Saying Florida needs "good science to make good decisions," state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam suggested Friday that the battle with Washington over water-quality standards might be easing.
"There will be new regulations," Putnam told the Florida Water Forum in Orlando. "The only question is, will Florida make the right decisions for Florida, or will they come from a judge and the EPA while the rest of the states get off scot-free?"
But instead of fighting the federal Environmental Protection Agency's costly and controversial "numeric nutrient criteria," Putnam said the state should develop its own NNC standards.
Arguing that Florida has the most sophisticated and detailed water-quality data in the nation, the commissioner indicated that the EPA may be willing to at least listen.
"We have the data. The EPA just put its spin on it. We have our narrative approach that, I hope, the EPA will decide is acceptable," he said.
Calling protracted litigation and imposed federal mandates a losing proposition, Putnam said, "We have seen some indications that the EPA wants to find another way.
"We have to get out of the litigation business," he said.
Others weren't so optimistic or conciliatory.
In a videotape produced for Friday's forum, Putnam's successor in Congress, Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, blistered "EPA bureaucrats who never set foot in Florida."
Florida's water utilities, agricultural and business groups have assailed the EPA's numeric nutrient standards as both ineffective and inappropriate. Last December, the state and other concerned parties sued over the EPA's proposed rules.
A brief from the Associated Industries of Florida declared that the "unprecedented federal standards" would require "extraordinary levels of pre-development purity."
"The extremely restrictive criteria that the EPA has adopted are, in many instances, technologically impossible to meet," AIF stated.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection estimates that the EPA mandates would impose $21 billion in capital costs on municipal wastewater treatment and stormwater utilities.
Putnam's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, along with the University of Florida, concluded that the mandates would cost the ag industry $1.148 billion annually and kill up to 14,500 full- and part-time jobs.
The EPA, by contrast, has pegged the costs at $135.5 million to $206 million per year.
But even the EPA's own science advisory board has criticized the agency's method for developing river and stream nutrient standards, giving the state ammunition to fight the mandates.
Putnam, who hails from a longtime agricultural family in Polk County, criticized the EPA for attempting to "hijack Florida's water policies." But he conceded that numeric nutrient criteria will ultimately supplant the state's current "total maximum daily load" measurement, in any event.
"The numeric nutrient standards must be a Florida-focused issue. We expose ourselves to greater federal intervention if there is a perceived withdrawal of interest by the state. We need good science to make good decisions," he said.
State Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, also speaking at the Orlando forum, said Florida must confront the EPA's numeric nutrient criteria because "the federal rules are not based on fact."
"They took pristine water in the Everglades and still wanted it [nutrient content] lower," said Williams, who chairs the Select Committee on Water Policy.
Legislation directing the DEP to develop Florida-based criteria passed the House but failed to get a hearing in the Senate.
Nonetheless, Williams told Sunshine State News that DEP is working to produce new standards, which would then be submitted to the EPA for review.
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 802-5341.