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Environmentalists threaten suit over Florida water quality standards

By Trimmel Gomes

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-992216.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given Florida its nod of approval to move forward with setting pollution levels for the state's inland and coastal waters. But as Trimmel Gomes reports, environmental groups are threatening to take the EPA back to court because they say the rules are inadequate.

David Guest with the Environmental Group Earthjustice had already filed suit against the EPA to compel the state's adoption of the numeric nutrient criteria to clean up its waterways. But after seeing the letter of support from Washington over the state's draft rules Wednesday, he says it's time to head back to court.

"All important advances in environmental protection in Florida, all major initiatives have taken place the same way, which was taking the issue to court and asking a judge to make the agencies comply with the law. That's what's going to happen here."

Guest says the state's rule does not adequately protect Florida's fresh water, but Drew Bartlett with the state Department of Environmental Protection disagrees.

"The EPA standards are in our rules and EPA standards also had provisions where you could take documentation that a water body is healthy and petition the EPA to adjusting the standard to its current condition."

Bartlett says their rules are more comprehensive, because they include a check for nitrogen and phosphorus levels, coupled with biological measurements. For years, environmentalists have been calling for stricter federal regulation, as opponents say a one size fits all federal standard, is too costly and doesn't fit in a unique state. Coming to somewhat of a compromise, the federal government agreed to let the state write its own standards as long as it includes the numeric criteria for nutrients. In the end, the Legislature and the EPA will have the final say, barring any legal challenge.