (a set of standards to limit nitrogen and phosphorus in Florida waterways) are imperative for the health of Florida’s environment.

Citing a recent op-ed by Jose Gonzalez, Cassani writes that the refrain that the rules are too burdensome is “a familiar tune from individuals representing Associated Industries of Florida.” Gonzalez is vice president of government affairs for Associated Industries, a lobbying agency that has been critical of the criteria for over a year.

The group isn’t exactly unbiased in its criticism of the criteria — it represents some of the industries that would be hardest hit by the criteria, including agricultural companies that would likely have to revamp their plants in order to comply with the proposed standards. Gonzalez spoke out against the criteria at a recent Water Forum held in Orlando. The event, which was cosponsored by Associated Industries, included dozens of panel discussions with politicians and industry reps — all of whom spoke out against the criteria.

In his op-ed, Cassani lashes out at the group for its attempts to stall the standards from taking effect:

Their lobbying and litigation has opposed or stalled attempts to regulate water pollution in Florida for many years. The excuse has always been that it is just too burdensome. They are now crying foul that EPA is finally stepping in to enforce federal Clean Water Act standards.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has studied numeric nutrient pollution criteria for more than a decade and was to have the new criteria adopted by 2004 to replace the vague regulations on nutrient pollution at that time.

Bottom line, seven years later and still no criteria. After several years of review, DEP promised a new stormwater rule by 2007 to try and stem the rising tide of nutrient pollution.

Still no rule.

By Cassani’s own estimation, “approximately 375,000 acres of lakes, 1,900 miles of rivers and streams and 550 square miles of estuaries in Florida have become significantly impacted by nutrient pollution.”

Associated Industries and other business organizations continue to tout Florida for being “ahead of the curve” when it comes to keeping pollution in check. In his column, Gonzalez argued that the EPA was “fixing what wasn’t broken” and that numeric nutrient criteria rules will “render obsolete the programs that are currently working.”

Those living along heavily impacted waterbodies, like the St. Johns River, might disagree with Gonzalez.

Algal blooms are not only noxious and toxic, but they cut off the oxygen supply to wildlife, leading to massive fish kills. But it isn’t just small-bodied fish turning belly-up. Last summer, at least 19 dolphins died in the St. Johns — one of only 52 events to be formally labeled an “unusual marine mammal mortality event” by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association. Seventeen dead dolphins might seem to pale in comparison to the thousands of dead redfish also found dead in river around the same time, but the number is still significant, considering dolphins, on average, weigh around 350 pounds.

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