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EPA water rule bill clears over objection of envrionmental groups

A clash between Florida and the Federal Government over what plan should be used to protect the state’s water bodies from pollution is on its way to being solved. The feds have given the state a chance to make up its own rules. Now Regan McCarthy reports a proposal for what those rules will be is waiting on approval from the legislature.

After toxic algae and aggressive weeds began invading some of Florida’s most treasured water bodies state environmentalists pressured the federal environmental agency to better enforce its Clean Water Act. The federal agency responded by setting new standards for the amount of polluting nutrients allowed in the water. But Florida officials said they thought they ought to be allowed to set those rules for themselves. After years of legal battles, the federal government is giving the state a chance to do that and now a bill with that intent is making its way through the House.

I think the program we had in place with the TMDL program did that, but you know with the EPA coming and calling that into question, DEP has looked back at their information and taken their science and actually put in into place.”

Representative Steve Crisafulli, a Republican from Merrit Island, introduced the bill in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee. Crisafulli says the measure comes from the proposal brought forth by the Florida Department of Environmental Protections, and has already been approved by the Florida Environmental Regulations Commission.                                               

“There were amendments put into it, but the ERC adopted those amendments and brought them forward and passed them out.”

Next, the proposal needs to get the okay from the state legislature. Experts say the state’s standards aren’t that far off from what the federal government had initially proposed. Sierra Club spokesman David Cullen says that’s true, but he says there’s one major difference between the two systems that his organization takes issue with. Cullen says the state plan sets “thresholds” for the amount of polluting nutrients allowed, rather than setting a firm number.

“So it’s the difference between saying drive safely, or speed limit 25-miles-per hour. That’s the difference. Because you can always say, but I was driving safely. I looked both ways, there was nobody on the street. I’m wearing my seatbelt, and everything can be litigated. If it’s a hard and fast number, then pollution is pollution is pollution and it has to be addressed.”

Cullen says the Sierra Club is also concerned about what he calls the plan’s failure to implement “downstream protective values.”

“The idea of this is that if you are a property owner or an industry for whatever, the water that goes off of your property, if it goes into a stream that goes into a lake, well, whatever you put into the stream, by the time it gets to the lake it should not impair the lake.”

Cullen says if he had his way the legislature would vote this bill down, in which case the Federal standards would rule the state—although he says the Fed’s regulations do leave a little room for improvement too.  The Serria Club has filed an administrative challenge against the proposed state rule.

David Childs, an attorney with Hopping Green and Sams is on the other side of the issue. Childs says the state rule balances the need to protect the environment and does it in a way that keeps cost down and allows industry growth. But he admits that doesn’t mean he thinks the plan is perfect.

“Yeah, its imperfect, and you can endeavor for perfection and you can endeavor for perfection, but very few ever quite get there. But what this is that this is a comprehensive policy for addressing nutrient pollution in Florida’s waters and it has a broad coalition of support from local governments and industry.”

Childs points out that the Clean Water Act stipulates that water quality issues should be revisited at least once every three years.

“Now of course as science evolves there will be changes to this rule like there are to all other environmental rules.”

The bill passed unanimously out of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee. Right now, its scheduled for one more committee stop before reaching the House floor. Representative Crisafulli says he expects the bill to pass without trouble. Once the bill is approved by the state, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency will review the rules. EPA officials have already indicated they would likely approve the measure as it stands now.