Regulating the nutrient levels in waterways across Florida may finally come back into the hands of the State. Since 2009 the federal Environmental Protection Agency has been debating with the state over water quality standards. The bill could mean the final agreement between Florida and the Feds with the EPA backing out by the end of 2013.
Under the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency must sign off on water nutrient-level plans by any state. That’s because nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen too highly concentrated in any body of water can be extremely harmful to the environment. Drew Bartlett with Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection explains how that’s impacted the state of Florida over the years.
“Now in 2009 there was some litigation and the environmental protection agency settled a federal lawsuit and entered into a consent decree for them to set numeric nutrient criteria in lieu of the state. Since that time we’ve been under this dual rule-making program in the state of Florida where there’s federal criteria getting proposed and state criteria getting proposed,” Says Bartlett.
But in the State Affairs Committee Wednesday, a bill passed unanimously to end that dual system by giving the power to regulate back to the State. But the EPA still has to give the go-ahead on the State’s plan though Bartlett says that wouldn’t be a problem considering the agency’s involvement with the bill at hand.
“They said, ‘State of Florida, let’s work on a path forward such that we can have state level criteria and not federal criteria. They’re on a deadline to get that path forward by September 2013 to get that path forward. So in March, this month, we did come to agreement with EPA on what that path forward would like that and that’s why we’re here today,” says Bartlett.
Though the passage of this bill could mean the EPA removing its regulations from the State by as early as September, one group, Sierra Club Florida doesn’t think Florida’s proposed regulations do enough to protect the waterways.
“It is at best restorative and not protective. The damage has to happen before any action takes place and then may not take place anywhere because there are numerous delays built into the DEP process. If traffic law we’re written like the rule on this issue it would be a miracle if anyone got a speeding ticket,” says David Cullen with the group.
He says because the bill proposes no preemptive funding on waterways deemed safe, help will only come after the damage is done. Rep. Linda Stewart (D-Orlando) voted for the bill but expressed concern.
“I do feel that, you know, there might be some areas that we need to continue to look at to see if we might be able to include them at some other time but we just can’t wait around and have debate after debate and not be able to accomplish anything,” Says Stewart.
On the flip side, the bill would save millions of dollars by not spending money for nutrient clean-up in waterways considered clean. Even if the bill does become law, the Department of Environmental Protection will need to write up their proposal for the Governor, Senate President, and Speaker of the House for approval in August and for the EPA to agree by September.