The EPA’s Power Grab for Florida Waters
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has again flexed its regulatory muscles, this time over the state of Florida. At issue is whether Floridas waterways will remain in part under state supervision or fall deeply within the purview of a non-elected federal bureaucracy.
The Water Quality Standards for the State of Floridas Lakes and Flowing Waters is an EPA ruleas opposed to federal or state lawthat would set the nutrient criteria for Floridas waterways to a specific number, rather than keeping to narrative legal language to protect against pollution, as is currently the case.
The scope of the regulation is enormous, and critics say the numeric criteria are arbitrary, not backed by science, and will have the backdoor effect of regulating some of Floridas most important industries such as construction and agriculture.
The rule was signed by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in 2009, published in the Federal Register in December 2010 and is set to take effect March 6.
According to the EPA, more than 1,918 miles of rivers and streams in Florida are impaired, meaning unsafe for drinking or swimming. Moreover, Jackson declared that in the first two years of her overseeing the 18,000 person agency, Floridas water impairment increased 90 percent, from 1000 miles in 2008 to 1900 miles by 2010a dubious statistic.
The direct cause of the water impairment is a measured increase in nitrogen and phosphorus that has been attributed to population growth and agriculture. These pollutants stimulate excessive algae growth that both look and smell bad as well as reduce water clarity.
But a recent study by the University of Floridas College of Agriculture and Life Sciences maintains that nitrates and phosphates occur naturally in many of Floridas lakes, springs, and rivers. In addition, nutrients were ranked as the fourth major source of impairment for rivers and streams, and phosphorus counts are naturally high due to phosphorus rich bedrock interacting with groundwater.
The EPA rule asserts that the highest allowable standard for nitrates in Florida waters is 1.9 parts per million (ppm) yet the safe drinking water standard for nitrates is 10 ppm. Seemingly, the EPA is mandating lakes and rivers to be cleaner than drinking water, thus leading many to believe the real purpose of the regulation is power.
Complying with the pending rule would also cost Florida taxpayers an estimated $4 billion annually, and could cause the agricultural sector to lose more than 14,500 jobs.
Seeking to combat the pending change, U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Panama City) filed a bill on Tuesday called the State Waters Partnership Act, a legislative attempt on behalf of the state of Florida to work with the EPA in determining environmentally safe water standards. The bill also seeks to take economic considerations into account when devising numeric criteria.
Critics of Representative Southerlands bill say he is catering to the states business interests over those of the environment.
The Water Quality Standards regulation was first pushed by an organization called Earthjustice, which sued the EPA in July of 2008. Jackson, who was appointed by President Obama and took office in January of 2009, entered into a voluntary agreement with Earthjustice, which then resulted in the numeric criteria mandate.
Thus far, Florida is the only state subject to complying with the EPAs stricter water regulations, although all states have been encouraged to do so.